April 14, 2014

Beyond the Photoshopping: Privilege, Poverty and the Washingtonian's Jay Carney Spread

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The photoshopping of a different picture may have drawn drawn widespread attention to this Washingtonian Magazine feature, but the lead photo is a lot more troubling. If Jay Carney is the public face of the Obama administration, what his family is doing here — the Washington area being the richest in the nation — is demonstrating an obscene degree of plenty. So, is this breakfast in the Carney kitchen or is it a deluxe breakfast buffet at a five star hotel? Maybe have a few beignets with your pancake mountains, some bacon slabs and a quartet of melons while you think about it.

At the Bag, we’re often thinking about the invisibility in American media of those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.  Apparently, so were the people at Bill Moyers’ website last week, the site presenting a slideshow based on a project at Poverty.org inspired by classic imagery from photographers such as Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. The slideshow was showcasing social documentation by contemporary photographers.

This shot seemed an appropriate contrast to the lead shot in the Washingtonian feature, the Second Harvest Food Bank having their own little spread, too. Variation on a theme, I was also drawn to this photo of brothers in Denver, one doing their own comparison pricing on the fly, the other thinking hard on the best deal for some of that bacon. (I don’t think they have a dog related to the Obama’s dog, got cell phones when they were 12 or have ever heard of Sidwell Friends.)

If you’ve been following this site, you know we’re also concerned about the blurring of lines between professional identity and public celebrity, especially when it involves politicians or government officials. Beyond the conspicuous consumption, several more things trouble me about this magazine piece. There is the fact that it’s a largely a vehicle for the promotion of a book by Mr. Carney’s wife, ABC News contributor and former White House correspondent, Claire Shipman, a self-help book (The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know) in the spirit of Lean In. Then, whereas the Obamas have exercised a great deal of discretion in keeping their children out of the public eye, this article flaunts the Carney-Shipman children.

Finally, the three photos in the piece are not editorial content in what passes from an editorial article, but instead, art-directed product placements, the current White House Press Secretary, his wife and their children posing as models to promote multiple clothing brands.

.. That being the case, we have more context for understanding why the creative team felt the need to doctor the photo above. More symmetry, I guess, only enhances Jay’s $895 suit from Hugo Boss and Claire’s $299 shift dress from Karen Millen.

More pancakes?

(Carney Credits: Creative By Design Army. Photography By Cade Martin. Styling By Pascale Lemaire, T.h.e. Artist Agency. Hair & Makeup By Ismail Tekin & Carl Ray, George Salon At Four Seasons. Poverty photo 1:John Partipilo/The Tennessean/AmericanPoverty.org. Poverty photo 2: Judy Dehaas/Denver Post/AmericanPoverty.org.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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