February 23, 2012

The Campaign Fundraiser Photo Blackout (Or: How Far Into the Smoke Can Stephen Crowley Go?)

As a fan, I’m certainly interested in following Stephen Crowley’s new photo series, “Smoke Filled Rooms,” designed to “examine the processes and consequences of contemporary American politics.” Here’s installment number one.

An early question I have, however, is just how hard and deep Stephen and The Times intend to penetrate the smoke? Plenty of imaginative pictures are being produced these days in the name of a different kind of view, especially in the supposedly unposed “reality style” actually intensely encouraged by the Obama Administration.

(click for full size)

I raise the question spurred by these two pics from Stephen’s first dispatch, and offer up still another question:

If the overriding job of politicians these days is fundraising, and money in politics is at the root of what’s wrong with Washington, why is it that a virtual blackout exists on the documenting of incumbents showing their stuff at these coffer-fattening events? Just like there are laws (there are still some left on the books, aren’t there?) governing the disclosure of large cash contributions, why is it public servants, and in particular, the President, inhibit photojournalists from documenting what has become the cornerstone mechanism of democracy in action?

Leading off the inaugural post to the series, Crowley writes:

Last week, President Obama embarked on a three-day mission to California and Washington, where he attended eight private fund-raising events. Bill Gates and George Clooney were among the supporters who gave their loyalty — and as much as $35,800 per ticket — to Mr. Obama’s goal of a greener and more prosperous America. And a second term.

Touché on the “greener” reference. With the mission statement of the series in mind, though, and focusing on the two panels from Stephen’s eleven image “notebook” from the scene of two of those Obama high-dollar rain makers, what I want to know is: are these images intended as smoke-penetrating windows onto the bank-rolling playing field and the corresponding influence of the upper 1%? Or is Crowley — highly-skilled and thoroughly well intentioned, but understandably mindful of access and power relationships between the media and the legislative and executive branch — mostly working the edges, otherwise tantalizing us at the doorstep (or, the corner of the serving table) of America’s staggering, 24/7 invitation-only money-and-influence shindig?

Of course, it’s great that Mr. Crowley can paint out a scene in words, helping us to visualize in our minds the super tall ceilings, the Roman columns beside the swimming pool, and the mystery guests enjoying their $35,800 dinners with the likes of George Clooney, Jim Belushi, Mayor Villagarosa and Valerie Jarrett, all amidst the hot pink orchids. But what of the irony that Stephen Crowley, our witness and reporter-on-the-scene, happens to also be one absolutely kick-ass photographer?

See: Smoke Filled Rooms: President Obama’s 1 Percent Solution (NYT)

(photos: Stephen Crowley for the New YorkTimes.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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