Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 7, 2018

Carson Jones’s Classic Side Eye

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) (L) participates in a mock swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Mike Pence (R) as Jones' wife Louise (3rd L) and son Carson (2nd L) look on at the Old Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. Jones is the first Democratic senator from Alabama in more than two decades. He defeated Roy Moore leaving Republicans with a 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The photograph showing Carson Jones, the eldest son of newly sworn-in Alabama senator Doug Jones, staring down at the Vice President, was the most heart-warming image on my Facebook feed this week. Friends shared it on their feeds, tweeted it under the hashtag #Shade, and sent the picture to my inbox, preemptively calling it the “Photo of the Year 2018.” Social media commenters overused smileys, unicorns, and rainbows; no one (at least in my social media bubble) seemed to say anything contesting or vicious. Even trolls and alt-right sympathizers were largely silent about it.

Why did this image capture so many hearts?

With Jones’s hand on the Bible held by his wife, Louise, and the Veep administering, the ceremony is already solemn and momentous. As a backdrop, the hallowed Old Senate Chamber heightens that solemnity.

The pale faces lit up by cameras against the marble columns and red velvet curtains evoke chiaroscuro paintings by Old Masters: Caravaggio or Rembrandt. The dynamic vectors of gazes and hand gestures do, as well. (The Calling of Saint Matthew comes to mind.)

However, the photograph works on another level too, owing to its sly humor: shot slightly from below, the image monumentalizes all four figures, lending a comical dynamic through the seeming distance between Jones and Pence, Mrs. Jones’ oblivious stance beside the VP, and finally, her son’s scene-stealing side-eye. Everyone, except for the blank-faced Pence, seems to be caught in an about-to-smile moment, their lips curling slightly upwards. Compared to the flood of “funny” memes effectively weaponized by the alt-right, as well as Donald Trump’s Twitter bullying also couched as “a joke,” the non-violent humor in the shot of the Jones family provides a respite.

Rarely seen in the images of white, male, Republican politicians nowadays, the image vividly depicts a silent confrontation. The current administration has lied, manipulated the truth, and denied facts. Trump has surrounded himself with people that are complicit, scared, or too polite to call him out. Against this backdrop, the image juxtaposes a politician known for opposing same-sex marriage, supporting conversion therapy and undoing legal protections for LGBT citizens with a man owning and embracing his homosexuality and clearly savoring the political and ideological victory. While his father defeated a Christian conservative with a stronger anti-LGBT stance than the vice president in Alabama, the Carson Jones stare down is also a stare of defiance, an act of non-violent resistance. For a second, at least, the world is set right.

– Marta Zarzycka

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images Caption:  U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) (L) participates in a mock swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Mike Pence (R) as Jones’ wife Louise (3rd L) and son Carson (2nd L) look on at the Old Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. Jones is the first Democratic senator from Alabama in more than two decades. He defeated Roy Moore leaving Republicans with a 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate.  Photo 2: Caravaggio, The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1600, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.

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