March 22, 2016

Media, Pix and the Cuba Visit: Beyond Obama and Ché


There are different definitions of poverty. The word more typically refers to the lack of money, material possessions or sustenance. But another definition has to do with something shallow or cheap — a poverty of thought, for instance. In the case of Obama’s trip to Cuba, and especially yesterday’s media’s coverage, the distinction matters.

In the case of Obama aligning visually with a mural of Ché Guevara or Raul Castro grabbing his wrist in a weird way so it dropped instead of raised, these are cheap things to focus on when the real challenge of the Cuba trip is the country and the human condition. (By the way, here’s a more contextual view of Obama in Havana’s Revolution Square with local dignitaries. The caption is below.)


You couldn’t get a clearer, if more incidental example of the two worlds than you could from this photo yesterday. A Reuters stringer caught Air Force One coming low over a Havana Street, the symbol of America’s chief executive juxtaposed with those simple houses and those signature old Cuban cars.

Yesterday, the gap in the social media stream between the Ché, the limp wrist and more vital images motivated me to tweeted this:

The image by Richard Bram was posted on an Instagram site documenting a photography workshop conducted by the School of Visual Arts.

Given America’s hyper-polarized political atmosphere, supercharged by Campaign ’16 and now the SCOTUS battle, it’s more tempting than ever now to mine the political and the culture wars. Obama’s a communist? Obama’s not a manly man? Cheap clicks abound.

Just below the buzz, though, there is plenty of earnest photography to be found. If you’re really looking, many photographers — not just independent, but traditional news photographers, too — are capturing the real circumstances and the real disconnect. Take NYT photographer Stephen Crowley and where his eye will go even if he’s attached to the presidential detail. I follow him closely on Instagram.

Bridging the two spheres, the caption reads:

HAVANA, CUBA-March 20, 2016-Residents of Havana wait for a glimpse of President Obama and The First Family who arrived to dine in their neighborhood.

Beyond the impoverishment of the media buzz, what Crowley is capturing and bringing close, like so many of his earnest colleagues, is a world of difference.

(photo 1: AP Photo; caption: Che Guevara mural looms large behind Obama in Havana. linked photo: ENRIC MARTI/ASSOCIATED PRESS caption: Back dropped by the monument to revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara, U.S. President Barack Obama greets members of his delegation after laying a wreath at the Jose Marti monument in Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba, on Monday, March 21, 2016. photo 2: Reuters/Stringer; caption: President Obama traveled to Cuba on Sunday, becoming the first sitting U.S. President in almost 90 years to visit the island republic. As Air Force One approached José Martí International Airport, an as-yet-unnamed Reuters photographer snapped the following photo, which is sure to become one of the defining visuals of the historic visit.)

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Michael Shaw
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