April 29, 2009

Kander’s Obama: The Listener


I know I was critical of photographer Nadav Kander’s NYT inauguration series “Obama’s People” (1, 2). I found a lot of it either irreverent or rushed.

Kander’s image of Obama unveiled today, however — on Obama’s 100th day in office, previewing Sunday’s NYT Magazine feature — is decidedly different. Beyond a thoroughly serious portrait, I would go so far as to say it captures a defining quality of Obama’s presidential character — and does so with a clarity and conviction I didn’t expect to emerge for sometime.

The consequence of being a multifaceted person with many fine qualities and strengths is that Obama presents with a lot of looks. What Kander confidently clarifies, however, is possibly the “presidential quality” that distinguishes itself above all others.

Barack Obama, as the image conveys in the most luminous way, is a listener.

(Update 3:35 PST: So, that’s the beauty — and treacherousness– of reading photos, and character. The commenter, ids, “points out” in the discussion thread that Obama could, as well, be flipping (the photographer? us, by extension?) the bird. What would be helpful to know, in that case, is whether the index finger is up, or if it is down. …Funny, my very first — and fleeting — impression, which I dispensed with as snark, had to do with how accomplished Obama is at sitting for the camera. Looking again, could those lips be sporting an every-so-slight impish smile?)

(image: Nadav Kander. Oval Office, April 14, 2009)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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