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November 5, 2008

Our Man In Grant Park: The 44th President Of The United States

We invite you to share your reactions to Alan Chin’s images from Chicago last night. I’ll be adding some thoughts (and also some background) within the next couple hours, and Alan will available to respond in the discussion thread.
Update 9:33 PST: Alan has posted at least one comment to give some flavor. I thought I’d just add a few notes from our conversation earlier.
First, the entire event last evening was surprising short. From start to finish, Alan said it didn’t last more than two hours.
#2.) The people in the second shot are what Alan described as members of Obama’s political base in Chicago. They are middle-class, mid-level political staffers for Mayor Daley. #3) This field worker exemplifies, more than anything, how thoroughly exhausted everyone was last night. Alan said he was virtually asleep standing up. In a post I did for TPM Café, I also mention how the t-shirt documents how Obama (having won in ‘96) started serving at the state level ten years before Sarah Palin did. #4) Personally, I can’t believe I never heard “Obamanomenon” before I saw this shot. I like it. #5) This was early, before Grant Park really filled up. #7/8.) In my edit, I left out four more shots of people either hugging or crying. That’s because they were a bit redundant, but also because it showed more young white people. Given his situation near the stage, Alan was mostly surrounded by young white field workers or VIP’s, so his close ups didn’t capture much demographic mix of Chicago residents. #13) That was the Mayor’s move to light up the office building with the “U.S.A.” #15) Alan said that the last shot was quite a moving moment. After Obama and his entourage left the stage, a throng of young workers (“foot soldiers of the inner circle”) took to the stage, bound by exhaustion and amazement.
(image ©Alan Chin. November 4th, 2008. Chicago, IL)
  • garyb50

    More great shots by Our Man.
    I was struck once again last night after watching both candidate’s speeches that Dems are just plain more attractive than Repugs.
    And what’s with the plex on stage? Security?

  • Pedrolino

    I’m disappointed with these pictures. I was at the rally and had a crappy camera and an aesthetic that outdistanced my capabilities, but I was sure that the BAG would capture some radically awesome imagery. There are a few good shots here, but this event was a cornucopia of possibilities – unrealized by your “man”. As a theatre professional, I recognized the stagecraft employed by Obama’s people… but there were so many opportunities for a thoughtful photographer to get beyond the stagecraft in a meaningful way. Raise the bar for the inauguration. Please.

  • Pedrolino

    Alan, I’d like to post an addendum to my previous comment: It’s possible that this group of photos can be made more meaningful by (I shudder to say it) didactic text. Absent that convention, there’s little here to recommend them. I’m normally able to contextualize your work as art or as journalism (or as some amalgamation of both). This set seems to serve the purposes of neither. Please help.

  • Alan Chin

    You’re looking for a “cornucopia” and “stagecraft.” The reality I saw and photographed: exhaustion, disbelief, relief, and finally a bit of pride. It seems to me that your sense of the “radically awesome,” your partisan engagement in Obama’s election, outdistances the circumstances of the evening, which in fact went down mercifully quickly and with, frankly, little drama or tension. Which is all to the better for our country but perhaps disappointing on some primal level for you as seen through my photos. A whimper, not a bang, ending the eight years that began with agonizing ambiguity over Florida in 2000 and continued through the long, disappointing night in Copley Square, Boston, in 2004. And now, finally, electoral victory as a walkover, almost a landslide by the standards of American politics. The much-vaunted Republican attack machine, the fearsome Karl Rove, all of that, demolished by hard work over the last two years to be sure, but in the end the polls were accurate, the Bradley factor as ephemeral as a ghost, and state after state registered Blue with ease on the big board.
    And of course the photography of this, as captured by many of my colleagues: the triumph, the tears, the celebration, the “message,” visually, if you will. But those photos don’t convey to me as well what Grant Park was actually like last night, which was to me a lot of milling around and waiting for the minimally necessary period of time, ending with Obama’s short and eloquent speech. And that was it. Historic, and moving, but not particularly dramatic. Definitely anti-climactic when you consider what is at stake, and the symbolic weight, which no actual event on the pedestrian ground could match. In this sense, I, for, one, don’t really care if my work can be “contextualized” as “art” or “journalism” or whatever, as long as it shows an accurate record of my experience.

  • The BAG

    I appreciate your addendum. Jugglin’ the day job, I haven’t gotten back to the post yet to add comments from Alan. After he and I spoke about them, I had a much better sense of them. It gives me a healthy appreciation for the marriage of visual and textual narrative.

    …Whoops, Alan’s comment right above must have just crossed mine. I’ll still add a few notes to the post though.

  • charlie
  • garyb50

    OK, I get it. Chopped liver.

  • Alan Chin

    Chopped liver? Hardly.
    But remember where and when we are. The BAG gave the NYTimes the other day a hard time for publishing a photograph from 1968, showing how Grant Park was then the site of a major anti-war demonstration and subsequent police riot during the Democratic National Convention. I, for one, was actually glad to see the NYT evoke the history. And the contrast could not be greater. Forty years ago, Chicago police ran amok beating protestors, DNC delegates, and ordinary bystanders right on Michigan Avenue and chased them into the lobby of the Hilton and even stormed Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s headquarters up on the 17th floor.
    So now, Sen. Barack Obama is elected President, but Grant Park is surrounded by metal detectors and yes, the enormous sheets of Plexiglas on the stage were bullet-proof shields against potential snipers. The park was open to all, but the line of people waiting to get in was at least 15-20 blocks long. I am sure that tens of thousands never got through security before Obama spoke and the event ended. We voted our hopes rather than our fears on Tuesday, but it is our fear which dominates the practical aspects of public life and infrastructure.
    For most Americans and most of the world, Obama’s victory is a resoundingly jubilant occasion, a long time coming, the end to a long national nightmare, and so it was at the epicenter of Grant Park. But for the young and dedicated staff, and indeed on Obama’s face, you could see and sense the physical exhaustion and the emotional strain. Bone tired, proud, and ready to finally get some sleep.

  • bystander

    But for the young and dedicated staff, and indeed on Obama’s face, you could see and sense the physical exhaustion and the emotional strain. Bone tired, proud, and ready to finally get some sleep.

    Thanks, Alan. That’s one of the things I took from your photographs. Another being the sheer joy well captured in the 8th photo. Your point about the park being a very different “stage,” with a different script and storyline in 2008 as compared to 1968 is dead on.
    There is a near anti-climactic nature to this event. Perhaps that’s as it should be. We’ve so very far yet to go. At a little before midnight on Tuesday, my thought was we need to simply cap this and move on. We’ve a long journey ahead.

  • thomas

    The updated comments really do help.
    Also, “Obamanomenon” is in fact a very famous Muppets skit, the brilliance of which, as anybody who has seen it will readily attest, fully explains and justifies these people’s lusty, banner-waving enthusiasm. What brought them to Grant Park is anybody’s guess. Perhaps they just misunderstood the nature of the event.

  • Pedrolino

    This post is old now, and so for posterity I’ll offer a little thought.
    After the rally, the crowd poured into downtown Chicago. There were people selling shirts, pins, poster, etc. There was also violence and weird street art. The scene was chaotic, odd, and filled with uncertainty. I saw a guy get hustled down by the cops and handcuffed after he (the guy) destroyed another man’s face – it was an apparent act of racial hostility and the disappointment on bystanders faces was noteworthy. It was a fascinating place, filled with an other-worldly sense that nobody knew what to do (or think) now that this (Obama’s election) had come to pass.
    There was much more than tiredness and a vague sense of ennui in Grant Park that night. There was something other than nameless crowds feeling hemmed in, looking after their own carnal needs/situation. There was a real sense that we were, all of us, beginning a journey whose outcome was utterly unknown. It was the photonegative of a protest rally.
    On a side note: I was dumbstruck by the low level of perceptible security. I attribute this to a level of professionalism we’re not used to in Chicago. On numerous occasions I’ve seen police in full riot gear circle a city block because of the presence of 200-300 legal and licensed protestors. This event was weird. It was unique. It was this uniqueness that made is special.

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