October 23, 2009

Sugar and Spice? Rockstar Annie Leibovitz Serves Up the Obamas

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, sit for a  family portrait in the Green Room of the White House, Sept. 1, 2009. (Official White House Photo)  Photo by Annie Leibovitz/Released by White House Photo Office  This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

I wanted to look at the pre-holiday portrait of the first family released by the White House today. And, though I know the Obamas love photography and quality photographers, and also know a thing or two about having their picture taken, you can’t be overly naive in hiring the likes of rockstar and celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.

With Obama in shirt sleeves, there is a nice mix of formal and informal here, with the theme of black-and-white apparently the fashion of the season. (Note the BAZAAR Tina Fey cover posted yesterday.) One thing Leibovitz seems to be doing is playing up the identity of Barack as shiny; luminescent (the shirt’s sort of blinding); pure; innocent (especially, with little Sasha as sidekick); and ever relaxed.

What is curious about the monochrome, though, is how Leibovitz unbalances the photo with the President and Sasha mostly in white, grouped together, and Michelle and Malia primarily in black (with Michelle almost disappearing by virtue of the contrast).

From looking at family photos, it’s not unusual that Malia would be lovingly draped over her mother that way. It is interesting, however, that the ultimate selection would be one in which America’s First Lady (by virtue of the dress color, Malia’s overwhelming and intimate presence, and the difference between her highly posed look and Malia’s highly relaxed one) would marginalize her be marginalized so much.

So, Mom downplayed and a more innocent skew to the left, huh? My take is that Leibovitz (Leibovitz being Leibovitz) was more than happy to compromise Michelle, along with the larger and safer themes of family and holiday (cute move with the Green Room and the red Christmasy tree, by the way) to subtlety feature Malia’s legs, that curve of the body in the little girl dress and that intimate school-girl gaze.

More Annie (including Michelle portraits for Vogue – 1, 2)

(image: Annie Leibovitz)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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