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November 11, 2005

The Backside Of The Summit

(Revised: 11/11/05. 1:28 pm PST)



It’s no surprise the group image the White House posted on its website from the Mar del Plata summit (top) looks left-to-right.  The alternative (bottom) would have placed Bush in the same frame as White House adversary, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (top left).  (By the way, I like how Chavez wears the “attack dog” Republican red tie, while Bush opts for the Blue State “give peace a chance” style.)

The BAG’s visual analysis of the summit is available here. 

As always, I’m interested in your reaction (as well as any and all political theories regarding clothing and color signifiers).

(image 1: Paul Morse/White House.  Nov. 4, 2005. Mar del Plata, Argentina. image 2: J. Scott Applewhite/A.P. Nov. 4, 2005. Mar del Plata, Argentina. Via YahooNews)

  • Doctor Jay

    Hmm, in both photographs, Bush’s suit appears lighter in shade. As if he has a strong light on him that isn’t shining on any of the other men in the photograph. Kind of a halo.
    And he alone seems to be posing as well. The others are laughing, talking, smiling, and thinking, but he alone is looking to the horizon, jut-jawed, doing the “man of vision” pose.
    This photograph was taken by an official WH photographer, no?

  • momly

    Okay, here’s something a little OT, but I noticed that the darker men and the women are on the edges of the group. Symbolic, much?

  • J Wilshin

    We were travelling the weekend of the summit, but I did catch a glimpse of it on the hotel tv. At one point I saw the delegates move in a line through a room, in front of cameras. All the other delegates that I saw seemed to be walking together in groups of two or three past people who smiled or nodded at them. Bush was alone, and no one appeared to acknowledge him in any way as he passed in front of the cameras.
    This was just a snippet, but it stuck out in my mind. He seemed isolated or marginalized.

  • margaret

    It looks like a few of the people in the back row are giving Bush the Evil Eye in that top photo…

  • RR

    To echo J. Wilshin’s comments, I noticed both during the television coverage at the time and in subsequent photos that Bush is isolated from and not engaged with any other participant.
    This seems indicative of his diplomacy skills.

  • Kalil

    I’d note that in the bottom photo, Bush and Chavez are equal distances from the center.

  • DH

    Actually, both photographs look doctored. The second one in particular shows signs of Bush being “photoshopped” into the image. In other words, I don’t think he was there *at all* when the picture was taken. Certainly not the second image. Even the first one has certain indications that his presence was added after the fact.

  • Doctor Biobrain

    I guess I’m just old fashioned, but I have a dream to once again live in a world where a tie is just a tie. No deeper meaning or hidden significance, other than to say “I’m wearing a tie”.
    Until then, I’ll just stick with the “I’m with Stinky” message that’s worked so well in the past.
    P.S. While I do agree with DH that both images were Photoshopped to include Bush, I don’t think this was done after the fact. I believe we are seeing the newest phase of digital correction: Real-time Photoshopping. Even the participants won’t quite know the difference.

  • oliviacw

    Tempting as it may be to believe it, I don’t think he was photoshopped in. There was apparently some very directional lighting at that shoot (look at shadows in both photos), and it also looks like Bush was wearing a lighter gray suit than the deep navy, charcoal, and black suits favored by the others. Those two could easily combine to make him stand out visually, since he was also physically standing in front of others (especially in the lower photo).

  • PTate in MN

    What does it say about Bush’s relationship to the world when we can’t tell whether or not he was photoshopped into the picture?
    The fashion seems to be not-red ties, and I am struck by the number of solid, rather than striped, ties. A solid tie communicates that the wearer is plain, not nuanced, not elite. Europeans and diplomats wear striped ties.
    A blue tie, of course, also communicates trustworthy.

  • mad

    From PTate in MN: “What does it say about Bush’s relationship to the world when we can’t tell whether or not he was photoshopped into the picture? ”
    Yes. Bush was absent, in spirit and in mind and in attitude– maybe in body as well. In fact from the look on his face in the photos, it may be that Bush himself doesn’t know whether or not he was photoshopped into the picture.

  • Cactus

    oliviacw said something interesting…notice the shadows. The only shadows I can see are on the men immediately to the right and to the left of Bush. This indicates some additional lighting shining on our fearless leader. The sharpness of the shadows would indicate perhaps a strobe.
    Also he is standing ever-so-slightly in front of the others in his row, or perhaps at an angle, just enough to evade the strobe shadow. This may also account for the lighter shade of his suit.
    As to the difference between the two photos, the top one is like the traditional wedding party photo, in which all participants are lined up very neatly. Subsequent photos usually show the breakdown of this arrangement as the participants start to talk among themselves and turn to leave. It might only be a matter of seconds, since the disintegration starts as soon as the flash goes off.
    After reading the BAG’s notes at HuffPo, I think there is indeed reason to believe that Bush is acting like a petulant third-grader. He knows he’s supposed to be in the middle, but that would put him just too near Chavez. So he demands change and the teacher moves him instead of Chavez. He just has to smile and bear it or look like a petulant third-grader. In the last photo on HuffPo, it is obvious that he knows the other kids don’t like him and all he can do is smile for the camera to hide his anger.

  • Anastasia

    In the first photo in both Huffin Puff and BagNews Notes, two of the participants, who are standing close to Bush, have their hands clasped in front of them; a defensive posture. Everyone seems nervous and uncomfortable. Bush as everyone has said, seems alone in a crowd.
    On Huffin Puff, if you scroll down to the wide angle shot you see Mexico’s Vincente Fox standing very close to the middle of the group, where Bush should be. From what I’ve read, there is a major fued going on between Bush and Fox, so that may have had as much to do with Bush’s positioning as Chavez.
    As others have noticed the wide angle shot seems like it couldn’t be the formal shot because everyone seems so disconnected. It’s as though they can’t wait to get the whole thing over with.
    But when Clinton was President, everyone seems happy, unified and harmonious; the hoped for outcome of any summit.
    Clinton was an adult in that he could (and did) work with anyone. No petulant behavior or acting out. He saw it as his job to try and get along with all of the world’s leaders and for the most part he did. He tried to build bridges, and it shows in the photo.
    The Bush group are as disconnected as you can get, both physically and emotionally. It shows how Bush tends to make enemies and destroy friendships with other world leaders, rather than make peace with them.

  • fotonique

    [Some of the BAG's relevant images are at HuffPo, but the best comments are at BNN.]
    At HuffPo, the BAG posts the following (with tongue slightly in cheek):

    If you missed the story, just before the final group photo, it was concluded that Bush was positioned a little too close to his antagonist, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. (Chavez is circled in yellow in the top row, as is Bush in the bottom row.)
    As a remedy, Bush shifted a couple slots to his left (as you can tell here in the official photo). Innocent enough, right? Well sure — except that politics is a game that can never put enough emphasis on symbolism, territoriality and “who blinks first.”

    Likewise, with tongue also slightly in cheek, I must say that you’ve completely missed the rabbit in the hat on this one, BAG.
    Bush has notshifted a couple slots” away from Chavez in either the first or second HuffPo image, or in the BNN image. In fact, no one in these images has shifted positions at all: it’s just an illusion created by the different camera angles used in the shots.
    Here’s how the trick works. Step through this composite of the group images:

    1. At the top of the composite is the overall group shot, cropped slightly for size. It has been photographed 90º head-on towards the center of the group. Note how the multi-story building in the background is only on the left side of the frame.
    2. In the middle is the closeup group shot, photographed from the group’s right side. Note how the multi-story building in the background now fills the entire frame.
    3. The composite’s bottom image is the other closeup group shot, photographed from the group’s left side. The multi-story building is no longer visible.
    4. The individuals visible in each of the composite’s three images have been labeled from 1 to 16. Chavez is #1, Bush is #14, and so on. (Vincente Fox of Mexico is #10: we’ll come back to him later.)
      By comparing each numbered individual’s face and relative position, it’s obvious that Bush, Chavez, and everyone else have remained in the same position in each image. Nothing has shifted except for the cameras’ point of view in each shot.

    It’s been an entertaining show so far, but David Copperfield does a bigger and better job of (mis?)directing the audience’s attention.
    Moving on to the next act, other SOTA group portraits reveal (Surprise!) no special importance to the relative positions of Bush and Chavez. To widen our perspective of the stage, let’s bring Mexican President Vincente Fox back into the picture:

    • In another 2005 SOTA group shot (it’s big: couldn’t find a smaller image), Chavez is in the top row, far left—a visual pun if there ever was one. Fox is in the top row center, and Bush, redeemed, is now in the honored position at bottom row center.
      At first glance, Chavez looks cranky: apparently he’s antagonized everyone else so badly that he’s been put in the corner. If he moves left just one more step, he may be headed for a fall.
    • In the official 2004 Special Summit of the Americas group portrait, host Fox is in middle row center; Bush is in middle row right; and Chavez is in top row right.
      These must have been kinder, gentler times. Bush is within arm’s length (only one slot removed) from Fox and Chavez, and everyone is all smiles. All three are wearing dark suits, blue ties, and black shoes, no doubt as an expression of mutual admiration. Expect a group hug any second.
      If you close your eyes and rely solely upon imagination in the right side of this frame, you might even see Bush as the centrist between the progressive, left-leaning Fox and the right-wing nutjob Chavez.

    But that illusion all depends on your particular point of view.
    One thing’s for sure, though: no other blog beats playing Visual Detective at BNN.

  • Christiane

    Wearing a plain red tie is the clear sign of a politician belonging to a a party defending the rights of workers, or of a tradeunionist. I’m not sure whether this is true in the US, but it’s very clear in Europe, especially in the South of Europe; I’m sure it is about the same in the South of America. It’s almost surprising to see Lula wearing a blue tie.. but in this context it could be a sign that he is willing to compromise.. It is a remembering of the red flags waved by the demonstrators of the socialists, communists parties, or of the tradeunions.
    Also, the signal is stronger when the tie is plain than when it shows stripes or other motives.

  • SadieB.

    No Momly, you’re not the only one. Race was the first thing that jumped out at me, too. Since the rest of the story was below the fold, that’s what I assumed the article was about.

  • lytom

    Recently the thought of the idiot, or seeing his face, or hearing his voice is bringing on feelings of an outrage.
    It is enough to read about napalm and phosphorus bombing of civilians in Fallujah, it is enough imagining all that goes on in the occupied Iraq that is bound to happen to some innocent person, who is in wrong place at a wrong time…and that place is Iraq anywhere….
    The sick feeling and now to top it off, we have images of Medals of Freedom from a leader, who gave them also to commanders of deceit, of military invasion and to occupation lord of Iraq.
    It does not rign the freedom, but pure conspiracy to undermine remains of democracy in USA. Farce.
    Bright spot a butterfly
    Muhammad Ali
    A salamu alaykum!

  • Marysz

    This is a group short on both non-whites and women. This leaves them with a tremendous political blind spot. They are unlike the majority of people they claim to ‘represent.’ The most interesting character to me is the black woman in the upper right hand corner of the top photo. She’s partially cropped out (no surprise there), and she has an enigmatic smile on her face as she looks to the men lined up on her right. Does she know something the men don’t?

  • janinsanfran

    All I can say about this is: what a lot of gray guys! Is that really all there is?

  • readytoblowagasket

    fotonique said: “[T]he best comments are at BNN.”
    But of course!
    The BAG said: “It’s no surprise the group image the White House posted on its website from the Mar del Plata summit (top) looks left-to-right.”
    Aside from the Chavez-Bush placement issue, another advantage in choosing the left-to-right image is that it shows unity and orderliness. As we all know, the summit itself was anything but unified and the protests were anything but orderly, and I think those dynamics are reflected in all of the photos the WH did not choose. In the summit photo with Bill Clinton, everyone looks satisfied with the results of the meeting and hopeful about the future. This year’s photos show the relationships breaking down, and the disarray and realignments setting in.
    Choosing the ultimate photo for the WH official record of the event is a nice example of visual revisionism. Chavez considers the summit a huge success for him, and it was: He managed to steal the limelight from the almighty U.S., which is an accomplishment for anyone, but especially for an upstart. The future of these relationships is now uncertain. What is certain is that the U.S. can no longer call all the shots. Meanwhile, to me, Bush looks like he’s thinking: “If I smile hard enough, it’ll prove the summit was a success.”

  • jt from B.C.

    fotonique says,
    “In another 2005 SOTA group shot (it’s big: couldn’t find a smaller image), Chavez is in the top row, far left—a visual pun if there ever was one. Fox is in the top row center, and Bush, redeemed, is now in the honored position at bottom row center.”
    Is this not Quebec City, Canada, April 20-22, 2001 ?
    Is not Jean Chretien the Canadian PM standing in the center?
    Or is this group shot just a bigger illusion?

  • GIP

    I don’t think Bush was Photoshopped in, but it’s likely that Photoshop was used to sharpen or enhance contrast of POTUS to make him pop out of the picture. Only makes him look more isolated. Many fine comments here. Can’t add much else to them.

  • buda_jenn

    Jon Stewert had it write – “There he is, Mr. Slumpy.”
    -”Is this whole thing in Spanish!”

  • rose

    Do you have any closer shots of the preznits teeth. There is some question about their condition. From the shots I’ve seen lately he seems to be reluctant to show much tooth, but what I’ve seen looks discolored.

  • jt from B.C.

    rose, have you considered the possibility he’s too busy to brush, all terrorism 24/7, feeling de-fanged after the SOTA.? Photo 1 a frat smiley shot, # 2, Senor Peligro reappears (no smile)in a formaldehyde like body, or did Madame Trousseau wax him moments before his demise. Paul Martin the Canadian PM standing below Chavez, is saying “Wow man really!”, Fox is trying to hold it in, while whatever attracts their attention delights Chavez.

  • shifty

    In Photo #1, Bush is the only one with no shadows on him. Also,
    there’s a light illuminating him from the right.
    I wonder how much of the phone-tapping that goes on is just to figure
    out what color everyone else is wearing so you can stand out?

  • acm

    Actually, both photographs look doctored. The second one in particular shows signs of Bush being “photoshopped” into the image. In other words, I don’t think he was there *at all* when the picture was taken. Certainly not the second image. Even the first one has certain indications that his presence was added after the fact.
    I don’t buy this — the other figures in the picture are turned toward his position in various ways. I’m pretty sure that the lighting difference derives from his being a bit forward of the group: note that the light source is mainly from the left (see faces) and that the figures just next to him are in a curve backward into shadow (or the one guy is shading them), leaving him a step forward and right in the light path (not unlike the man to the right of Chavez).
    strange lighting — it’s particularly unfortunate in the top shot, with the big shadows. I wonder what the constraint was…

  • Jo

    My thought was I wonder if Bush thought he looked fat? He was most likely left along because no one is really very interested in how much bike riding he does. I guess the film of the bubble has got into my eyes.

  • fotonique

    JTFBC said:

    Is this not Quebec City, Canada, April 20-22, 2001? Is not Jean Chretien the Canadian PM standing in the center?

    You’re right on both counts: compare the photo of Jean Chretien here. The main page for the Third SOTA 2001 in Quebec City (with a smaller group portrait) is here.
    My apologies for not sourcing this correctly.

  • jt from B.C.

    I enjoyed your delightful sense of humour.(as underlined in “My apology)

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