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September 21, 2012

Stephen Crowley’s Ann Romney Diptych

I’m not sure if it’s because her campaign identity has been framed so exclusively around the role of “mom” (or defense of mom), but Ann Romney seems to have mostly remained above the fray. NYT photographer Stephen Crowley  makes her the subject in this diptych from the latest installment of his series, “Smoke Filled Rooms,” inviting the question of  who she is as well as the discrepancies that exist between the person and the public persona. Because she’s ostensibly the warmer and more sympathetic half of the couple, the bottom frame is jarring in the way it uses a standard mic setup to equate her with the more robotic Mitt.

If you scratch the surface, however, perhaps this photo isn’t that surprising. In my visual analysis of Ann’s convention speech, I mention how Ann not only failed to paint a human picture of Mitt, but in effectively refusing to do, ended up looking more like his facsimile. Judith Grey at Daily Beast discussed the hollowness of the speech as well, particularly how Ann made only passing reference to hardship when she has a powerful story to tell about her fight with MS (which she had shared publicly before).  Then, there’s what to make of this image photographer Christopher Morris captured off the screen during Ann’s convention speech. If Ann’s speech and demeanor that night was more steeled than loving, her stated intent, is Morris taking advantage or was he capturing a starker picture of Ann than many people are willing to see?

Beyond Ann herself, the double-sided view is a matter-of-fact statement about politics, public face and the media show. (And even in the mix — as we pivot from conventions to debates —  is how the visual echoes “bulge-gate,” the controversy following Bush’s first debate with Kerry (1, 2, 3) over whether he was wearing a receiving device under his jacket to communicate with Karl Rove.) Bottom line though, what’s fascinating about Mitt, and Ann, especially, is how much the couple, parrying issues of wealth and compassion, are still trying to introduce themselves to the American people years after nominally doing so.  What does it say that here, as the campaign marathon nears its end, and having lived under a magnifying glass this long, that  Ann Romney, especially, becomes more enigmatic than less?  All those question in the gap between Ann Romney and her public face are what makes this a key portrait.

FYI: If you’re in New York on October 10th, Stephen Crowley will be part of our live BagNews Salon analyzing images from “the Campaign ‘12 Stretch Drive,” co-sponsored by the Columbia School of Journalism. More info on the program and the impressive panel here. FB invite.

(update 9/21 8am PST: slightly edited for content.)

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