November 25, 2008

La First Lady

Michelle Obama, Annie Leibovitz for Paris Match.

Apparently, this was photographed at the same time as this image at (from the September 2007 issue of Vogue). It seems to have just surfaced, however, from Paris Match. (Going by this post, at least, I don’t think it’s the first time Annie Leibovitz has worked her magic on Michelle, but I leave it to you to provide clarification.)

I didn’t want to say it before the election, but I had become so exhausted by the Bush-era visuals and cast of (mostly shallow and two-dimensional) characters. Really, I didn’t think I was going to make it.

I’ve spend a decent amount of time and space talking about the confidence of the Obamas. What I haven’t touched upon, but have the opportunity to point out now (by way of what Leibovitz does best), however, is the inherent elegance of the couple, and especially, Michelle. I would say that, beginning with this week’s Newsweek cover (which the readership read far more cogently than I did), Michelle is finally gaining the respect she’s deserved.


Update: After reading the very thoughtful first comment in the discussion thread, I realize some clarification is in order — or, at least, some definition of terms.

I’ve considered Michelle Obama to be exceptional in character as long as I’ve followed the campaign. I gained an even better sense of this in Denver watching how Michelle handled the pressures of the convention, and how she formed a quick bond with Joe and Jill Biden, both of whom I also consider to be “the best kind of people.”

As such, I actually don’t see this image as having much if anything to do with Michelle’s character or inherent elegance. Having said that, however, I do appreciate how gifted Annie Leibovitz is in creating an impression of elegance, and causing many people who don’t know better to confuse that surface with what/who is underneath. (It’s for that reason I’ve never cared much for Leibovitz’s work).

Here’s where it gets a little sticky however….

Given my perception that Michelle has been approached skeptically or ignorantly by the media and much of the public over the course of the campaign, I think the fact she has been depicted with more grace and style since the election (knowing full well that terms like “grace,” “style,” and “elegance” can relate just as much to surface/external behavior as they can and do to the inner constitution of self), I think the fact that this image (skillfully orchestrated by Leibovitz) works both ways is a net positive for Michelle.

Now, if we were a year into the Obama administration and this image were to surface as a statement — through the “advocacy” of a rock-star photographer — of Michelle’s “elegance,” I’m sure BNN would leave the image to the fashion blogs — or the dedicated Michelle blogs that are now proliferating.

In saying that, however, it is out of assurance that Michelle, after some reasonable stretch of time to manifest herself as La First Lady, would have utterly no need to demonstrate her “elegance” beyond her accumulated White House history of expressed attitudes, values and decisions.

In the meantime, however, because the culture has so much trouble discerning surface from core, I think this bracingly “beautiful” image — from a political standpoint — can only assist the public (as one more facet of transition) in assuming a more embracing approach toward Michelle.

(image: Annie Leibovitz for Paris Match. h/t: Ta-nehisi via blacksnob)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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