Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
April 15, 2016

On That Bubbly Obama Science Fair Photo

US President Barack Obama blows a bubble using a bubble wand created with a 3D printer as he tours the 2016 White House Science Fair in the Blue Room at the White House in Washington, DC, April 13, 2016.

The first thing to note here is, Obama loves the science fair. Every year the White House puts one on, and every year, judging from the pictures, Obama gets a thrill. It’s the wonk in him coming out. It doesn’t hurt that the event has also produced some fun  photos. And this year was no exception.

The majority of the shots — it was a kid’s science fair, after all — are run of the mill. But this one, of the President in front the sour yellow wall, and juxtaposed with George P. A. Healy’s stuffy 1859 portrait of John Tyler, really captures something. Here’s the caption:

US President Barack Obama blows a bubble using a bubble wand created with a 3D printer as he tours the 2016 White House Science Fair in the Blue Room at the White House in Washington, DC, April 13, 2016.

If nothing else, it’s speaks to a sense of humor. (The fact the sconce seems to sprout from Obama’s head only adds to the fun.) I think we could see the photo as a little more expansive, though. If you remember eight years ago, the presidential election was taking place against the background of a failed war and a terrifying economic meltdown. If Obama was not that well known, he projected something the country was desperate for after eight roller-coaster years of Bush. He presented the picture of poise and maturity, especially compared to the “man-the-torpedos” John McCain.

Fast forward eight years to the 2016 Campaign. With the GOP candidates running around with their hair on fire — Trump, in particular, seeing the country on the brink — it’s no surprise why the photo might capture the imagination. It’s not just a playful moment. It’s a rejoinder.

(photo: Saul Loeb/ AFP)

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