Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 6, 2016

On Obama’s Tears

photo : Jacquelyn Martin/@apimages. caption: An emotional Obama pauses as he speaks about the youngest victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, Jan. 5, 2016, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

On Jacquelyn Martin’s photo:

It has been said over and over that Obama can finally tackle gun violence because he’s entered his last year in office – that he has capital (as well as executive privilege) to spend and nothing to lose. Martin’s black-and-white profile is fabulous because it takes full advantage of the fact. At the same time it captures his grief, it also jumps ahead one year to frame Obama in history.

Politics and personality:

• The scene is so powerful because it’s also so characteristic. Standing with those who have suffered mightily from gun violence, yesterday’s event reprised the role that won Obama the presidency and guided the early days of his administration. Adopting a war torn nation in economic free fall after defeating an emotionally erratic John McCain, this steady, determined yet relatively unknown young family man appeared to many as a father-in-chief.

• Obama, as much as he’s been the pragmatist and kept himself in emotional check, has offered many flashes of his dynamic range. He can be a passionate orator — although he’s largely confined that fervor for the most critical speeches, the last day of a campaign or for church addresses (sermons, really) before largely black audiences. So seeing Obama unburden himself emotionally and also embrace the bully pulpit yesterday was sweet, if bittersweet. I say that, of course, because of the tragedy and deep frustration surrounding gun violence and also the political intransigence. It’s also bittersweet, though, because of Obama’s own trajectory. If it’s complete conjecture, I can only imagine how much more familiar and interwoven his passion might have been if the young phenom could have had another decade or two of seasoning before he became president.

• As the Republicans and the NRA slam Obama for being emotional (their code word for “weak”), Obama displays far too many facets — including the tactical Obama, the cool Obama, the consensus-seeking Obama, the Everyman Obama — to get pigeon holed as any one thing. Especially a soft touch.

But, back to the pictures….

Doug Mills/The New York Times. caption: A tear rolled down President Obama’s cheek at the White House as he discussed recent mass killings in the United States and his plans to expand background checks.

If Jacquelyn Martin’s photo is for the ages, this wonderful image by Doug Mills is about now. If Obama is typically bottled up, the grief that builds everyday over the continued losses has had no collective or popular release either. Clearly, what we see above is closer to crying than shedding a few tears. Obama not only gives Americans permission to feel and to grieve over what’s been confined to a political battle, but also to weep.

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images. caption: With tears running down his cheeks, President Barack Obama talks about the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and about his efforts to increase federal gun control.

If you follow this site, you know how much I admire the work of Getty’s Chip Somodevilla. With a single image, he has an uncanny way of capturing different layers of politics and personality. What Chip has captured here is that Obama in the pulpit. If for most politicians, emotion drives policy, here it’s the other way around.

(photo 1: Jacquelyn Martin/@apimages. caption: An emotional Obama pauses as he speaks about the youngest victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, Jan. 5, 2016, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. photo 2: Doug Mills/The New York Times. caption: A tear rolled down President Obama’s cheek at the White House as he discussed recent mass killings in the United States and his plans to expand background checks. photo 3: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images. caption: With tears running down his cheeks, President Barack Obama talks about the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and about his efforts to increase federal gun control.)

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