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March 24, 2013

Obama in the Middle East: Framing the Shot

Obama Abdullah Amman 1

I’m still sifting through images for a post on Obama’s visit to Israel, and especially, the West Bank. In the meantime, I was interested in these two photos by Reuters’ Larry Downing.

In off-the-record conversations with news photographers, a topic that comes up constantly is the extreme scripting and control of photo ops exercised by the Administration. It’s curious to me that the photo below was even released. Is it because it conveys the degree to which the Obama visit was such a media event? Or, maybe it’s interesting because it’s so kinetic. What I’m not sure it does, however — especially because the caption (below) plays it so close to the vest — is convey how thoroughly subjected the visual media is.

Paired with the supposedly intimate photo of Obama sauntering in to the Amman Palace with Jordan’s King Abdullah, however, it makes for a script-defying medley. (Also in the mix, perhaps, is just how much politics in the region is also defined by control over territory).

Obama Abdullah Amman 2

(photos: Larry Downing/Reuters caption: U.S. President Barack Obama is escorted by Amman by Jordan’s King Abdullah II towards a private meeting at Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. caption 2: Members of the press following U.S. President Barack Obama rush towards a meeting hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II at Al Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013.)

  • black_dog_barking

    Watched Martin Scorsese’s documentary concert film about the Band’s epic last show. The film captures the spontaneity of the event and a music that represented a break with its tightly scripted culture. The film, like the on-stage show, presents as a jumble of performer and support personnel with the odd camera occasionally poking into the background — the making of the show becomes a part of the show, the document itself is documented.

    One thing clear last night I’d not seen in previous viewings was the enormous amount of work and coordination required to capture an event for reproduction, the shots mapped, cameras posted and choreographed — cables and microphones and cameras positioned at the right place at the right time. In 1976 wireless communications weren’t a viable option so each camera operator became a mini-director. And then the raw footage is collected, curated and edited into a fluid story, a remarkable accomplishment capturing a musically remarkable event.

    That Scorsese chose not to edit out the documentary infrastructure made for a more “real” experience for the viewer, truer because it chose not to hide its presence. These two images represent the same editorial calculation — showing the scaffolding can enhance the viewers’ understanding and appreciation of the event. You have to trust your viewer for it to work.

    • Scarabus

      Is Black_Dog_Barking an allusion to Faust?

  • Robert Gumpert

    Was going to start this comment with “when I was in school forty-five years ago” and thought I shouldn’t do that, it’s just a rip off of the old walking to school in the snow stories. So I will instead just say when I was becoming a photojournalist and full of the promise of the profession verses the reality, Ronald Reagan, the actor, was Governor of my state and the idea of staged events was in my head. Someplace I had read a photojournalist’s comments about getting portraits of professional image projectors: actors and increasingly politicians. People who knew what they wanted to look like – the image they where intent on selling – and how to project it. This photographer was talking wrote of the BATTLE he (there just were not that many women in the business back then) went through every time one of these assignments came up, fighting to remain a photojournalist NOT an unpaid PR photographer. As I said this was 45 years ago. I look around now and while it is nice to hear photographers off the record at least still talking about it, that battle and war seems pretty much lost. I don’t see any of them or their publications refusing to take part in the charade. And this is not unique to we photographers. It is a journalism problem for scribblers have their own problems with accepting scripted news as the recent 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq has reminded us.

  • Scarabus

    Thought-provoking juxtaposition, and two good comments.

    Re Robert’s observations about photojournalism, I’m reminded of similar ways we amateurs are manipulated. An easy example is the “scenic overlook” provided on many highways. “You want to photograph the valley? Then do it from here.”

    A trickier example is one I experienced at Olana, painter Frederick Church’s estate on the Hudson River. (Been there, Michael?) It’s an example of the “picturesque” style of landscaping, like Stourhead in England. The garden path at Stourhead winds around a lake. At various points a “view” has been created, combining a place to look from and something across the lake to look at.

    Church did the same thing. However, when he built his “Persian palace” above the river, the opposite side of the river was completely undeveloped, and Church kept the trees beneath his balcony trimmed low enough not to impede the view. Now, however, a gas station? fast-food franchise? (I forget) has been built right opposite Olana. The trustees have allowed some of the trees grow up to hide the visual atrocity. The pretense is that you’re seeing exactly what Church intended. The fantasy is that the landscape is pristine. “Landscaping as lying?”

    The difference, of course, is that the stuff we’re looking at is fixed. That variable is controlled. In these photos we’re looking at something that’s moving, just as in the examples Robert and black dog cite. Good stuff.

  • black_dog_barking

    I was thinking of a Dylan lyric:

    I got my black dog barkin’
    Black dog barkin’
    Yes, it is now
    Yes, it is now
    Outside my yard
    Yes, I could tell you what he means
    If I just didn’t have to try so hard.

    Dylan may have been referencing Faust. Winston Churchill referred to his episodes of depression as the “black dog”. Could be that too. Makes “Dylan sense” whatever the source.

  • Scarabus

    Cool! Thanks much.

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