Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 22, 2018

Trump’s Weekend Shutdown Pix: The Medium is the Mess

President Donald J. Trump talks on the phone in the Oval Office receiving the latest updates from Capitol Hill on negotiations to end the Democrats government shutdown, Saturday, January 20, 2018, at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo: White House

There has been oh, so much buzz about the White House’s photo press release pushed out over the weekend. As you know, the government shutdown forced poor Trump to have to stick around DC and miss his $100k a head “one year in office” shindig at Mar-a-Lago.

Like most visual missives from Team Trump, this one painfully illustrates why he got in the mess to begin with. Call it a failure to communicate.

Let’s start with the title: “Photos of President Donald J. Trump Working in the White House During the Democrat Shutdown.” Only one of the three pictures can logically be described as working.

When you’re as concrete a thinker as Trump is (and naive enough to manage your own media communications), you get imagery and messaging this transparent. The sophistication and believability hardly rises about the level of: “the dog ate my homework.”  In the grownup world–the complex and nuanced one he’s the titular head of–what is instantly relevant about these photos, in fact, is everything that is missing.

Above all, there’s no tension.

In a classic fail, Trump’s sitting way forward in the desk chair but there is no sense of “leaning in” or being “on the edge” of anything, let alone his seat. It’s not just that the receiver and speaker are far from his ear. It’s that his eyes are dead. (Which is ultimately the one informative thing about the whole photo set. It’s Trump frozen, in stasis–at least, without the Millers and the Kellys.)

Then, there’s the business about the hat. I don’t care if it’s vintage Trump, it clashes with the Oval. Messaging-wise, once again, it contradicts “hands on.” By the way, find one photo of Trump working with a cap on.  The tell is that it signifies the marketing, public-facing Trump. Which is what this ultimately is about.

And with all that empty space, on and beyond the desk, the Donald is so alone. When you’re in a crisis (this being another visual expectation), face-to-face is how you restore order. (Obama/Souza illustrate here.) With his “lock ‘em in a room” adage still echoing from his impromptu televised Apprentice Show with key congresspeople two weeks ago, solitary is an indictment. Just ask Jimmy Carter about Iran and the Rose Garden.

What’s also wrong with the release is the photo editing and sequencing.

Donald Trump White House government shutdown photos.Given the emphasis on purpose, on impact, it’s weird to see a series of images devoid of work, and some sense of chronology.  I’m at work. Then, I’m walking to work. Then I’m being admired by my communications staff in my overcoat. Is he coming? Is he going? Who knows.

Of course, the most important photo leads. But any other White House would have know better than to use that colonnade picture. Which brings us back to the telegraph. If you’re devoid of a work ethic, documenting your walk from the residence to the West Wing is Job One.

Photos: White House Caption 1: President Donald J. Trump talks on the phone in the Oval Office receiving the latest updates from Capitol Hill on negotiations to end the Democrats government shutdown, Saturday, January 20, 2018, at the White House in Washington, D.C.; Caption 2: President Donald J. Trump walks along the West Wing Colonnade returning to work in the Oval Office, to continue efforts to end the Democrats government shutdown, Saturday morning, January 20, 2018, at the White House in Washington, D.C.; Caption 3: President Donald J. Trump meets with White House senior staff members Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Marc Short, Hope Hicks, Jessica Ditto, Hogan Gidley, Dan Scavino, Raj Shah, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Rob Porter, Mick Mulvaney and Lindsay Walters, in the West Wing communication offices, on the one year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, Saturday, January 20, 2018, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

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