November 6, 2012

The Last Slideshow: The Brilliant Stephen Crowley's So Long to Mitt Romney

Before the Campaign ’12 results come in this evening, I want to pay my respects to one of America’s finest editorial photographers. I’m constantly taken by his ability to capture meanings on multiple levels. Take his images from candidate Romney’s final blitz, for example. On face value, Stephen Crowley is merely offering glimpses into stagecraft and campaign ephemera. Look further though, and the photos are silent editorials, even essays about the candidate, his personality and political culture.

I want to touch on a few of Crowley’s images that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times slideshow entitled: “To the White House? Or Home to Massachusetts?” as Crowley sees Mitt back to the land of the 1%.

Reminiscent of the wonderful black-and-white diptychs Crowley shot from Obama’s pool bus in Ohio (from installment 5 of Crowley’s series, Smoke Filled Rooms), the photo above is simultaneously mundane and devastating. The picture is not just about how the candidate is hermetically sealed in a bubble. What’s more salient is Romney’s obliviousness to the citizen/witness standing in the cold outside his window.

Hardly a well oil machine, often more a gaffe waiting to happen, there’s something appropriately tortured about almost every aspect of this Team Romney photo. Sen. Portman, sort of Romney’s version of McCain’s Lindsay Graham, is a little too frozen and deep in his pockets; Romney’s body man, wanting to avoid getting in the way, I imagined, stands like a flamingo; Ann Romney looks a little too round and country-fied from that angle; and God knows what kind of clasp that is between the country club Romney and the lead singer from the band “Alabama.”

The artifice of this makeshift backdrop/stage set is hilariously exposed by the sight of the natural turf. If the ticket is merely sprucing up for a photo, the belt hitching and sleeve buttoning amongst the weeds clothed more formally than their on stage fare gives this photo an almost vaudevillian edge. They almost looked the part, but…

And then, I credit Crowley for infusing as much sensitivity as satire into this final, final photo of the Romney campaign, capturing the couple under the bleachers. A lot was made about the campaign’s appropriation of the slogan from the popular and liberal-ish TV series, “Friday Night Lights” disregarding the protest from the show’s creator, Peter Berg. The real brilliance of the photo is Crowley blending of America’s romance with high school sports with allusions to high school and what happens underneath the bleachers.

If you remember back to her convention speech, Ann Romney insisted her marriage was more than just a fairytale. In spite of that one moment of qualification, though, that’s how she and Mitt describe it – and how most of the campaign materials do also. In light of what to do with two people who resisted revealing themselves to the American public, and who were never comfortable in the political spotlight, Crowley makes a sweet gesture. In the last photo of the last slideshow before signing off on the Romney campaign, Crowley takes this couple, lost in their thoughts and nostalgic always for earlier days and simpler times, and deposits them back in that world of fantasy.

(photo 1: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times caption 1: Mr. Romney eschews the raucous staff dinners and late-night strategy huddles that are a staple of campaign life. At night, he sometimes eats alone in his hotel room, savoring his solitude over takeout meals that aides order from nearby restaurants. Mr. Romney got some work in as he left Kettering, Ohio, Tuesday afternoon, en route to Tampa, Fla. caption 2: Mr. Romney hugged Randy Owen of the music group “Alabama” before a rally in Ohio on Tuesday. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, left, and Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, right, also attended the rally. caption 3: Mr. Romney is 65, and it is hard to imagine a third presidential campaign. But for now, he seems to be willing himself into the presidency, as much for the confidence of his staff as for motivating the undecided voters who may glimpse him on television. Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, prepared themselves on Friday for a round of photographs with campaign volunteers and members of the local police departments after a rally in West Chester, Ohio. caption 4: Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, waited on Friday to take the stage at a massive get-out-the-vote rally in West Chester, Ohio. Despite a hectic schedule, Mr. Romney makes a point of talking to his wife — who is keeping her own, slightly less demanding schedule of rallies and talks — every day in conversations squeezed in on the plane just before takeoff, in his sport-utility vehicle between events, or at night back in his hotel room.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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