Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
August 11, 2011

The Picture from Iowa, 2012: Is Bachmann Sexy?

This is the seventh post in our series, The Picture from Iowa, 2012 based on photos and on-the-ground conversations with photographer Brendan Hoffman leading up to the Ames Straw Poll, combined with analysis by The Bag.


I’m in Saint Louis at the AEJMC conference (a mass conclave of Journalism and Communications educators) where I was on a great panel last night with Loret Steinberg, Cara Finnegan, our photographer on-the-ground in Iowa, Brendan Hoffman, and former Bush Administration Deputy Director of Communications and Polioptics founder, Adam Belmar, discussing how the White House makes and spins images.

In the mix, naturally, was discussion about Iowa and, the beacon of the moment, Michelle Bachmann.

What was particularly interesting was some “well, of course” conversation about her sex appeal. (There was one anecdote specifically relating a worry, on the part of an older, liberal mother, about how it could lift her to the nomination.) Looking at our recent posts from Iowa, we’ve focused on Bachmann’s childlike appeal — partly because she’s somewhat childlike herself and a kid magnet on the campaign trail, partly because of how she pushes the “Mom/foster-Mom” thing. And then, we’ve also taken a look at her large evangelical identity. What we haven’t touched on, though (in contrast to, say, Newsweek) is her gender or sexuality.

Looking at this photo-op of Bachmann clearly pitched to the NASCAR demographic, the shot filled with testosterone and muscle and power and color, with Michelle dead-center between the old bull and the young bull and the kid looking on like that, her hair flying up a little (and, if you’re looking for related symbolism, “the box,” “the gear box,” or the “opening up of the box or the flap” inviting some possibilities), I’m wondering if you pick up anything like a sexy vibe at all.

Of course, it’s hard for me to look at a picture like this, or the GOP race overall, without also thinking of Palin, if just because SP basically dropped-off-the-map while Bachmann almost simultaneously and seamlessly step-up into the space of the far-right conservative woman in the race. But then, we all know how much sexual energy Palin would bring to a photo like this. What I’m interested in, then, is how much (and in what way) Bachmann brings something sexual to the photo or the campaign — or, if she is more the Madonna to Palin’s other kind of energy.

PHOTOGRAPHS by Brendan Hoffman/Prime Collective. Campaign Tumblr Site.

Follow all the posts in this series at: The Picture from Iowa, 2012.

(photos: Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, right, looks at the racecar belonging to driver Michael McDowell of Joe Gibbs Racing, left, after a campaign stop on Friday, August 5, 2011 in Newton, IA.)

About the Photographer

Brendan Hoffman

Brendan Hoffman (b. Albany, NY, 1980) is a photographer based in Washington, DC. He began his career in 2007 after working at a desk for several years in the non-profit sector. He divides his time between client and personal work. Assignments often involve covering news and politics for publications such as TIME magazine or the New York Times. His personal projects reflect his interest in the ways in which economic and political structures shape modern society. His ongoing project “Stand the Middle Ground” is an exploration of contemporary middle class America in the context of free trade and the decline of manufacturing in a small Iowa town. Brendan has received awards for his photography from Pictures of the Year International, the White House News Photographers Association, and other organizations. He has worked in a variety of countries for both editorial and NGO clients, and is a co-founder of Prime. See more of Brendan's work for BagNews here.

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