December 29, 2008

Obama: Fighting The Pull

US President-elect Barack Obama greets people after working out at the Semper Fit gym on Marine Corps Base Hawaii while on vacation over the holidays in Kailua, Hawaii on December 26, 2008. The Obama family celebrated Christmas by opening presents at their vacation rental compound in Kailua.AFP PHOTO / TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite the perception there is not much going on right now on the Obama front, I think this wire photo is fairly significant. It was taken three days ago — the day after Christmas — outside the Semper Fit gym at the Marine Corps Base where the President-elect has been working out on his Hawaii vacation.

A curious aspect of the picture — at least, in the face and the dynamics of the woman holding Obama’s hand — is its similarity to a photo taken by Stephen Ferry which he and I discussed in an interview at American Photo back in January. The gist of the analysis had to do with how much energy members of the public were deriving from feeling connected to Obama, especially those who actually managed to have their picture taken with him.

In this slow news period, much has been made of Obama’s holiday cat-and-mouse games with the press and his irritated desire to escape constant attention. What the photo captures and confirms is the real tension emerging between Obama, on the one hand, and his admirers and the press (tugging) on the other. In Obama’s body language is his shaking hands and posing for admirers, while simultaneously trying to pull away.

Given Obama’s popularity and charisma combined with his relative lack of experience living in a bubble, it’s going to be important how he reconciles each. Certainly, acting out his conflict over the social and media demands of the presidency — as opposed to accepting the reality and/or building strategies for coping with it — is only going to cause more tension, not less.

(image: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty. Kailua, Hawaii. December 26, 2008)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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