Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 13, 2007

The Amnestic States Of America

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The problem with viewing this one shot, like following TIME's White House photo blog just a picture or two at a time, is that you don't get the larger hit of what Christopher Morris is doing.

What he's doing and what he's done, however, is something remarkable — at least for readers of a site like this.  Here at The BAG, we have suffered the excruciating drip-drip-drip of that water torture known as the Bush Administration on the most granular, the most temporal, the most "now-to-the-next-photo op" level.

What Morris has accomplished — even in single shots (at least, once you've seen enough of them to get the hit) is to mark the whole spellbound insanity of it, from its extreme Big Brother phase right up to its smaller-time, but still war conceiving and rule-rewriting present.

I don't have to remind any of you what its been like to viscerally live through this stretch of time — a period politically worse than the worst we ever imagined — when Darth Vader and the incurious one fell into 9/11 (the greatest fortune of their lives), the country — in its vulnerability, and in Bush's passivity, and in Cheney's megalomania and paranoia — was  almost completely turned into putty.

Certainly, watch the Chris Morris slide show at Alternet that Nina Berman produced (and The BAG helped sponsor), and look at Morris's photo gallery at the Hasted Hunt gallery.

It's a cold, pulled back, angry and crystalline snapshot Mr. Morris offers of what was happening all around us.  Depending on your demographic and your metaphoric wiring, there are different analogies to describe what Morris's pictures do.

In an eerie kodachrome-ish 50's vernacular, we see how a vampire BushCo. drained the country, drained the public, drained the media, and drained auditoriums and convention centers and studio stages of every bit of oxygen and sense of personal agency, morphing ordinary men and women — especially those who possessed a less complicated relationship with the stars-and-stripes — into zombies, into mannequins, into plastination exhibits, into Stepford Wives, into wax museum displays, into Twilight Zone extras, into robots, into narcotized scribes inside the Administration's "smoothed out hate slogans" factory.

I'm not as big on the cut-off heads, or the secret service people arranged in geometric patterns on tarmacs and in cornfields.  What leaves me gasping for air, however, are the audience shots — the crowds exhibiting an unearthly and unbelievable inertia.

And the guy above?  He's like a perverted axis-of-evil twin of the Norman Rockwell "Freedom of Speech" man.  He's the guy in front of the guy who did his part for Lady Liberty by waking up each day and putting on his lapel pin.  He's one of those guys who, six years later, might actually be found demonstrating outside the Capitol because two of his best friends got blown up in Falloujah.

He's the guy who — no accident, got Bush mixed up with Jesus.

(image: Christopher Morris/VII from the book "My America.")

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