April 13, 2009


Obama family welcomes new puppy. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

In spite of the cheesy arrival of the Obama pooch, I have a feeling this Pete Souza photo might be one of the more significant he will take in the White House given its “unbounded” quality.

There are all kinds of interesting elements here. Bo running free, though leashed. Obama and the dog clearly relating to one another, Obama looking back — already creating a bond with the puppy. And especially, the new President at full sprint — completely off the ground. (By the way, I tried pretty hard to ID that statue, but couldn’t. I was thinking Jefferson or a beardless Lincoln. Any help? It certainly has a strong role, as well.)

One thing the photo does — playing off an almost timeless domestic activity: running with your dog — is to capture Obama …

… thoroughly free of his often more self-contained manner. (SNL takes this feature to extremes by making Fred Armisen slightly robotic and accentuating the staccato quality in Obama’s sometimes overly mindful speech.)

Because we know Obama hardly has any relationship with the dog at this point, it is that much more thrilling to see the President so unbound. In graceful flight, the photo suggests any number of meanings, including: vigor; drive, accelerated progress. (I should also add that Obama still shows a wonderful balance, flying forward through the air but, at the same time, investing attention sideways toward “his new friend.”)

But then, Souza wouldn’t be worth his salt if he wasn’t also conscious, at some level — while capturing the shot, choosing it out, or both — of how much it represented a color-, right-to-left- and an indoor/outdoor reversal of that tremendously romantic photo of RFK running on the beach with Freckles. Along those lines, Bo-bama — the dog, a gift from Ted Kennedy — was already well down the hall to Camelot.
For still more fun, compare “Bo-bama” with this TIME photo gallery of Presidents and their dogs.
(h/t: Sara. image 1: Pete Souza/White House. April 2009. image 2: Bill Eppridge, June 1968. Oregon. via Google LIFE archive.)
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Michael Shaw
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