March 15, 2006
New Post Office
(the regular, full size image here)
This photo, taken Tuesday, did not come in a frame. That was my doing. However, I suppose it will end up in one shortly, if not in the Dunham household, then on Representative Kuhl’s wall.
The image, which appeared on the White House website Tuesday, shows Bush signing a bill to rename the Scio, New York post office in honor of Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who died in Al Anbar Province, April 2004.
Cpl. Dunham has been dead two years next month, possibly just enough time having elapsed to charm Brother, Sis and Mom with this signed proclamation from America’s head cheerleader. (Dad, on the other hand, is not so quick to be bought off, managing to give himself to the camera with some genuine complexity.)
In what feels like a rush to create the evidence of compassion, the White House gathers the family in an airport lounge. Without a thought as to composition, Dad’s head nearly hits the picture’s edge; the image falls away toward a bare corner; a low hanging picture has an airplane pointed at Brother’s head; and the shot is cluttered up with random chairs, one clearly holding the Dunham’s plopped-down effects. (It’s a picky additional point, but the White House caption also has the parent’s names out of order.)
More than anything else, however, the picture feels like a collage. So discrete are the parties, the three individual older men, along with the back three figures, could as well have been spliced together. More significantly, neither Bush nor U.S. Representative John R. “Randy” Kuhl, Jr. (R – New York) seem to have any kind of personal connection to the grieving Dunhams.
Am I being obsessive and unrealistic in isolating such details? Perhaps. But, as a keepsake for a family whose son Bush sent to die, this photo seems reflective of Bush’s attitude toward the war. It’s thrown together, it’s impersonal and it’s primarily gestural — a mundane act of customer relations in the business of war. (…In fact, if there is any life to the photo at all, it might be found in the furrowed brow and slightly tense posture of Rep. Kuhl. Of course, for a Republican congressperson posing with a President with Bush’s popularity ratings, that is a reaction anyone could understand.)
(image; Kimberlee Hewitt/White House. March 14, 2006. Rochester, N.Y. whitehouse.gov)