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October 25, 2008


(To shift back-and-forth between the four pictures, put your cursor on the left or right edge of the set)

Alan Chin rang me up tonight from Pennsylvania where he is half-on and half-off the campaign trail.

The two of us were marveling over Friday’s images of Obama in Honolulu, appreciating how rare and beautiful they were.  Alan was saying that Obama’s grandmother’s illness — and the media’s discretion around it — created the rarest (albeit, one day) space for him to reflect and be left primarily alone.

How poignant and profoundly unusual for Obama (or any presidential candidate) to have this moment-in-time, not just to spend with his grandmother, but to also wander his childhood neighborhood just 11 days before the national election.  As Alan said, it’s real life, and the most humble moment of the whole campaign.

(images: Obama walks around his old neighborhood after visiting his ailing grandmother in Honolulu, Hawaii October 24, 2008.  1.) Justin Sullivan/Getty  2. Hugh Gentry/Reuters. 3 & 4. Alex Brandon/AP)

  • yesterdaygone

    it wasn’t that much of a jaunt. vultures…er…press wouldn’t even allow him a moment of peace.
    Even an attempt to take a quiet walk through his old neighborhood involved guards and a crowd of reporters and cameras, attracting attention from passers-by. Obama, clad in jeans, a black shirt and sandals, quickly gave up on the idea and returned to his grandmother’s apartment building in an SUV.;_ylt=AkNPwul5rUiB73Fhml4bZzlsaMYA

  • martin

    Dignity. Pride&stride. Mission (un)accomplished. All aspects that I would associate with the campaign: so far/fair.
    I would also imagine that if pros like Mr. Chin are posting comments; that it would be not unfair to remind people of Voltaire’s ‘Candide’: that this is ‘not”. ‘The best of all possible worlds/that there is work to be done in the garden: Martin’.
    If Reuters, Getty and AP are subsumed reduced to this. Maybe it gives some scale of the forthcoming gardening work yet to be unearthed.

  • harrier

    Obviously the photographers didn’t completely leave him alone, though I suspect Alan’s remarks refer to a lack of badgering questions and close-ups.
    Nice long lens work here.
    What strikes me, more than ever, is Obama’s comfortable body language reflecting a man at peace with himself and confident of just who he is. Old images of Kennedy, even with his bum back, return. He has the potential to become a great president, as Kennedy might have. Lord knows we need one just now.
    I regret that so many desperate people hang on to an aging politician who seems to have never known peace, and probably never will, as even now he exhorts his followers to fight, fight, fight on.

  • Annie

    I don’t know the context of these photos – whether Senator Obama was aware and tacitly approving of them.
    To me, a nurse – they look like he is doing the very real work of grieving. Making sense of a life, his relationship with someone loved and being lost, of the initial feeling of bereftness and surreal-ness, and of the future forever changed.
    Looking homeward and into the past, while integrating all of that with the here and now, and then off into the fog of the future.
    He looks vulnerable, thoughtful and oh, so very human.

  • martin

    a’Trittion. Desperate times and you ask whether the future President has a concept of the fog – shouldnt that be ‘fawg’ of the future. Honey. Annie? Humanity has never been a one sided chorale: Gazza; Baruquoaba;Fallujah.
    I do not see an Obama immersed in the grief that you identify; making sense; of an initial, surreal, bereft politician. Looking vunerable. Thoughtful. Perchance.
    Nice try; nurse Annie!
    Thanks too for the touch of humanism; ‘they’ look like he is doing the very real work of grieving’: who would be the who(m) and whom would be the (t)hey in your equation. Nurse Annie. pray tell?
    This is an umittigated plea for ‘our’ best interests. Given a vote, my ‘they’ would be Mr.Obamas: I wonder what your own ‘they’ contains. Nurse Annie? contra-humanism possibly? An anti-humanism: possibly.
    What could possibly be wrong with a human precedent: in less it was in opposition to sub-human President. Where is the scare factor? Color the gaps for me. Please

  • Mommybrain

    That’s my hometown too. It sure has changed since we were kids there, although this looks much more like home than the resorts and high rises usually chosen to represent Hono.
    These images and the one of him boarding the plane home are heartbreaking. Anyone who has lost a parent knows that sense of Why won’t the world stop just for a moment, can’t you see my heart is broken? For him, it must be 10 times as frustrating.
    Oh, pleeze Jeebus, let it be him in 10 days.

  • Quincy Scott

    Shot #2 is very Abbey Road, but without companions. I find these shots very isolating.
    Then again, I think we’ve all “gone home” at one time or another, and it is a time of introspection, which is definitely reflected here. When is the last time a presidential candidate allowed us to see him in moments of real reflection?
    Something else here, and maybe this is what triggered the Abbey Road connection for me, is his wearing flip-flops. It humanizes him, and I think makes him seem a lot more vulnerable. When I asked my father, a World War II veteran, why he did not plan to vote Obama, he thought about it for a moment and replied that he thought Obama was weak. I think many Americans break two ways over how they react to Obama’s displays of vulnerability, introspection, consideration of the facts. I see these things as great strengths, especially when compared to the cowboy leadership we’ve had for eight years. But some people gravitate toward the kind of stiff upper lip strength shown by John McCain. I know it’s been said before, but the fact that Barack Obama was so powerfully influenced by strong women explains a lot about the man and his appreciation of a quieter, more thoughtful kind of power.
    Anyway, best wishes, Toot.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    The first two images, presented as they are in this weird, horizontal format, reminded me of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. The third image resembles a grab snapshot of ??? indeterminate meaning ~ and evoked no emotional response, thus. otoh, The fourth picture looks like some kind of drug deal… the ‘long lens’ reinforcing the idea that this is some kind of police surveillance photo, tinged as it is with the characters’ street-scene wary tenseness.
    Without the conceit, implicit that you recognize this man as celebrity, these images have no apparent meaning, whatsoever.
    Presuming. . . and i use that word in its strongest sense, that we do re-cognize the central figure as someone we know, place him in some space-time we somehow also know as “He, being now in his old neighborhood of then,” further: that by simply ‘being there’, in this present time, that he is doing something significant, that we, the viewers should then appreciate that which we think he is doing is “out of the ordinary for him to be doing” ~ fwiw, imho: means that these images entirely fail (as photojournalism) to do anything other than evoke responses = beliefs / illusions that we hold within ourselves, have about Mr. Obama.
    otoh, after reading The Story (since the images fail without this text context to be a narrative), i am struck by its universal message, apparent: You can never go back there again; There your Self once being just yourself then; forever renown now, Mr. Obama does recognize himself as being a new being.

  • g

    Martin, by “they” annie was referring to the photographs.
    Annie’s sympathetic comment really doesn’t deserve the mean-spiritedness displayed in your response.

  • martin

    Honnestly! You are dreaming or masturbating on this one. Go back into visual archives and come back at me& State that any person in photo-op for Beatles Abbey Road album was: !) wearing flip-flops 2) prepared to flip- flop. Over Iraq, Iran. Afghanistan.
    This is heart of the hubris: these are the questions you should be asking potential Presidents. You have ‘lost’ the war in Iraq. Four thousand plus brave soldiers deaths. Tells you that. A further thousand Allies. Not my language at all
    Iran:the effort to pocure a future war against Iran…is.. failing. How are you going to initiate a scale of dialogue..that is necessary..without the benefit of a State Dept..that: more/at currently seems unwilling. For said same. Sad dialougue.
    Afghanistan: more coalition troops have died here than have died in Iraq. How will issues be solved and there be a move towards reducing the number&scale of those troop deaths. American, British, Canadians et al. how quickly?
    Simple penchant queries. Seemingly without answers. Even within the middle of Election campaigns. Trenchant.
    Seems to me that you have a candidate willing to encroach: yet you are mired.
    Wake up! Smell the quality of the coffees and realise that you are electing a candidate that is able and willing to step out of his footwear. For YOU. What is so difficult about this equation?
    If he doesnt manage it; its a huge failure of Democracy. TAKE THE SHOES AWAY FROM HIM.
    What are you scared of? a failure of indecision. or a failure of derision. You have preached to us for so long. Now we a-wait
    And you are worried about the callibre of your candidates’ footwear?
    Limping, lumpen proloteriat & not a cross-zebra in site.
    Ask former President Clintons best mate Bono; which way is it swinging now Nelson.
    Rubbish. rubbish rubbish

  • Jonathan


  • jtfromBC

    Martin, what is the point your trying to make ?
    respectfully, jt

  • Victoria

    Thank you, Annie, for that perceptive post – the before-and-after ‘losses’ notion rings so true.
    I once spent time where I grew up helping to care for my dear ailing grandmother. To stand vigil for a such a passing as memories of “that early time with her” are evoked in one’s surroundings – for me, it was the sound of the mourning doves and the town clock chiming… it can be quite overwhelming. I felt like I was being re-woven at some primal level. Friends would call and say, “It must be so difficult.” I would answer, “No. It’s… FULL.”
    Obama’s Tutu may be giving him her ultimate gift of love: to be brought to that sacred internal place at such a moment of historic transition.

  • John Powers

    Thank you Annie for your observations about these photographs. Not about the photograph, but about nursing, I’m happy you recognize grief. From my experience and what I’ve heard from others too, grief rather comes up on a person by surprise, so much so people don’t often recognize it. It’s a great help when a nurse, or someone else names it so the work can go on.

  • Spencer

    He looks vulnerable. Not sensitive-new-age-guy vulnerable, but I-hope-he’s-surrounded-by-Secret-Service vulnerable. Honestly, I’m afraid for the guy, and seeing him looking like he’s slipped out for a walk on his own kinda freaks me out. With all the nut cases in the world (see: Ashely Todd, previous post), and with the despicable whisper campaign oozing out of his opponent’s camp, he is in a dangerous place.
    Obama is one brave hombre. I wish on the flip side of all the attention paid (and rightly so) to the perils McCain faced in his military career, there would be more acknowledgment of the danger posed to Obama, and his bravery in the face of it. He’s applying for what is a dangerous job on a good day, and the fact that he evokes in some ways both JFK and MLK is extra troubling. With two young daughters, it can’t be easy for Obama.
    If it’s not obvious, I’m a big Obama fan. And I’m pretty sure he’s the first politician I’ve ever felt this weird protectiveness toward. With the current administration I always felt like I was being patronized to: “don’t worry your little heads about it, just go shopping and we’ll protect you.” In contrast, Obama’s low-key bravery, dignity in the face of attack, and bluster-free – if over-played – message of, “yes we can,” inspires me to step up.
    I want to protect the guy, and to let him know I’ve got his back. Of course I can do neither, so I’m left sending this thought to his Secret Service detail: you guys had better take good care of him.

  • Exredstater
  • jtfromBC

    Spenser > ‘..seeing him looking like he’s slipped out for a walk on his own kinda freaks me out…’
    That sort of thing just doesn’t happen, check out the first picture, the guy in the white shirt standing behind him is a bodyguard. Thanks to the B lady incident, the increasing incendiary acts and comments, Obama’s security is constant reviewed and upgraded accordingly. I suspect a sniper incident within a large crowd event, would present the greatest challenge to detect or deter.

  • Spencer

    jtfromBC: Ayep, I did see the guy in the white shirt, and figured him for a body guard. However that was the last picture I saw in this series, and it was my first impression that freaked me a bit: I’m seeing, from left to right, Barack crossing the road alone first, and then the other two pics. Those first ones really look like he’s on an abandoned street by himself, and I’m seeing no Secret Service between him and those dark windows at then end of the street!
    Maybe I’ve seen too many episodes of “24,” or played too many video games. Or maybe I’m just naturally paranoid :)
    So I’ll say again: Secret Service, please take good care of him. Same goes for any other governmental agency that might be reading this. (I’m looking at you, NSA!)

  • Victor F

    I think the best photos of people come from moments when they are alone. These photos show a side of Obama that would normally never be seen. Unfortunately, from what I hear about the context, Obama can never truly be “alone.” The photographers will find him no matter where he goes. So I think in these photos, we are seeing the grief Obama feels at the coming loss of his grandmother, and simultaneously the frustration of never truly being able to be alone. Instead of taking a walk around his childhood home, he has to cut it short and go back inside. It’s never easy to grieve, but to have to grieve under such scrutiny must be very difficult. Through it all, though, I see the same poise of character that has made Obama the candidate with the most potential for, as others have said, greatness.

  • elfpix

    Sure a sparse and ugly collection of images from this trip to Hawaii, long lenses notwithstanding. What a dreary neighborhood, and what a shame that he couldn’t find the privacy with his own thoughts that he needed right then.
    He looks like an ordinary guy who’s come down to check in on his closest elder and is taking the air while the nurse is doing stuff that guys might want to go into the other room while grandma is having her sponge bath or her linens changed or her clothes changed. That’s when the guys are politely asked to go into the other room and he decided some fresh air might help him to think it over.
    As for the grieving part? I don’t get that, I don’t even think he’s grieving for the loss of his personal privacy – yet.
    But both of those will come, and possibly the first of them sooner than the second. Certainly I suspect he will grieve for the second when he finally fully confronts the fact that the only place he can have privacy is indoors. It’s going to be rough to have to retreat into private family quarters to get any privacy when you’re accustomed to being able to take a walk around the block.
    It would not surprise me at all if he sat down with the press corps administration and worked out some guidelines for giving him space. That won’t help with the papparazzi, but, quite honestly, if you start googling the shooters assigned to him you’ll soon find out how long and dignified their pedigrees are. At least two of them have covered things like Katrina and know quite well how to do their jobs and a third has been covering him for the last 9 months and seems to have built a nice rapport during that time.
    As for the situation with Toot, I suspect if she passes on in the next week he and the family will go back down ASAP. She sounds much better than he thought and the Republicans had the decency to respect his choice to go and not try to score points off it. Even the conservative punditocracy seems to have done that.

  • BerkeleyMom

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a distance shot of Obama alone. And he’s wearing the proper Hawaii footwear for sure. My Hawaii-raised son-in-law calls them slippers not flip flops. Very practical to slip off before entering someone’s home (proper etiquette there) and all the better to make sure no creepy crawlies are hiding inside your shoes when you put them back on!!

  • Pants Elk

    Vulnerable? Yeah, sure. But think of this – Barack Obama is the Miles Davis of politics. There simply isn’t a cooler guy on the planet. Look at his relaxed, effortless cool. Great hair, great sunglasses, jeans and a shirt.
    This is the guy that will reinvent the USA for the world. Vote for him. Vote for him. Vote for him.

  • Pants Elk

    Vulnerable? Yeah, sure. But think of this – Barack Obama is the Miles Davis of politics. There simply isn’t a cooler guy on the planet. Look at his relaxed, effortless cool. Great hair, great sunglasses, jeans and a shirt.
    This is the guy that will reinvent the USA for the world. Vote for him. Vote for him. Vote for him.

  • g

    It’s certainly not the kind of setting we would see a typical candidate in. Chain link fence. galvanized corrugated panels. a jumble of battered mailboxes. asphalt-paved alley. browning grass. These details lend the scene some hard reality, grounding him.

  • Laura R.N.

    Dearest Martin,
    There is something you should know about R.N.’s. Most of our training is based on observation an critical thinking. That’s how we save lives. If I see you at the store I don’t look at you as a regular person would. I look at your veins and how quickly I can obtain access to your system to resusitate you if I have to. We are also highly trained in spotting and addressing grieve, in any form that it may present itself, since every one grieves diferently. When I saw the pictures of the senator I just saw a men in a deep state of reflection and grief. A grief the he most keep under control due to his current political sitiation. Remember that nurses are the most trusted profession in this country, because of our life saving skill and our ability to assess our fellow human beings. your incoherent rants lead me to assess you as an angry desenfranchised potential addict. Possibly and angry alchoholic. There is so much help out there for people like you. Get some help. Transfer your anger towards something possitive and stick to subjects you know.

  • redX

    Long strides, long way to go.
    Looks a bit like Abby Road photo.

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