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February 26, 2009

Little More State Of The Union

Kraft Obama SOTU.jpg

I enjoy the tilt-shift technique. Still, I’m wondering about the dynamics here, in this State of the Union photo by Brooks Kraft for the TIME White House photo site.

What are the implications of turning Obama, Biden, Pelosi, the Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs, the Supreme Court, and members of Congress into what Ana Marie Cox might call “miniature midgets?” And what’s with that little Old Glory, that little “In God We Trust,” that little clock?

Th country is floundering. The problems are too complex for most people to even get their heads around. Major structures of government and industry have failed us in fundamental ways. The people in that Congressional chamber represent the center of power. I have to think Kraft was tapping into one of the lesser known defense mechanisms. It’s called minimization.

It makes me nervous, by the way, that that guy in good focus, second row center, doesn’t seem to be paying attention.

(image: Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME. Joint session of Congress. February. 24, 2009)

  • Nigel Lendon

    Is this post-production special effects? Or Photoshop? Or a lens trick? Whatever, it’s histrionics. Kitsch.

  • Lucaites

    I”m not at all convinced that this is a tilt-shift. Indeed, it just looks like a recent version of a photo often taken (maybe with a little better equipment and some photoshop manipulation of the margins) than we have seen at least since, well, FDR (12/8/41):

  • Roberta

    The man looking the other way was Justice Alito, he wasn’t happy to be there. So sad

  • JayDenver

    Follow the first link above — it’s done in camera with a special lens. Most of the examples I looked at have the illusion of reducing the subject into a scale-model version…much like looking at a photo of a diorama. It allows us to see things from a different perspective–what Bag calls minimization. (Tilt-shift has been around a long time; see, for instance, view cameras.)

  • marc sobel

    Well obviously, Alito was concerned that someone whose birth certificate he hadn’t seen and might be constitutionally unqualified for the Presidency (or worse by original intent only 3/5 qualified) was up there on the podium.

  • Ursula L

    I like it. It’s anti-iconography.
    Compare this to the pictures of Shrub at the WTC site post 9/11. He’s larger than life, the people around him either standing somewhat lower, looking up at him, or back and to the side so they look smaller. He’s the hero of the picture, and it’s all about everyone looking to him and following him.
    In this, the president is shown as just one of many people in the government. A central person, certainly, but of the same scale and equal in stature. The solution to problems suggested is not that one fall down and worship the iconic leader, but that this large group of people will work together, under the leadership of the central figure.
    This is a cooperative image, not a hierarchical one.

  • Rima

    Maybe because it’s black-and-white, or maybe because of the extreme blurriness of the outer part of the image, but this photo looks less like tilt-shift than the other examples I saw through the link. Most of those really looked like shots of artificial scenes; this one, less so. The black-and-white lends a historical gravitas. The cenral focus directs attention to the essential figure – President Obama. Other than Biden and Pelosi, everyone else is indistinct, or has just the back of the head in focus (Alito excepted). Kitschy, perhaps. But it simply emphasizes that President Obama is the focus, and not the undistinguished figures that surround him.

  • Gasho

    I love it I love it I love it.
    Tilt shift is often very cool; used in this setting it sets my mind ablaze with connections and metaphors.
    The focal area is vertical in this image (where I’ve seen it more horizontal in many others) and suggests a moment in time. The past and future are fuzzy and this moment is clear — but only if you are looking at the present. You’re gaze may be off into the murky past or the unknowable future as well..
    It also suggests humility and a perspective on our ultimate importance. Mother Earth might see our proceedings as a miniature stage show like this or Shakespeare might come to mind with, “… sound and fury; signifying nothing.”
    We are naturally prone to thinking our lives are huge, our decisions important, or perspective objective and absolute. Images like this can break us free from such thinking – at least for a moment!

  • jtfromBC

    Gasho thats a great comment

  • Stan B.

    FWIW, this technique is usually done in camera via large format and some medium format cameras (and some specialty lenses in other formats)- and can also be reproduced via Photoshop. It can be used to give an old time, old school feel as above, or that small scale model motif. Sometimes it works, sometimes less so. Fortunately, I think this a rather handsome example.

  • Megan

    This picture reminded me of the few times I’ve passed out. Vision darkening around the edges, center still visible. Are we on the verge of collapse? Will we breathe in and shake it off, or will we come to with the guy we can see hovering anxiously?
    The guy in the center row (Alito?) and Pres. Obama have intersecting lines of sight in that picture. What caught both their attention? Are those two watching something that the rest of us aren’t aware of?

  • chris

    veering into idolatry

  • Karen H.

    There is a lost feeling that history, as well as institution, is larger than the toy politicians. My son has a “Take Along Thomas the Train” set that folds out much in the way that scene folds out. The photo Lucaites links to above, reinforces the hat tip to Depression-era, WWII, national crisis imagery (technically, the Depression was over by the time Pearl Harbor occurred). Can’t decide if the style or technique rightly points to the gravity of our situation or becomes histrionic.

  • zatopa

    I am a fan of the tilt-shift myself (and if my DH doesn’t get me a Lensbaby for my birthday he is in for it!) but I’m not on board for this image. It just seems too trivializing to me, too cute. Maybe it’s the abundance of imagery of Obama by artists — there’s just so much of it — too much mythologizing and aestheticizing, it’s making me worry.

  • db

    While the tilt shift effect can be done with a view camera or special lens, it does NOT require a special lens or camera, and can be done with Photoshop. Looking at the bokeh in this image, I’m thinking that’s what was done.

  • acm

    It looks like a historical diorama — perhaps a comment on the historicity (in the ongoing theme of the Historic Obama Presidency) or maybe just for fun. It’s interesting — in some ways the blurring gives focus to the middle swath of the photo, and at the same time the tiny scale makes it hard to pick out the center of attention (really, Pelosi looks like the center). The lighting is also interesting — quite bright on the podium and flag, and dimmer elsewhere except for a seeming front/side-lighting of the vertical swath that includes Alito, but maybe that’s just a side-effect of the variable focus.
    By the way, I noticed that tilt-shift shots are included in the opening credits of Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse, which helps create the feeling intended by the title…

  • Karen H.

    Interesting, I don’t know anything about tilt-shift, but when I looked at pics using this technique I noticed a couple of things. One is that this makes subjects have the unreal look of a fake landscape, like a child’s toy set (or potemkin village?). It’s a very cool effect (although I’m sure you could get bored with it). The other thing I notice is that field of focus often seems larger than in this photo.

  • Victor F

    frankly, i’m burned out from in-camera and digital tilt-shifting. It has become ubiquitous and hackneyed and i wish it would stop. It’s a distraction from the real events that transpired, and it’s one way to make an uninteresting photo “interesting.” But the only interesting thing about it is the effect. The photos feel hollow and superficial. Maybe the photographer is trying to say something about the new administration?

  • David Burnett

    The photographer is trying to make a statement: the statement is “take a second and look at this picture… look at where I want you to look (i.e. the in focus slice), understand that you could have, and probably already DID see this scene on Television, but when you take a few seconds to see my version, I’d like you ponder it a second, and if I have to grab you ever so mildly by the lapels to look at it, I will…”

  • Jan Kees

    I like the comments, and the link to other tilt-shift pictures, but this photo itself doesn’t work for me.
    The in-focus audience in the bottom center detracts from any illusion of miniaturization, and leaves the photo itself tying Obama to an arbitrarily-located group of his listeners. The over-all effect of the focus on technique in this case is to turn the attention self-consciously back to the photographer.
    (Does this technique itself originate with projection enlargement, where light shining through the negative needed to be focused on the unexposed paper? If you tilt the paper so only a particular swath is in focus, the rest will be too near or too far and consequently out of focus. In many of the 50 linked examples, and in this photo, the area in focus appears to be just such rectangle running from one border to the other. In the old days I guess the photographer would have waved some crinkled up clear cellophane over the bottom center during most of the 20 seconds or so it took to burn the enlargement…)

  • cenoxo

    One little Man on a Pale Blue Dot

    …hope we all get along.

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