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September 22, 2010

So Long Larry: My Favorite Summers Shot

The timing of this portrait was as interesting as the image itself, coming just six days after Obama’s inauguration and helping set, or better yet, confuse the tone of what was billed as a progressive new Administration.

At the time, I couldn’t understand the strangely imperial quality of the shot. Of course, there was nothing in Summers’ pose at the threshold to the Oval Office that reflected Larry’s famous arrogance, but that’s what was so odd.  It was the intentionally selfless and studious quality of the pose; the emphasis on the archetypal “counselor” — it was the intention, on the part of an Administration so wedded during the campaign to candid pictures, to suddenly characterize Summers in a manner so thoroughly opposite of “the Larry” that raised a flag.

Still, you can only finesse these things so far, and the fact Callie Shell — either consciously, for aesthetics sake, or subconsciously, well aware of Summers’ character — created an almost religious halo for the sun bathed St. Larry out of the classical painting on the wall (with the added element of the the red tie in all-too-melodious harmony with the red velvet furniture and the rich red drapes, suggesting Summers always belonged there), is today, upon Larry’s exit from the counselor’s chair, just a hoot.

(photo: Callie Shell/Aurora for TIME. caption: Outside the Oval Office: Larry Summers waits outside the Oval Office to give his daily budget briefing to President Obama.)

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