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January 18, 2013

Your Turn: What’s In a (Official) Portrait

Obama Official Portrait 2013

Obama Official Portrait 2008

Four years out, it’s a different presentation of the President in his official portrait. Your thoughts?

(photos 1 and 2: Pete Souza/White House. caption 1: Official portrait of President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. caption 2: Official portrait of Barack Obama. 13 January 2009. The Obama-Biden Transition Project.)

  • Ken Owen

    The newer portrait is a bit less engaging because the subject’s gaze is slightly off axis.

  • black_dog_barking

    The mostly blue tie from the first administration gives way to blue with thin but prominent red stripes if you want to indulge the “bloods and crips” view of America that is still completely accepted as descriptive by all of mass media.

    The asshole badge (Bill Maher: “Show me a man wearing a flag lapel pin and I’ll show you an asshole” from the Bush years) makes an interesting statement in this setting. The President adopted the symbol of his sworn political enemies and his enemies end up losing power. Google images show no lapel pins for Mitch McConnell, John Boehner on the first page.

    Same with “ObamaCare”. A cri de guerre becomes a simple inert descriptive term and a rallying cry fades into blessed silence when the President embraces his enemies symbol.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      Wouldn’t that be a welcome statement to lose the flag pin (especially if it took weeks for the echo chamber to figure out).

    • lq

      The grey hair portrait has the blue tie; the blue/red stripe tie is the earlier picture. It seems the captions are flipped.

  • chrisanthemama

    More gray hair, and well-earned.

  • Matt Lutton

    It seems a very forced smile, and something about the lighting makes him looks like a wax figure.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      Matt — that’s such a great pick up. Funny it didn’t strike me right off. Have you seen the Obama at Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas, or photos of him. Fact follows fiction. href=”http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/nFMiM8dT9Mu/Barack+Obama+Wax+Figure+Unveieled+Madame+Tussauds/4NlhJd-VINK” target=”_blank”>this shot and the next one at Zimbio.

  • hidflect

    I notice the USA pin is now obligatory. Hence it fails to have any meaning. I recall walking down a street in LA where I saw 26 American flags. On cars, windows, flag poles, etc. It just seemed a bit “much”. To the point if you’re not flying the flag you’re some sort of Mooslim traitor. Like the crowds applauding Stalin. The first one to stop was arrested by the KGB as “unpatriotic” resulting in 20 minute applaud sessions until someone finally collapsed.

  • lq

    Love the folded arms in front of his chest – indicating (my hope) that he is going to be more difficult to deal with in spite of that engaging smile.

  • http://profiles.google.com/thomasgokey Thomas Gokey

    The first one seems more vulnerable to me, the second one more confident. The smile, the crossed arms, but most of all the slightly leaned back stance makes him seem like he’s comfortable with his power.

    It’s always a bit difficult to know what to do with your arms when posing for something like this. Just in terms of basic body language, crossing your arms is generally understood as a somewhat stubborn stance, unreceptive or suspicious of who you’re talking to. I don’t want to read too much into it since it was probably a decision about composition, but they would also be attentive to how it reads.

  • Cactus

    The red in the ‘09 tie (if we are following the blue-red
    dichotomy) seems to indicate an integration of the two parties, or at least an intention
    compromise. So can we read into the blue polka dot tie a firmness to go down
    the path of a more liberal agenda?

    Or maybe a tie is just a tie.

    Yesterday on TV I saw a comparison of Reagan’s vs. Obama’s
    first official photo and the second term photo. Very similar. Serious smiling
    first term – more of a close-up style. The second was taken farther back with
    the exact flag positions. (Except Ronnie had no flag pin!) What I saw in the
    comparison, and see here, is at first both had to convince the populace they
    were worthy of the office. Reagan because he was a B-grade actor and Obama
    because he was a young black man. In their second term photos, they’ve proved
    that and have a certain confidence missing in the first ones. Obama looks more
    at ease and able to joke with the cameraman, who by this time he knows quite
    well.

    It appears to me that the gaze in both photos is slightly off
    center because he is looking at the cameraman. If he looked directly at the
    lens, it would seem more confrontational, something he doesn’t want to do, I’m
    sure.

  • Supare Aude

    Anybody care to interpret the difference in backgrounds?

  • Paul

    The grey hair is probably George Bush’s fault.

  • dissector

    The first portrait is one of my favorites of all time, and there was an interesting exchange here on the Bag about it’s inscrutability. I think it is a truly excellent portrait; he seems serious and trustworthy. It’s an intimate portrait, personal with a stark, almost empty background that is warmed by his calm. It seems to foreshadow the kind of thoughtful but human administration so many had thought they voted for. The new portrait, by comparison, seems all flash. Big white smile, comparatively busy/overdone background, bunched clothes and a _Left_ hand hidden – wedged uncomfortably – out of view. The first portrait really connects for me, but this years seems complete artifice. The lapel pin seems totally out of place in the first portrait, and it’s absence would have been an important statement for many. Sadly, the pin is totally appropriate this time around. Fro me, this year’s portrait just seems to say ‘What do I have to do to put you in this car today?’.

    On a different note, it seems strange to me that they leave dull, everday items in such images. Why is that ugly phone on the desk?

    • dissector

      sorry about the double post. I don’t know how to delete this one.

  • dissector

    The first portrait is one of my favorites of all time, and there was
    an interesting exchange here on the Bag about it’s inscrutability. I
    think it is a truly excellent portrait; he seems serious and
    trustworthy. It’s an intimate portrait, personal with a stark, almost
    empty background that is warmed by his calm. It seems to foreshadow the
    kind of thoughtful but human administration so many had thought they
    voted for. The new portrait, by comparison, seems all flash. Big white
    smile, comparatively busy/overdone background, bunched clothes and a
    _Left_ hand hidden – wedged uncomfortably – out of view. The first
    portrait really connects for me, but this year’s seems complete artifice.
    The lapel pin seems totally out of place in the first portrait, and
    it’s absence would have been an important statement for many. Sadly, the
    pin is completely at home this time around. For me, this year’s
    portrait just seems to say ‘What do I have to do to put you in this car
    today?’.

    On a different note, it seems strange to me that they
    leave dull, everday items in such images. Why is that ugly phone on the
    desk?

  • Bruce

    Old Gory, Front And CENTER!

  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

    Yikes, you’re right. Will fix that.

  • Matt Lutton

    I haven’t seen Obama in wax in person, but I’m sure I’ve seen a photo of that before. It is something about the light on his skin that comes off artificial to me, same with the big smile. I haven’t looked too closely at pictures of the President, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen him smile so broadly. Seems an odd tone to set, and I wonder how it compares to other official Presidential portraits (and also nods towards this fantastic, classic post by Blake Andrews about smiles in portraiture: http://blakeandrews.blogspot.com/2011/01/space-test_29.html).

    I also wonder what this portrait will look like on the walls of offices and embassies around the world (I seem to recall, but can’t find, a photo of the swap between Bush’s and Obama’s official portraits in an embassy, and I wonder what a picture of the moment the old portrait is replaced with the new will look like. Adding a smile to the room?)

  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

    Of course … and another think I didn’t thing about — the new official portrait causes the occasion to reproduce the well-known Brennan Linsley photo that damned Obama to liberals right after the ‘08 election when it became clear he wasn’t going to close Gitmo. We posted it (Gitmo: Putting A Face To A Name) back in January ‘09.

    (photo: Brennan Linsley/AP. U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January, 20, 2009)

  • Matt Lutton

    Thats the photo I was trying to remember actually… i want to see what this scene looks like this week when Obama’s portraits are swapped.. a smiling face in gitmo now? the only one?)

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