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January 14, 2009

The New Official Portrait


Ready for a change of view?

As someone who toils day-in and day-out in the service of (primarily domestic national) political imagery, and who well recognizes that the President of the United States is typically the central object in the visual field, the significance of the coming week cannot, should I say, be “misunderestimated.” Besides his enmity, his adolescence and his lack of curiosity, what has made it almost intolerable looking at George Bush, especially as the years ticked (or, burned) away, has been his utter lack of complexity.

Above is the “new official portrait” released today by the President-elect’s office, taken by White House photographer-elect, Pete Souza.

What a massive relief, as well as an exciting challenge it will be to apply our collective capacities here in teasing out the Obama picture as the new president embarks on, and moves through his odyssey. It’s a relief because of how much psychologically healthier, and therefore multi-faceted and multi-dimensional Obama is than 43. And, as a perfect example, we need only examine this portrait.

What is indicative of Obama, and his depth, is how many looks he shows in this introduction. Is he open? Is he circumspect? Is he playful? Is he reserved? Is he relaxed? Is he intense? Is he focused? Is he humble? Is he proud? Is he pleased? Is he cagey? Is he wry? These are all good questions, especially to the extent that few of them could be answered simply, and without challenging other aspects of Obama’s personality.

I’m curious how you react to this picture, now and going forward, as we strive to see Obama in the fullest dimension.

(h/t: A_L)

(image: Pete Souza/(soon to be) White House)

  • matt

    america’s official rorschach test.

  • elfpix

    Interesting that the flag is a little soft.

  • Isabella Clark

    He looks sure and thoughtful, with an easy, edge of audacity.
    I do wish he would ditch that flag pin. How did this become compulsory? Time for a change?

  • lytom

    Questions (Is he open? Is he circumspect? Is he playful? Is he reserved? Is he relaxed? Is he intense? Is he focused? Is he humble? Is he proud? Is he pleased? Is he cagey? Is he wry?) give an impression of a lightness and superficiality in time of challenges. The phrase “for change” has convinced many to trust democratic party and all the politicians in the 2 party system.
    What I see in the picture, combined with pronouncements Obama’s already made, is a person, who is going to work for the empire, not for the world. One indication is the flag in the lapel, so after all, there is no change. It is official, Bush’s policies are going to be followed. The question is how far is that going to go…Guantanamo, Iraq, Iran, support for Israel’s occupation of Gaza, increasing troops in Afghanistan, and who knows what else…On the domestic side, security issues will override concern over the Constitution, economic crisis will override the health issues,…
    I would like to be more positive, but there are plenty here who will do that for me…

  • Karen

    I feel relief. I wonder how he does this, transmit competence, earnestness, accessibility. Maybe it’s the warmth of his eyes and skin tone and the fact that he’s not showing teeth.
    Here’s Bush’s two official portraits.

  •[email protected]/ DennisQ

    Obama looks to me like a friend, or somebody I’d like to have as a friend. I never got that feeling from Bush – in eight years I never warmed up to him. When he first took office, I would cringe to see his face in the newspaper. I got over it, but that feeling is back. He can’t leave quickly enough.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what Obama can do to turn America around. Clinton was a big change from Bush Sr. – far more competent and engaged. It’s likely that Obama will be a bigger change than that. One thing’s for sure – Obama will at least make an effort. Bush didn’t.

  • jtfromBC

    I’d say FOCUSED, like Lytom I’m dubious about qualitative CHANGE coming from the Big O.

  • richard dent

    what is the other flag?

  • Karen

    richard: I wondered that, too. I think it’s the President’s Flag. Here’s a link to a version of it from Carter’s library. It looks like the same thing.

  • Jon Gallagher

    Wow, I looked up from this to an ad for CNN.
    One of their blonde interchangeable personalities was staring seriously out from the screen trying to look serious. After seeing Obama’s portrait it was like looking at a pre-teen posing in his father’s old business suit, with a pre-knotted tie.

  • Sarah Deere

    It’s my considered opinion that we need to let Obama be, for now. Let’s see what he does. Actions speak louder than words, eh? When his actions counter our wishes, our ideals, our priorities, then we need to speak out, in force and in full. I do believe he will be much like FDR, who said “make me do it”. That may be overly optimistic, perhaps even naive – but that’s how I intend to deal with it.
    I believe him to be, I perceive him to be, measured and intelligent. And trying to be as inclusive as he can. I also believe that inclusiveness is not in the rightwing lexicon, and that he will discover that fact soon enough.

  • Linda Hanson

    Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.
    This is a highly interactive portrait. President Obama is looking at ‘us’ as much as we may be looking at him. Great work from the photographer and great work from the almost President. Obama will not let the nation off easily.

  • Our Paul

    Karen nailed this one, the smile with the absence of teeth draws the gaze into his eyes. One gets the feeling that we are dealing with the American “straight shooter”, abit of iro in the spine..

  • nostick

    As someone who works with the Feds I imagine this photo replacing the vague and ghost-like smiling face of 43 in Federal offices and I am relieved. This face challenges/invites us to be better. I see many things in this face but that challenge/invite was the first impression.

  • s

    For some reason I keep noticing that the flag pin is square, not waving like they usually are. With the real flag in the background being out of focus it makes the flag pin seem even more stiff and rigid. Considering the flak he got during the primaries for not wearing a pin I wonder if wearing one now has more (or less) significance.

  • Books Alive

    The rectangular flag pin: I think he wears it because of the earnestness of the older woman who spoke to him at an event, asking what harm it would cause to just put on the pin?

  • Johanna

    The mass fawning over Obama is the flip side of the raging disdain for Bush. Both attitudes show regression in the public.

  • Raenelle

    Mona Lisa picture. Unfathomable and almost infinitely fascinating.

  • Lyn

    I think it is interesting that he is not in the center of the picture. In fact, it appears that he is leaning a bit to his left. ;)

  • mcmama

    Obama looks focused. Bush appeared weak from the beginning, a spoiled child with a mean streak; a college cheerleader who never should have left the sidelines. Obama looks like a grown-up.

  • JulieZS

    His expression looks like he is sizing me up. Or sizing “us” up. But that flag pin just wrecks the balance of the picture for me. And makes me grit my teeth, because he HAS to wear it. And I find the not immediately recognizable “other” flag in the background is distracting.

  • Tom

    Like others I am drawn to the flag pin, to me it represents the compromise Obama has taken to deflect ridiculous criticism that was leveled against him in the campaign. Compromise may be his best chance to close the gap between Dems and Repubs and make this one nation again

  • vcInCA

    in comparison to bush’s pics, here’s what i see. bush’s 2nd pic in particular (or, the one posted on the R, above) evokes everyone’s third grade school photo, where you’re holding a smile that isn’t yours as long as possible, so it captures a ‘happy’ and ‘attractive’ you. obama’s shot, on the other hand, is calmer-i don’t feel the tension. like he could look like this for an hour, its his real face, not his ‘presentation’ smile.
    and yes, obama is slightly not-center in the pic. his body is facing the left, he is situated within the frame on the right, and he’s looking directly down the center. that has a bit of something for everyone in it, i think. it doesn’t remind me of a high school angled graduation shot, even with the body angle, though.

  • cherish

    Personally, the flag pin reminds me to always discern between real criticism and ridiculous criticism.

  • CAli

    No one seems to have caught this one, yet: his eyes are slightly crossed. This, to me, indicates an intensity and focus that he must have been feeling at the moment the photo was taken.

  • Michael

    I see reserved strength, intelligence and compassion. I see a president.

  • We the people

    I’m pretty sure they photoshoped his ears…

  • ChrisTheRed

    I work in a federal building, and each day have to see the second Bush portrait Karen posted above. I’ll not be sad when the smirking mug disappears in favor of a picture of someone who looks serious, focused, and engaged.

  • Ray

    There’s a lot of tea-leaf reading going on about this picture of him. This is not objective analysis, you’re reading a lot into it, predictably; what you want to see, you find.

  • cenoxo

    Looking at PEBO’s highly detailed bigger picture (which has much less contrast and saturation than the BAGMan’s lead image), you can see:

    • A relaxed, pleasant expression with a slight smile and level gaze.
    • No makeup.
    • Little or no retouching — visible mole, freckles, beard stubble, eye bags and veins, ear hair, wrinkles, dust on suit, lint on lapel, thread on collar, tie a little loose, etc.
    • A dark-skinned subject against a white background (a simple photographic choice, not an editorial one).
    • Simple umbrella lighting (note reflections in the eyes).
    • Good color harmony throughout.
    • The United States flag (echoed by the lapel pin) and the official, gold-fringed Presidential flag.

    All in all, it’s a nicely done, unpretentious, very straightforward portrait.
    Let’s hope the same attributes mark Obama’s administration also.

  • Molly

    In answer to all the posted questions, he’s serious.

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