August 17, 2013

Former Newsweek Editor and that "Blurry" Obama

Much of what happened, in terms of politics and even the dialectics of an office, is a painful experience; there’s a lot of compromise. Much of my best work did not see the light of day in the magazine. But when I reflect on my 12 years there I still have to celebrate the handful of images, which were produced over the course of that period. But let me point one thing out to you, this picture of Obama made by the then contract photographer, Ilkka Uimonen, was never published by Newsweek, was never published in the States at all, it has never been seen. I had to come all the way to Cortona 7 years later to find a group of people who would publish that. It’s a strange satisfaction. I have harboured interest in this picture, among others, for years and years, because for me it’s genius. But photography is subjective; some people to whom it was sent said: ‘It works, but can you send us the one in focus?’

from: James Wellford : The Death of Newsweek – via Emaho Magazine

What’s so interesting, first of all, is the opportunity to read such extremely frank remarks by one of the past decade’s top photo editors about the world of news magazine publishing. Having left a crippled Newsweek, Mr. Wellford “tears the bandaid off” in criticizing the publication’s larger commitment to photos, photo stories and photojournalists.

The other compelling thing is the photo Wellford highlights in the interview, identified as Obama’s first presidential campaign appearance — and the fact Newsweek (nor any major news organization) would publish it. Jamie Wellford sees a lot of meaning there. As he states now:

“There was so much hope and expectation in Obama that reusing that image now, after his government was partly disappointing for a lot of people, to me it makes a lot of sense.”

I appreciate his presumption about the photo and I’m not saying it’s not true, but it’s actually not clear to me what the effect specifically says and does. For example, did the intent of the image, when it was originally made, have more to do with Obama’s political style? Or was it motivated more by the fact the man was such an unknown? And if the photo is a commentary on Obama’s relationship to policy, was the ’08 candidate really all that hesitant to stake out positions and place himself within the political spectrum? Finally, is it possible that what the photo meant then — given Obama’s seven year record — is what the photo means now?

(photo: © Ilkka Uimone for Newsweek. caption: DMZ Boston MA, Then Senator Barack Obama, in his first campaign appearance. Now the president.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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