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March 23, 2007

More “Staginess”

About two weeks back, there was an interesting discussion here in response to Alan Chin’s reaction to covering Clinton and Obama in New Hampshire.  The topic was media staging, and part of the conversation had to do with how the presidential campaigns "hyper-control" what we see.

In response — and to also introduce and welcome The BAG’s newest contributer, German photographer, Heinrich Voelkel — I offer you this "slightly tongue-in-cheek" slideshow of out-takes Heinrich captured last month. 

The occasion was a meeting between President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Angela Merkel at Schloss Meseberg, the German’s newly-renovated government guest house about 40 miles north of Berlin. 

According to Heinrich — and in response to the New Hampshire photos — his thinks the Europeans are even more controlling and visually calculated than the Americans.  At Schloss Meseberg, for example, four "photo stations" were laid out with pre-arranged scenes to be staged at each one.  (Heinrich managed to get to two, explaining that it’s impossible to cover anymore ground.)

The result of "the show" was that Merkel and Chirac not only presented themselves to the press, as if incidentally, four separate times (the way newlyweds might jump from photo spot to photo spot at a wedding), but Chirac and Merkel actually staged four separate kissing scenes.

(If it comes through, I’m expecting a "third" kiss from still another "station," through the courtesy of a colleague of Heinrich’s.  If I receive it, I’ll post it as an update.)

As I’ve said previously, the knowledge that political photos are staged is certainly unique.  What is more so is the opportunity, and the ability, for us to see, and to visually begin to strip off the scaffolding.



Update 3/28/07:  I just received a version of  kiss #3."  Thanks to Carsten Koall.  Used by permission.

I invite your comments in general, as well as analysis of any particular image (which you review, as a group, by clicking the icon to the right of the "double right" arrow.  To see any single photo in full size, first click  "photo options," then "view larger photo."  This won’t work from a text slide, however.)

(images:   Heinrich Voelkel.  Used by permission.  Schloss Meseberg. February 23, 2007.)

  • margaret

    For some reason, this exercise in visual control reminds me of early Christian art particularly raised to a fine art during the Middle Ages, wherein, for the illiterate (of which were the majority of people), pictures were the only way to instruct people in the message of the Church: it’s stories and mythologies.
    People don’t read so much any more, so, in some ways, they have become functionally “illiterate.” The way to instruct them as to what is happening, globally, is to provide code in pictures. France and Germany are “friends.” Hence, the kissing. Everybody relax.

  • quax

    This is what turned me off politics at an early stage. The obsession with the perfect photo staging already starts at the provincial and local youth party organizations in Germany.

  • tina

    Nonetheless Germans are very cynical about politicians, much more so than Americans, and this offsets somewhat the ability of the photos to manipulate. Kiss away, euros!
    No German would look at a politician and hyper rich frat boy out “clearing brush” and think he really knows what manual labor is, or what life is like for the working class. Only Americans are so clueless as to be led by these photo stunts.

  • Victor F

    Really dig the slideshows on the site. I’m just learning how to do those… I guess I’m behind the curve here.
    I suppose the Europeans are more subtle at staging photos than we Americans. I always see American politicians in front of backdrops with abstract slogans and meaningless words to back them up. At least these Europeans are keeping it simple, even if they are totally conscious of how staged it all is. It’s still the same thing I guess, it’s still a completely manufactured event.

  • ice weasel

    I guess, one one level, I don’t much care about the staged images. They don’t convey much information. The simple sound bytes these images arwe supposed to represent, there’s not much to ponder on.
    However, I still think the issue is, and this analagous to “the product” we get from the written and video reporters, why aren’t we getting more “candid” images from these events and campaigns? Is it truly impossible? Or are photographers taking the images and they never get published? If it’s the latter, why? Wouldn’t it be more interesting for viewers and readers to see
    “inside”? Or is it laziness on the part of the photographers? Or complicity?
    I don’t mean to sound, if indeed I do, accusatory. But I do ask a sincere question. It’s certain that there are situations, scenarios and tableaus that do deserve our attention, in fact, command it. Then why is the only thing we see these staged commercials?

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