1. I like Pete Souza’s shot quite a bit. It captures Obama both in the belly of the beast, and also squarely facing the larger institutional problem.
2. The 123 is a nice touch. It speaks to the possibility of a logical and identifiable set of steps to follow (123’s… ABC’s…) to reform this country’s rampant and discriminatory incarceration system. It made perfect sense, by the way, that the President would avoid being photographed inside a cell. This is a very different context than the time he was photographed inside Mandela’s cell on Robben Island. That was about putting himself in the other man’s shoes (and aura). In this case, it’s about bearing witness to a broken system. Also, the corridor view denies the haters any more Photoshop material.
3. VICE indeed scored a coup with this POTUS sit down. I’ve been outspoken in criticizing how much the White House has traded access for exposure, especially in chasing pop culture cred and/or media access to a younger demographic. In this case, VICE profits, the still serving double duty in promoting a joint program with HBO down the road starring the President of the free world.
As for the shot itself, yeah it’s a home run, applying an impressive degree of intimacy to the first presidential visit to a federal prison. In his presence and his empathy (accentuated in the cropped “counselor-in-chief” version), Obama’s presence transforms these inmates from pariahs to men with stories; men who made mistakes; men who might not even be here were it not for the draconian treatment of (and the timely light shone on) non-violent drug offenders.
4. As a man on a mission, there are just two words (amplified by the screen in the background) to describe this photo: “Teaching Moment.”
(photo 1: Pete Souza/White House caption: President Barack Obama walks in the Residential Drug Abuse Prevention Unit at El Reno Prison after making a statement to the press, in El Reno, Okla., July 16, 2015.photo 2 & 4: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images caption: US President Barack Obama, Charles Samuels, right, Bureau of Prisons Director, and Ronald Warlick, left, a correctional officer, looks at a prison cell as he tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution, July 16, 2015, in El Reno, Okla. photo 3: VICE News caption: President Obama talks with inmates inside El Reno Federal Correctional Institution.)