August 14, 2014

On the Snowden WIRED Cover Issue: Still Missing

Because the gaze is blank and beyond us, it’s mostly about the hands, particularly the upper, clenched one. Whether freedom and democracy is his baby, his woman or a bit of both, Snowden’s not letting go … and he’s ready to pop you one in defense. …If that’s too granular for you, however, you can read this piece by Brian Stelter, detailing how an off-balance Snowden, in a surreptitious hookup with WIRED in a Moscow hotel room, led to committing the uncharacteristic PR blunder of wrapping himself in the flag.

Otherwise, employing the services of rock star portrait photographer, Platon, this new WIRED cover/media event feels a lot more like a newsy, East Coast media establishment offering than an image that conveys the code-breaking stamp of either Snowden or WIRED.  In fact, I’m curious to know how much you get a feel of Snowden at all, as opposed to how much the cover, dramatic as it is in a familiar register, is more reflective of Platon.

If next-to-nobody is going to know the difference, by the way, it is interesting to learn that Platon brought along a bag of props, including the flag, which he urged upon Snowden. If telegraphing the overly-dramatized rest of the shoot which I’ll elaborate on in a second, this backstory by Wired Editor, Scott Dadich, makes sure to point out that Snowden’s Old Glory is “the same flag brandished by Pamela Anderson in Platon’s iconic 1998 George magazine cover.”

Of course (and at Snowden’s expense), the gossipmongers are all over it.

Moving inside, I’m afraid the photos feel even more contrived. The shots choose to stylize what we understand of his deep risk, commitment and sacrifice from the months of tense news accounts and contentious disclosures. The images, instead, use the motif of the fugitive and the man steeling himself against a government. The net effect is not to introduce or illuminate but to fictionalize. Posing as himself at the expense of releasing to the public more “raw data,” it’s as if WIRED and Platon redact from us the actual man experiencing his actual and ongoing trials.

That’s not to say that the stylizing and the fiction is all for naught, however. Unlike the others, I can work with the last image, one more prop from Platon’s bag. If it provocatively suggests that Snowden is the greater moral enforcement agent, it has echoes of a branded prison t-shirt, too.

The full online article with images and interview here.

(photos: Platon for WIRED)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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