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June 12, 2011

On The First Post-Shooting Gabby Giffords Pix

Gabrielle Giffords. May 17, 2011. TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital

Gabrielle Giffords Official U.S. Congress portrait, March 24, 2010

“We want to give people a clear picture (about Giffords). It’s not in anyone’s interest to have anyone feel misled… — Pia Carusone, Gabrielle Giffords Chief of Staff. Arizona Republic interview, June 9, 2011.

I’m interested in how you read these two pictures, Gifford’s official Congressional photo in contrast to the photo released today on her Facebook page to intense media fanfare. (Photographer’s statement here.)

I ask because of the very different ways that pictures and words work, and because of the intense and contradictory expectations Gifford’s family and staff are negotiating in the media, in the political sphere and, certainly, in themselves over how to look at and think about Gabby — between someone who remains very much alive, vital and strong, as opposed to someone terribly diminished who might not recover beyond the point she’s at now.

What I’m also curious about is how we project hopes and expectations into the current photo, and what kind of perceptual forces are in play studying today’s Gabby — shorn, “out of uniform” but also as vital as she appears. Also I’m wondering how or how much we, as “lay viewers,” glean or assume to glean, functionally or emotionally, about her current neurological state.

And then, given the buzz surrounding the photo and the MSM’s addiction to sensationalism and celebrity (paired with human susceptibility to fantasy and fairy tale), I don’t think anybody should consume today’s photo without also absorbing the interview with Ms. Carusone. I can’t commend her enough for supplying as much reality about Giffords’ condition as words can convey. I’m sure the tendency to to only put out an encouraging image like this — along with the second photo, of Giffords with her mother — or to short shrift the sobering details is incredibly tempting. Certainly, I can imagine any number of different cases simply leaving the public to imagine miracles.

Actually, I had a sense the Giffords team was leaning that other way back in April when there was buzz, some of it from the White House, anticipating a blockbuster image with Giffords and the President against a backdrop of that Shuttle launch with Gabby’s husband, Mark, aboard. Of course, what a fantasy photo that would have been! Instead, what we were left with was a distant screen shot of Giffords taking a few labored steps in boarding a NASA plane to Florida, the launch (though, not a private Obama -Gifford meeting) scrubbed for weather.

As much as it challenges us, I think we’re better off with today’s photo. Just like real life, it pulls us simultaneously in opposite directions, hope moving one way, and reality the other.

(photo 1: P.K. Weis: May 17, 2011. TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital via Gabrielle Giffords Facebook page. photo 2: US Congress)

  • quax

    She looks good in short hair.

    And so what if she wasn’t to recover any further.  Even with half a brain she’s still going to outsmart the median Senate IQ by a large margin.

  • Anonymous

    If we look at public service in the finest sense of the term, this lady has more than paid her dues and deserves to be honored for the hero she is. Time to let someone else pick up the sword and wade into the Washington battleground. 

  • bystander.again bystander

    Ouch.  Even without the candor of Ms.Carusone’s interview, the left side of Ms. Giffords’ face (as she looks at the camera) tells a significant story.  In the “before” picture, that side seems to be her more expressive side.  In the “after” picture her smile is much constrained as I look at her eye, her cheek, and the corner of her mouth.  Clearly, she is herself, and yet different.  She’s on a long come back trail.  I wish her, and her family, all the very best.

    • oldfeminist

      Actually the left side is more “constrained” because she’s got control over it.  When you smile, your eyes crinkle up — take a look.  The right side of her face is relaxed.  Her eye is more open.  That’s the side that’s at least partially paralyzed — your right side is controlled by your left brain.

    • oldfeminist

      Actually the left side is more “constrained” because she’s got control over it.  When you smile, your eyes crinkle up — take a look.  The right side of her face is relaxed.  Her eye is more open.  That’s the side that’s at least partially paralyzed — your right side is controlled by your left brain.

  • Ralfast

    She looks diminished. There is no way around it. Yet hopeful.

  • tinwoman

    And yet Sarah walks around with that simpering sneer plastered onto her highly maintained face, unscarred.

    Life is not fair.

  • karen h

    Of course we note the tracheotomy scar and the indentation in her forehead, but I have to wonder if she’d look just as vital without the glasses, with the blond hair, and with more make-up on. Even her eyebrows are heavier with the plucking and nonsense that women subject themselves to.  And the congressional photo is an official one, chosen for it’s attributes rather than for accurately depicting Giffords.

  • Anonymous

    The treatment of Giffords is fundamentally obscene, starting with the doctors crowing over their success (which consists of keeping her alive and we have no idea how much more) and moving through the ranks of those pouring out the manipulative PR in service of god knows what.

    I don’t see how anyone who has been anywhere near the realities of death and debilitation can fail to be nauseated.

  • Jay

    I am glad for her and I hope for her continued recovery. I can’t help reflecting on the fact that there may have been millions of dollars spent on her medical care and rehabilitation, and many thousands to be spent in the future. She has all this available to her because she is a member of congress and her husband is an astronaut. I would like to know something about the condition of the other people wounded at that event, and how their care is being provided. These people have been invisible and nameless.

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