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August 7, 2012

The Most Unplugged Gabby Douglas Photo: Breakfast of Champions BEFORE Kelloggs Came Calling

What’s been interesting to track the last year or so are news photos that push the aesthetics or art photographs that  somehow wend their way onto more editorial turf. This photo by Martin Schoeller at TIME Lightbox, published on the heels of Olympic gold, seems to fit those terms. It shows Gabby Douglas in the home of the host family she’s been living with in Iowa the past two years. Kitsch art meets Olympic mania? I can’t really speak to the artistic intent.  I have some thoughts about the commercial and cultural politics, though.

An inherent limitation of photography is the inability of a picture, without accompanying data or the recording of a historic event, to situate us to a specific point in time. A few months from now, for example, will anybody know that this photo was taken of the World Champion and new American Sweetheart before the gold avalanche? I mean, this photo is fun and all, but that was before Gabby turned into a mega-icon, her image already the subject of management and control. Looking at this picture last week, I imagine the spirit around it was novelty and the sense it was “good for promotion.” But that was “before.” I can only wonder what the quick coalescing Team Douglas now thinks of the quirky portrait, sporting that “complicated” expression, relative to “building out the brand.”

Most significantly, I’m interested in the symbolism of the cereal bowl given its rather hilarious foreshadowing of a phone call Ms.Douglas apparently got within hours, maybe even minutes, of emerging atop Olympic gymnastics — not from Wheaties, this time (1, 2), but Kelloggs.

And the message implicit to the Dear Smiling One (not Demure One; not Mysterious One; not Too Adult or Complex or Enigmatic or Sidelong or, God knows, Questioning One)?  Just know that in your future, if you actually want to make your way up the stairs, it’s by standing behind that bowl of Corn Flakes with that medal around your neck, the flag proudly upon your chest and a grin a mile wide.

Lightbox post/backstory.

(photo: Martin Schoeller for TIME)

  • Thomas

    Terrific photo. The paintings of Erik Fischl kept to mind immediately.

    • OutocorrectFailAgain


    • Ra

       Fischl? He of the drab, doughy-white bodies? Nyet.

  • Ra

    For a long time, every little female gymnast photo reeks of “legal” kiddie porn to me. Anybody else ever feel that’s the only reason they’re published?

    • Wayne Dickson

      That was my first thought. Not that it’s the only reason, but that it’s definitely an implicit element of what’s going on.

      The Corn Flakes photo has Gabby Wallace’s body covered and features her big smile. But most photos of female gymnasts deliberately invite the “gaze” that Theory talks about. Same with, say, the “booty” obsession of the photos of female beach volleyball players.

      As you suggest, though, there’s a difference. Women’s track competitors (who wear virtual panties) and beach volleyball competitors (who wear itsy-bitsy bikinis) are, well, women. But in “women’s” gymnastics, the competitors are children.

    • Litenarata

      I hate the ones when they are flying in the air doing the splits, because their barely-covered crotch is right smack in the middle of the photo. The shot of Gabby on the Time cover is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Ugh.

    • Bugboy

      Ultimately, it’s about hitting the lottery for the “amateur” athlete culture the Olympics enables and the industries surrounding it through product endorsements.  Kiddie porn sells, apparently, along with every sex based marketing strategy.  

      Although I do think it’s possible to look at the human form with out immediately responding to latent primal urges,,,it does bring to mind the phrase: feed your (lizard) brain?

  • Rosenfeldsa

    I wonder if this is a photo of “just another” Gabby Douglas day.  My son told me that his niece-in-law, a 10 y-o budding gymnast, routinely climbs up into door frames, “jambs” herself in with her feet against one side and back against the other.  She stays that way for an hour or so while reading a book! She often gets up from watching TV, goes into the basement and does pull ups by the dozens.  Gymnasts are not like you and me.  Could be that is a picture of Gabby eating breakfast the usual way.

  • George Mokray

    That’s an uncompromising gaze and a beautiful face on Ms Douglas.  She’s one tough cookie.

  • sayitaintso

    “I do this six times before breakfast”  while mere mortals are finishing their homework.  I think it’s stunning, and while I’ve read Gabby’s smile as confident, not cutesey, since I first saw her, I’d say this fierce Gabby is a terrific image for girls. 

  • Wayne Dickson

     No, he of the overt sexualizing of quotidian middle class life.

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