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January 19, 2011

Your Turn: Michelle and the Chinese

(click for full size.)

I found this stunning, and descriptive in all kinds of ways. It was taken this morning during the State arrival ceremony for China’s President Hu.  I’m interest to see how you break it down.

(photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images. caption: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama attends a State arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House January 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama and Hu are scheduled to meet in the Oval Office later in the day, hold a joint press conference and attend a State dinner.)

  • FriendNdeed

    “No, clerk. I didn’t ask for THAT pair. I wanted the other ones….the ones in the shop window. You know, the wet-blood colored gloves. No, wait the other ones. The peeled-off flesh ones. Oh, I can’t decide. I want to make the best possible impression on our guests.”

    • jack franksle ling lee stiien

      is that a dragon lady in your shoe or are ya just glad (NOT) 2 C “US”

  • Enoch Root

    I finally saw Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ last night, so all I can think about is: “Mrs. First Lady, you’re supposed to wear gloves when you handle the straightener or it will eat the skin off your hands.”

  • Charlotte

    …By day, she was a mild-mannered First Lady. But by night…she was…the RED LANTERN!

  • doran

    Beyond those gloves, and it is indeed difficult to get past those gloves, I can’t help notice the nonplussed look on everybody’s face. A lot of weird emotion going on.


  • bill

    I’m thinking hand on the heart because the US flag is going by. I’ll leave glove fashion, patent or grained leather, to you experts.

  • Karen H.

    interesting that they are so blood red and look-at-me shiny. Also that the only other non-Chinese in the picture is also wearing a striking color. As a capture the moment photo, the expressions on the faces are anything but colorless.

  • Withnails

    Someone has blood on their hands. Or needs to be reminded that they do.

  • Darren Whent

    To me is it symbolic of how the Obamas are ripping the heart out of the country with their bleeding heart, elites that have never been on the street, policies.

  • acm

    makes me think of laquer. don’t know whether she would have given her gloves as much thought as the rest of her outfit, but if so, perhaps red was considered a good choice here. strange visual effect, though!

    what about the pose — are the Chinese being greeted with a Pledge of Allegiance, or did we catch her pausing between actions? unclear what’s going on in this instant.

  • Michael Shaw

    The contemporary theory held that from China, knowledge of lacquer technology was introduced to Korea, and from there to Japan. It was believed that Japan had also been using lacquer from ancient times, but the systematic process of application was developed by the Chinese.  From Wikipedia laquer entry.

    I was thinking laquer, too, the choice of the red gloves probably Michelle’s choice and a subtle gesture /hat tip to the Chinese. That being the case, though, the fact she’s photographed with her hand over her heart — intentional or not — lends a patriotic vibe to the photo setting up a natural tension between US and China — a tension Obama tried very hard to balance, and even paper over yesterday (as regards to human rights, business ethics, trade, etc.). Nonetheless, these kinds of tensions are never that far from the surface (you did see the director of Human Rights Watch arrive at the State Dinner, yes?) as these opposing symbols in the photo seem to reflect.
    Where you see the tension much more obviously, though, is in the contrast between Mrs. Obama’s deeply dignified pose, and the uncharacteristically annoyed look of the (I assume) Chinese woman on the left.  Of course, comparing the (I assume) Chinese women on either side of Mrs. Obama is also interesting, the woman on the right being “more traditionally” stoic.  Old/less Western China vs. New/more Western China, perhaps?  (And wasn’t it strange/interesting to hear Mr. Hu speaking so much English?)

    I think there’s more great stuff in this photo, and more to say about these elements so far, but I wanted to throw my 2 cents in.

  • cmac

    Wow. The reactions here seem universally negative. I like the gloves; this First Lady likes to play with color, and she wears gloves when it’s cold outside. I’ve seen her wear green, purple, black, and now red gloves. Oh, and her gardening gloves, which are usually a more utilitarian brown or tan.

    What struck me in the picture was how composed and elegant she looks, and how serious. She stands head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd – literally.

    • dina

      I agree what’s with all the negativity
      The first lady wear different gloves all the time
      I think some people need to take it down a notch
      Sometimes gloves are just gloves not that serious

  • Progressive Mom

    I saw this photo on many sites, and it still confuses me: Mrs. Obama and the blond woman behind and to her left are looking one way. Everyone else is looking another.

    You can make all kinds of metaphors from that, I suppose, given the US relationship with China.

  • Beafree

    What makes an interesting picture? Drama? Humor? Emotion? History?
    Lets go beyond the gloves. Let go of the gloves, take off the gloves.

    This is an interesting photo depending on how YOU envision it. Was this edited, transmitted & published as a lead news photo? A President’s wife, a moment, a small second of her life, captured by photographer. Will the image become historic?

    What does this picture actually tell us about the truth of this event? In a portion of a second, perhaps a second, we cannot know the whole story without captions. I chose not to read a caption.

    Good drama between the individual characters. The gloves seem useful to scrub floors, or for use w toxic cleaning chemicals. Notice the gloves dont fit the hands. Whatever happened to stylish
    sleek “Avengers” leather gloves or the ones, Catwoman wears?

    Mrs. Obama is ‘captured’ in this INSTANT of a second, this fleeting moment, as though she is attending a funeral. What ‘image’ does she reflect toward the camera? She is deep in her own contemplative thoughts. Very dignified, she is frozen, quiet, beautiful.

    Perhaps she feels a huge weight of concern on or above her shoulders. A depth of sadness shows, and an awareness of the Chinese woman to her right, viewing her overly sternly. What is the relationship? Rage? Do they know one another? Hand over heart where are her bodyguards? I wonder if she wears body armor-bullet proof clothing?

    Does this photo tell the viewer anything more? Can YOU feel
    the relationship between the people seemingly icy, cold. Can this represent the ‘chill’ between the US & China over China’s policy on human rights? By the way, most importantly the Chinese dissident currently imprisoned was to receive his Nobel in Oslo today. Humane ? Humanity? Does Mrs. Obama feel comfortable entertaining the moment while:

    “Jailed in China, Dissident Liu Xiaobo Honored With Empty Chair at Nobel Ceremony”

    Is this the weight she carries, on her mind, at the moment of the click?

    The End

  • FriendNdeed

    The First Lady’s body language, like the gloves, can be understood yet remain enigmatic. Everyone is facing one way, like fans at a football game. When the National Anthem is played, the Americans turn to honor whatever American flag is in sight. The visiting dignitaries see national flags all around (in the background) and feel no need to face toward the American flag. Her guests gaze at her with puzzlement, just as we might be puzzled by foreign customs. Yet, like the gloves, what could be explained so simply produces an effect which fairly sizzles with odd tension.

  • momly

    I think she looks sad. Maybe she is still thinking about the trip last week out to Tuscon and the needlessly over the top rhetoric that garnered it. Blood on HER hands? Really?

    • cmac

      Thank you, Momly. You echoed precisely my reaction to the ‘bloody hands’ comments above.

  • RFG

    The glove stands out but I’m also struck by the Chinese women holding bag handles; maybe they’re all outside Macy’s waiting for the sale to start? Our guest are buying up America….

    • Michael Shaw

      I was waiting for this. The handles struck me the same way.

  • Landon

    How petty some of the above remarks are.

    I am glad we have a First Lady that isn’t so confined by culture that she can’t show a little style. Look at her dress compared to the Chinese women. With which person would you rather spend some personal time? Which is more likely to be boring? The answer is pretty obvious.

    As a photo, there’s a lot going on. It’s obviously well-composed and the gloves do indeed stand out, but so does the Anglo woman in red.

    I would guess that the different gazes are a product of the nature of photography in China…the photographers at domestic official events will most likely be from the government and the expectation of those being photographed is a posed photo (“look at the birdie”). Hence, the look directed by the Chinese women at the camera rather than the flag and the other action. But is may also be a simple as the Chinese women did not understand the importance of the flag element of US ceremony. Most other countries don’t beatify their flag like we do.

  • Neil Turpin

    The gloves being red meaning happiness and prosperity, seen all the time during Chinese New Year which is approaching. She seems very apart from everyone, the gesture, the way she’s facing, the handbags and the looks on the face seem to add to this.

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