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June 2, 2008

Clearing The Bar

Obama-Callie-Shell

(click for full size)

I saw this shot about a month-and-a-half ago and have been thinking about it ever since.  It’s by Callie Shell for the TIME White House Photo Blog and was taken in April at the University of Missoula’s Dahlberg Arena.

I think it says a lot about Barack Obama, particularly on the last day of the primary season.  For myself, there is a lighthearted quality, almost a playfulness here, in striking contrast to the tension and pretension, paranoia and jingoism that characterized most of Bush/Cheney’s tightly scripted photo-ops.  (Hence, the wonderfully extraneous nature of this flag.)

More clearly, though, what is notable is Obama’s ability to pull up so high, cross the bar — and to do so without seeming to strain much at all.

(h/t: Emily)

  • http://www.landsedgephoto.com Emily L. Ferguson

    Interesting choice of title. When sailors die we speak of them as having “crossed the bar”.
    To me, the severity of the palette in this image (spiked only by the old “put something red in the picture” flag) and the utter lack of self-importance in the posture of the subject distract the viewer from immediately grokking just exactly is going on here.
    What Obama is actually doing is what we’ve been watching him do for the last 6 months or so – not bootstraps, true, but sheer physical strength combined with a most restrained self-presentation. A powerful person concealed inside a black suit and spit-polished black dress shoes.

  • Jon Russell

    Great metaphor for the Democratic Primary.
    Also offers a stark contrast to John McCain –the antithesis of youthful and vigorous.

  • Doug

    Perhaps you mean the University of Montana at Missoula?

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    Yet another picture of Senator Obama from behind. Comments on a story yesterday about the Obama campaign spending big bucks on TV advertisement mentioned that his opponent was already well known, did not need to buy name recognition. Obama may already be the world leader in “photographed from behind” recognition.

  • http://mainstusa.blogspot.com truth

    I have an immediate and visceral reaction to this photograph. I see a black man hanging. I see whips and chains hanging on the bar next to him. I hate it.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/rcareaga/diebold/adworks.htm Rand Careaga

    “truth,” you need to get out more.

  • Cathy Chisholm

    I agree with truth. My first reaction was to be repulsed. I saw a man hanging and did not recognize that the person was Obama. I even wondered if it was a sculpture/artwork of some kind because the person didn’t seem to be real. Add the element of the thin black ropes(?) looped over the bar and there’s the suggestion of whips and nooses. After I read the description and comment, then I could see the display of inner power and strength that isn’t ordinarily visible, but still, the image gives me the creeps.

  • smasher

    Kilroy was here.
    There’s the metaphor of the final finish to the Democratic primary process, as well as somebody straining to see what’s on the other side of the wall. (The vent on the left reinforces the horizontal line of the pull-up bar.)
    But what’s on the other side? Could be a rough term for whoever makes it over the top.

  • http://www.dove2day.blogspot.com g

    what is notable is Obama’s ability to pull up so high, cross the bar — and to do so without seeming to strain much at all.
    And in a suit. I like the fact that Obama’s got that geeky skinny-guy-in-a-suit look.
    that’s my first impression of the photo, so I was actually kind of surprised to scroll down and read the comments by truth and by Cathy. I had to go back up and look again at the photo.
    Interesting take. I didn’t get that at all, but now I see how you could.

  • http://kirghizlight.blogspot.com Sid The Fish

    I also see “raising the bar” here. He’s way above the ground. After eight years of increasingly lowered expectations, it’s nice to see that the bar has been raised again.

  • itwasntme

    Spontaneous. I love this man.

  • catfood

    The painted letters visible on the wall can be interpreted as a phonetic spelling of the word, “rise.”

  • hammel

    I’m disturbed by this picture because it looks more like an animal than a man… the plain color makes it look like covered by fur…

  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com The BAG

    In appreciation of Emily’s point, I’ve changed the title from “Crossing The Bar” to “Clearing The Bar”– which is what I think I was going for anyway, having mixed my metaphors (with “Crossing The Line” rattling around in there somewhere).
    I’m also fascinated with the darker reading. To be honest, I was vaguely aware of the S&M-ish or prison-ish rope-and-chain thing going on, but I blocked it from consciousness. At time same time, though, I’m not surprised that it finds expression in the discussion, partly because racism is certainly going to be a factor as Obama crosses this milestone, and partly because so many hard feelings exist given the extremely close and hard fought contest with HRC, exacerbating the dual tension, and competition, involving sexism and racism.

  • JayDenver

    The “riz” is probably “Griz”, given the location of the shot.
    “The Griz have found tremendous success in the confines of Dahlberg Arena, which was named after the great George “Jiggs” Dahlberg, who was an athlete…”
    http://www.montanagrizzlies.com/content/facilities/dahlberg.htm
    BTW, the Time photo essay on Obama by Callie Shell is definitely worth a look.

  • steve

    It’s a great photo and the decision to run it was appropriate.
    I don’t like it either, much like truth and Cathy, it makes me uncomfortable. Projection. With all the hate from the white, er, right – I fear for his safety.
    But … the fact of the matter is he’s doing a chin-up on a familiar looking chin-up bar. Good for him. Probably made his back feel pretty good after all his travels.
    There should be a good BO joke here, but I got nothing. Dag.

  • peon

    When are we going to quit being impressed with the physical strength element in our leaders? These men do not arm wrestle the enemy. This is a childish concept “my dad can beat up your dad”. Many bought into this with Bush, “a guy you wanted to have a beer with”.
    The flip side of this is where does this leave women? Obviously inferior in upper body strength, and by extension inferior in ability to lead.

  • http://www.landsedgephoto.com Emily L. Ferguson

    I don't see any commentary about women being inferior. I see a person who is alone, in a stark black and white aloneness. HIs ability to chin his 6'2" body up there at probably 9 feet is consonant with his committment to taking care of his body, staying in shape, being able at 46 to get out there on the court and dunk a basketball. But, still, this is his achievement and his alone.

    As has been his campaign. He's had no help from the party, no retinue of Democrats clinging to his coattails. He's assembled his own staff, guided his own campaign, and used his security personnel for his pickup games on election mornings. The party didn't want him, they've waited until literally the final moment to get in behind him. They're pretty upset that he's taken the party from them, too.

    And although he is physically very strong for his age, he is also a loner in a way that many other presidents haven't been at all. This campaign was his project, although he had to get his wife's permission to run. Just as he's able to chin himself on that bar due to his own physical strength, he's been able to weather some interesting stuff due to his loner strength, his internal resources.

    I think I'm going to go read my new book about Lincoln and his confrontational cabinet for a while…

  • http://www.650keni.com/pages/ScottRhode.html Grumpy

    “I see a black man hanging.”
    Strange fruit, indeed. But I’m going to crack wise anyway:
    “…without seeming to strain much at all.”
    Of course not. Look at those tiny feet! What’s there to lift??

  • tina

    Exercise hour at the prison.
    This photo isn’t positive to me somehow, maybe partly because of what Truth notes, but for me it’s the concrete institutional look–even with the suit and all, he looks–from behind, not knowing who he is–like a black guy working out in a jail.

  • madone

    Hate to be contrarian, but there is a strange Abu Ghraib quality to this picture. Not pretty.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/michaelweaselo/ michaelp

    Absolutely. I get the Abu Ghraib vibe right away and also the black man working out in prison thing too. Its a disturbing image to me.

  • Carol Gonzales

    Suspension — stymied — disturbing.

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