Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 7, 2016

A Remembrance of (Nancy) Reagan

Former first lady Nancy Reagan stands next to to an image of the President Ronald Reagan commemorative postage stamp during a ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California in November 2004. Nancy Reagan died on March 6, 2016, at age 94, the Reagan library said. | REUTERS

One of the more interesting photos marking the passing Nancy Reagan, it naturally says as much about him as about her. Of course she always was a foil for the Gipper – especially after he died. In this case, the photo displays the severity of the gatekeeper compared to the quintessential picture of amiability. More significantly though, what is evidenced is Reagan full-fledged mythological status. He is frozen in time while Nancy largely depicts how mere mortals continue to age.

What is most telling though is the occasion, and how that context further informs the scale. Because Nancy is not just standing in front of a painting. She is standing in front of a billboard-sized Ronnie blown up from the size of his just-unveiled memorial postage stamp. (It’s just one of three he adorns, by the way, the most recent one, fittingly, a “forever” stamp.)

Unveiled in 2004 at the Reagan presidential library (the former president died five months before), the painting is based on a 1981 photo during his first year in office. It was the lower taxes, less government, states’ rights, strong defense, school prayer, union busting Reagan. Intent on shaking America out of the Carter malaise and boosted by the release of American hostages in Iran, the already 69-year-old leader of “the Reagan Revolution” is emblemized by perpetual optimism and amiability.

Yes, as the photo remembers Nancy as curator and protector, it’s also an outsized version of “stand by your man.” As Dutch continues to be romanticized, deified and posterized, however (especially in this dwarfish GOP presidential campaign), I can’t imagine a better illustration of his perpetual magnification.

(photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters. caption: Former first lady Nancy Reagan stands next to to an image of the President Ronald Reagan commemorative postage stamp during a ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California in November 2004. Nancy Reagan died on March 6, 2016, at age 94, the Reagan library said.)

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