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January 9, 2005

Your Turn: Bush at the Garden

If you’ve been following the blog, or you get what I’m doing, or you’re one of those visual studies student who’s been getting a little tired of the professor’s brilliance, I invite you to lend your analysis to this image.  It was published in a special NYTimes “Year in Pictures” section in late December, and I think it’s really rich. 

A number of you have expressed the desire to make “the BAG” more of a conversation.  I’d like nothing better.


For context (and extra stimulus), the caption reads:  A video screen shows President Bush talking with a woman as delegates to the Republican National Convention in New York mill about and wander the hallways of Madison Square Garden last August.

(image: Chang W. Lee in NYTimes)

  • Stump

    Where one stands often affects what one sees. Therefore, from Canada. Don’t have TV. Listen only to CBC Radio. Only newspaper: The London Review of Books, 15 months out of date so that it is out of date and season.
    The picture is obviously taken in a hospital corridor. Restroom must be a place where folks can sit in a chair with arms and relax, having a game leg this strikes me as nice. Most likely the God-King who demands human sacrifice has made a visit to this hospital hence the picture of him talking with a patient.

  • Cannuk

    The image appears to show Mr. Bush engaging an elderly person. His leaning forward towards the person and his tightened grasp upon the persons hand lend credence to his self styled (“Roved” or not) image of ‘compassion’. The arrows at top all point in the same direction that Mr. Bush is looking, but visually they tend to draw the eye up and over the subject of his compassion. The foreground subject (our cowboy) blocks out the elderly ladies body and wheelchair, allowing us only a look at her head – there’s not much ’solidity’ to the subject of Mr. Bush’s ‘compassion’ after all. Both men in the foreground stride by purposefully, oblivious to the image. The other person leans against the wall, tired and as unaffected by the ‘affecting image’ as the other people. She looks away from the intended subject. Her stance is distinctly tired and perhaps a little defensive/angry too (the crossed arms). I think what is perhaps trying to be conveyed is done poorly here – nothing in the ‘technical’ focal point of the image serves to support it. In short, everything about the photo serves to drain away whats being attempted… ie: it is an image no one finds engaging in and of itself.
    So that’s *my* kick at the can.
    P.S. You know, I really missed you over the holidays ;-)

  • Victor

    To me, the image says: “Don’t mind him, he’s just the President.” To me, the image also says that Bush gets so much TV exposure that it is the only way people know him–like any other TV show. People wake up, turn on the news, and wonder, “What’s that rascally President up to today?” The image shows two things: one, that Bush (or his advisors) devote so much time to his TV image that he appears everywhere, and two, that people generally don’t care about whatever it is Bush is doing as far as daily life is concerned. Maybe this means people subconsciously receive images of Bush reading to elementary-schoolers and talking with geriatrics, but they don’t realize what impact it has on their attitudes towards him? But, it probably just means most Americans are too busy to stop and watch Bush talk to an old lady during the middle of their days. “If it isn’t a war, it isn’t worth watching” could perhaps be another caption for the image

  • Michael/BAGnews

    Your comments on the “directional dynamics” are really interesting, especially how the arrows are all “going Bush’s way.” Your point about how the the woman in the wheelchair is obscured (thus, calling into question the validity of the interaction) is also interesting. Also, the woman on the left (with her back to Bush) really is a great element, isn’t it? I couldn’t really tease out the main reason or reasons this picture (among all others) ended up in that year end review. Maybe your idea about contrasting affection and disaffection has a lot to do with it.

    I’m so glad you took a cut at this. There are a lot of sharp, intuitive people following the blog now, and I really would like to make this more of a collective effort.

    By the way — it’s nice to be missed.

    Victor, Maybe people are too cyncial about politicians (or Bush) to give them (him) credit for reaching out. Maybe we don’t take it as more than window dressing.

    Regarding your point about Bush as an extension of tv: If we do tend to relate to Bush more as an image (or as a character in on a “conservative West Wing”) do you think that’s just a function of the times, or more of Bush’s doing?

  • Victor

    Michael– I would say both. Bush gets a lot of exposure, but I also think he or his advisors encourage him to seek exposure at the same time. People are so used to seeing the president–any president–on TV that it’s really not a big deal. It is my opinion–although I haven’t done any research–that Bush has been on TV more than other politicians in recent times, and that is how people identify him. People are cynical about presidents kissing babies and shaking hands because it looks like an act, and in many cases, I’m sure it really is.

  • woodswitch

    It does indeed seem that one cannot pick up a paper or magazine, turn on the TV or check the news on the internet (my main source anymore) without encountering that smirking face, while at the same time this president has held fewer intentional press conferences (and why are they called “conferences” when nobody is really “conferring”?) than any recent president.

  • victorfalk

    If I hadn’t read it was a video screen, I would have believed it a photograph or a painting. A typical cult of personality corridor painting: a picture of the Leader showing Compassion and Respect towards the Old, like you could see in the millions in the Soviet Union or in North Korea.
    I don’t know what’s spookier: if it had been such a still picture or that screen temporarily filling the same function, surreptitiously.

  • 2fs

    What’s most curious to me about this picture is the way it’s cropped…or rather, not cropped. It would have been pretty easy to excise the bored-looking woman at the image’s left, or the low-comic RESTROOMS sign above the screen – but they were left in. I’m also thinking that if the point was to show Bush chatting with the oldster, if the photographer had waited half a second longer, Cowboy Hat wouldn’t be in the way. However, even though my initial impression of the image is that it’s an odd, even subtly critical image of Bush, the video-screen image itself is (as someone above remarks) rather iconic: there’s something in Bush’s posture that makes him look like (okay, so I’m weird) Mother Theresa or something, as if the oldster is a sort of supplicant. Curiouser and curiouser…

  • Johann

    The thing that hit me first was the respective locations of the restroom sign and the screen. The sign acts as the title of a painting, the painting being the screen. This correlation between the upper signs and the screen is reinforced by the fact that the old woman is in a wheelchair. The right sign also contains a wheelchair.
    Words that characterize this picture in my mind are: Bush, old, wheelchair, toilet, bored, ignored. The president of the USA seems a bit misplaced, lost in the boring, busy, dirty, imperfect world of the average citizen. Perhaps this is the intended message: The president cares for the weak.

  • Michael Shaw

    Johann, I never noticed the “double” wheelchair reference. Isn’t it funny that the one on the sign points away from the women on the screen? Maybe it works in Bush’s favor, as if to say that he is interested even if the other sign (and maybe the culture as well) associates the handicapped more with those functions of the body we would rather not talk about).

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