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December 6, 2008

Filling The Seat … (AND Busting Google)

Caroline USS JFK.jpg

Besides one coming-of-age moment in the emotional life of a 9-year-old girl, this speaks to the girl’s capacity to fill the seat, and operate as the bridge between her family and the highest institutions of state. Really, I’m not as impressed with the task-at-hand (in this case, the christening of an aircraft carrier in her father’s name) as I am in the deeper suggestion of maturity, autonomy and poise.

Given present circumstances, the photo has the feel of a character endorsement as it relates to Caroline Kennedy’s possible filling of Senator Clinton’s seat, and even the inheritance of her uncle’s senatorial role.

If those are tall orders, at least they don’t look completely new.

UPDATE 1:25 p.m. PST: Okay, my bad for not catching the fact that this photo was backwards — and credit to the readership. But let’s put the blame where the main blame is due….

Caroline-USS-JFK-corrected.jpg

This is an example of how the corporate profit motive can roll like a Mac truck over visual and historical accuracy. Apparently, Google didn’t seem to notice that this photo — representing a tremendously valuable collection which they gained wide publicity for digitizing — was backward or forward.

Beyond the screw-up itself, I found the visual difference rather stunning, providing us an interesting opportunity to consider the difference. Regarding my initial take, Caroline’s interaction with the officer certainly shifts now from the central focus to a sidelight. Does the fact she’s revealed as more subordinate to her mother (who is clearly the main light now) diminish some of the autonomy I read above? To some extent, I feel, it does.

One more thing, by the way. I think it would have taken one extremely confident photographer and an equally confident (or, “brave”) editor to have captured this moment with more emphasis on Caroline, affording less centrality to her iconic mother.

(Revised 10:30 pm PST)

(image: Charles H. Phillips. May 27, 1967. September 7, 1968. caption: Jacqueline Kennedy (2R) sitting with daughter Caroline (2L) & son John Jr. (R) at ceremonies for commissioning of the Navy aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, with dignitaries & other members of the Kennedy family. Via Google LIFE Magazine archive)

  • arty

    This picture is flopped. Check out the jacket of the guy on left in the white Halloween outfit – it’s buttoned right over left, and the medals for being a good boy are on his right instead of over his heart.
    Ditto the guy in the suit at rear; his pocket handkerchief is on his right rather than left side.
    Finally, woman at upper right is wearing her watch on her right wrist, not a dead giveaway but pretty accurate.
    So much for paying attention to the contents of photographs.

  • JayDenver

    arty@05:51 — Good catch. I googled the source and this is indeed the way it appears in the results. Date taken: 1968. 40 years of photo manipulation. Nothing changes, but the technology. Mirroring the photo back to the original gives a different read, putting additional emphasis on the tearful(?) woman in the back next to an empty seat.

  • richard dent

    Interesting photo, and I agree a good catch on the reversal of image. I don’t see this as having any significance viz Caroline Kennedy taking a Senate seat. Not only is this just a momentary image, she has an adult life to evaluate.

  • http://www.highcontrastcomedy.com boxcar

    Change is Coming!
    Another Kennedy in Politics!
    Perhaps term limits, like the estate tax- need to extend to family generations.
    Not knocking the prolific and generally positive contributions made by the Kennedy’s,
    but come on! Oligarchs and Patronage are not american values…
    peace
    box

  • http://www.elementaryart.wordpress.com glennis

    Looking at this photo makes me wonder if she ever had a chance to be anything else but a “Kennedy” and all that entails, both good and bad.

  • arty

    Much better, although both Michael and the second poster find that the correct l-r is a different picture than the flopped one. It’s the same old picture, except we want to find more reasons to prefer the correct one, and adjust our minds accordingly. Neither shot accords any more emphasis on one person more than the other, unless we’re shaving the visual dice.
    The issue of shooting more tightly on Caroline Kennedy and the officer is malarky, especially if we’re going to call the imaginary photog and editor “extremely confidant” and “brave.”
    Remember that it’s the dedication of a ship named after the husband of one person and father of two in the shot. To leave one or the other out would be fairly stupid, to say the least. This is certainly a good alternative to having the three Kennedys just sitting side by side, staring into the distance. Regardless of Bag readers’ desires that picture editing choices should reflect their personal and political wants and prejudices, a news photo is aimed at showing the public what it look like, as it happened. If you want something different, then take your little scissors, cut the subjects apart and paste them where you want them to be, then sit back and admire your handiwork.
    Which is the final point. Yes, LIFE and/or Getty failed to catch the flop before putting it out, but so did the BAG. If LIFE and Getty are rolling a Mac(k) truck over historical accuracy, I think it’s just a screwup, not a profit enhancement. Remember, or take my word, that most color from the sixties was shot on slide film. Dupes were made so the originals were not accidentally harmed. A dupe with all-white mounts (no yellow Kodak logo to let us know which side is the emulsion) is pretty easy to flop in the heat of battle.
    So perhaps no officious wise-guy reader noticed and whined about it until now. I don’t think it has had any effect at all on anyone’s corporate bottom line. “Busting Google” seems a bit breathless.
    Maybe a better solution is that of the dreaded mainstream press, like the NYTimes or Washington Post. People write in about errors, explaining why something is wrong, and the newspaper, after checking it out, prints a correction. The record is clear, and everyone is as happy as they’re going to get.
    Please note that “I don’t like how he/she/it looks in the picture” doesn’t count as a correctable mistake.

  • Karen

    well, now that an “officious wise-guy reader noticed and whined about it,” I guess I can add that the properly switched photo seems a little lighter in exposure, but otherwise, I don’t really find that much of a difference. The action between Caroline and the officer is still the main focus of the shot. Still sort of interestingly prescient.

  • arty

    Nothing like a challenge to brighten up a Saturday evening.
    The BAG better go back and change “1967″ back to “1968.”
    The statement “I should add they were also in such a rush they just tossed in the date as “1968″ when, according to my previous caption check (which I tend to be obsessive about), the date the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy was christened was May 27, 1967″ is correct as far as the christening is concerned. However, the BAG wasn’t obsessive enough.
    Unfortunately, the photo in question was indeed taken on September 7, 1968, the day the ship was commissioned, as opposed to being christened. Caroline Kennedy was the official sponsor of the ship, and in the commissioning ceremony she handed the ship over to its Commanding Officer, Captain Earl P. Yates, the uniformed gentleman in the photograph. His glasses and the medals on his chest are all exactly the same in the black and white photograph the New York Times ran on September 8, 1968. Miss Kennedy is wearing the same dress, same collar as in the LIFE picture.
    Although Jackie Kennedy and John Kennedy, Jr. didn’t make it into the paper, their clothes are described to a T, exactly as they appear in the LIFE picture.
    Before ranting about places like Getty and LIFE paying no attention to any kind of facts as they rush headlong to make a buck, look both ways before crossing the street.

  • http://www.fightingliberals.com the littlest gator

    Did anyone get a kind of creepy sexual vibe from this? Caroline in a short short dress. Sailor whispering in young girls ear, while mom seems to not notice?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/bagnews/ Michael Shaw

    Arty, although it would be nice to see a link to, or scan of the photo you’re talking about, you seem to be right. I did confuse the christening ceremony with the commissioning ceremony (May 27 1967 vs. 7 September 1968). I found the following image from a slide show on U.S. aircraft carriers that actually shows Caroline Kennedy on the day of the christening ceremony.

    Photobucket
    Accordingly, I’ve edited the post to remove my rant about Google mistaking the date. Thanks for the research help.
    I would take issue with one thing though. Your said “Neither shot accords any more emphasis on one person more than the other.” I don’t think that’s true. In the backwards version (especially with the tendency to read a visual narrative left-to-right), I see Caroline, and her interaction with Capt. Yates, as much more central, and reflecting her also as a more independent actor. In the real version, on the other hand, I see Jackie as very much the central and dominant figure in the image with Caroline now more peripheral (or down the line) and more an extension of her.

  • demit

    I agree with arty in not finding any difference in emphasis on who is central to the shot. Maybe because arty uses the correct term, “flopped”, to describe the photo’s orientation. The photo isn’t backward or reversed. If it were, we wouldn’t be able to see anything but the white paper backing :)
    I don’t agree that we “read” a photo from left to right. Our eye tends to be drawn to the center, if anything, because we expect that to be where the photographer has placed his main object of attention. In this case, it is the entire Kennedy family, but our eye travels to Caroline and the officer because, while everyone else is sitting passively, that’s where the action is—regardless of whether the photo is flopped or right-reading.
    My eye did linger on Jackie, though, in that blindingly white outfit. Lotta burning-in went on, I imagine, in developing the print.

  • thomas

    It’s interesting how similarly Caroline and Jackie hold their hands in their laps, the right cupped inside the left, thumbs uncrossed. I don’t know what to take from it, but it’s interesting. And John Jr. is exactly where a boy his age doesn’t want to be: fatherless, dressed up in a tie and told to sit still and don’t fidget. I feel for the kid. He looks like he’s in church, or being asked to sit through a tedious lecture on flying VFR in marginal weather, or being scolded about his blog. Left or right, it reads to me like a picture of two kids at another adult function and big sister seems just a bit more aware of the forces pressing upon them. And I would guess those are words of encouragement or reasurance being whispered in her ear. It looks like an immensely delicate and vulnerable family.

  • arty

    Article and photo are from the New York Times archive, http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00F1EFB3E5D
    137A93CAA91782D85F4C8685F9&scp=1&sq=caroline+kennedy+yates+
    john&st=p
    Also, it seems that the last line from my 6:04pm post was deleted somehow; I was not aware that BAGnews edits readers’ posts.

  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael (The BAG)

    arty,
    Although it is rare that I will edit or delete a comment, it happens on occasion for one of three reasons. The writer is a.) being mindlessly offensive without really engaging the context of the post, b.) attacking me (or one of my contributers) beyond the context of the post, or c.) taking BNN to task for the use of photos when the right to use those images for the purpose of analysis and critique (and, by extension, the readers participation in discussing them) is protected under the law.
    The point of BNN is to foster thoughtful discussion, not set up a challenge. As you know, I consider myself simply one among equals here. If you wish to discuss this further, please email me privately.

  • wes207

    I think the “tearful woman” sitting behind young John in the photo is one of the Kennedy sisters, either Pat or Jean. Interesting that she is wearing white as well as Jackie.

  • sab

    I’m simply amazed by the difference in emphasis from reversing the picture.

  • Reader

    It’s pretty simple. We, in the West, read left to right. That’s why the first image reads with a stronger emphasis on Ms. Caroline Kennedy. Mind you, that certainly does not make it ethical in the least.

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