August 7, 2012

The Most Unplugged Gabby Douglas Photo: Breakfast of Champions BEFORE Kelloggs Came Calling

What’s been interesting to track the last year or so are news photos that push the aesthetics or art photographs that  somehow wend their way onto more editorial turf. This photo by Martin Schoeller at TIME Lightbox, published on the heels of Olympic gold, seems to fit those terms. It shows Gabby Douglas in the home of the host family she’s been living with in Iowa the past two years. Kitsch art meets Olympic mania? I can’t really speak to the artistic intent.  I have some thoughts about the commercial and cultural politics, though.

An inherent limitation of photography is the inability of a picture, without accompanying data or the recording of a historic event, to situate us to a specific point in time. A few months from now, for example, will anybody know that this photo was taken of the World Champion and new American Sweetheart before the gold avalanche? I mean, this photo is fun and all, but that was before Gabby turned into a mega-icon, her image already the subject of management and control. Looking at this picture last week, I imagine the spirit around it was novelty and the sense it was “good for promotion.” But that was “before.” I can only wonder what the quick coalescing Team Douglas now thinks of the quirky portrait, sporting that “complicated” expression, relative to “building out the brand.”

Most significantly, I’m interested in the symbolism of the cereal bowl given its rather hilarious foreshadowing of a phone call Ms.Douglas apparently got within hours, maybe even minutes, of emerging atop Olympic gymnastics — not from Wheaties, this time (1, 2), but Kelloggs.

And the message implicit to the Dear Smiling One (not Demure One; not Mysterious One; not Too Adult or Complex or Enigmatic or Sidelong or, God knows, Questioning One)?  Just know that in your future, if you actually want to make your way up the stairs, it’s by standing behind that bowl of Corn Flakes with that medal around your neck, the flag proudly upon your chest and a grin a mile wide.

Lightbox post/backstory.

(photo: Martin Schoeller for TIME)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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