December 1, 2013

Relative Vantages (and Advantages): Souza and the Photo Media Go to the Bookstore

Obama Politics and Prose

In light of ongoing tension between the White House and the press over visual access to the President, I was interested in Saturday’s post-Thanksgiving photo op from the D.C. bookstore, Politics and Prose. Not that there is anything off-kilter about Pete Souza and a press pool working the same “Small Business Saturday” event. The media’s complaint a week ago pertained mostly to more intimate imagery where the visual press has no access while White House photographers produce and then exclusively distribute knockout pictures. Still, because Souza had preferred access in the bookstore, he did publish and promote his shot via Twitter and because the general news consumer rarely has the chance make such comparisons, its instructive to juxtapose his vantage and deliverable with that of the photo pool which, apparently, was mostly packed behind or around the cash register.

The shot above is the one Souza tweeted, the privileged access allowing him to frame Obama and the family like regular folks, in this case, typical shoppers browsing away as well as BHO as the a warm, loving Dad-in-Chief.  Of course, Pete’s poetry cannot completely counteract the confounding hilarity of the citizen far right doing who-knows-what, and if you look closely, loving Dad seems to displays that not-unfamiliar tension in his cheek and neck. (The book, by the way, which several people on Souza’s Twitter feed ID’d, is “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich (with this cover on it).  I understand it’s about the consequences of a rape and a boy coming to know himself on a Native American reservation. Based on the list published by the White House, it didn’t make the final cut. A couple more notes about “the Souza style”: as noted frequently here by the readership, he loves to photograph Obama from behind. It’s a gesture, I imagine, that’s supposed to infuse a mystique. (You also don’t see Obama actually interacting with the public unless that engagement rises to the level of a Rockwell painting. A double case in point.)

The following shots illustrate the wire photographer’s challenge. Skilled as these shooters are at catching a look or an angle, they didn’t do all that bad for being so confined. By the way, here’s the AP edit, here’s Getty’s and here’s the WAPO’s slideshow.)

Obama shops at Politics and Prose bookstore Theiler

This is by Mike Theiler for Getty Images.

Obama Politics and Prose Nicholas Kamm Getty

This one, which is informative for the positioning (“Hel-looo back there!”), was taken by Nicholas Kamm for AFP/Getty Images.

And then, if you’re going to put Souza’s pic up against one from the wires, take a look at this shot AP’s Manuel Balce Ceneta captured. I like it because it seems more real than the contrived everyman portraits Souza is famous for. What Ceneta gives us is less the idealized father than a domestic scene in which Malia and Sasha, truly like regular citizens, are simply two teenagers standing around waiting for Dad to pay the bill. And then, I also like the way Manuel frames the two crew cut Secret Service dudes with the whirly things in their ears on either side of Malia. There’s where the world really divides.

(Note – 9am PST: detail added as to Souza style)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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