Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 24, 2015

Obama at the Science Fair

One thing we know about the presidency is that vitality (and/or the continuous perception of it) is an absolute prerequisite when it comes to White House communications. That said, it’s an indication of Obama’s self-assuredness that he tried out the goods in front of a room-full of news photographers at this year’s White House Science Fair. The caption reads:

US President Barack Obama tries a wheel chair powered by a rowing motion designed by Kaitlin Reed, from Massachusetts, during the 2015 White House Science Fair March 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.

(The version just below, mostly passed over by the media in favor of one above, is certainly scarier. And just FYI, the photo leading the post was cropped from this.)

The photo certainly elicits its own set of associations, the most obvious one evoking FDR. Given Franklin’s efforts to insure he was never photographed or filmed in the wheelchair, the “unremarkability” of this photo can mostly be seen as progress in the way the culture now treats and thinks about disability. Perhaps notable, too, is how disconnected this photo feels from Obama’s signature achievement, the passing of health care legislation. Seen as underwhelming by the left, and under heavy and continuous bombardment up to the moment from the right, no wonder “Obamacare” might not even come to mind upon seeing this. That is, unless you read the photo in terms of what eight years of governing — with the profound crises and the dysfunctional government Obama has been saddled with — will do to a man.

If the opposition were to take this on, by the way, it seems there is plenty to praise. The fact that you can power the chair by rowing seems to perfectly fit the chorus about American ingenuity and self-reliance.

(photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

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