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August 17, 2013

Former Newsweek Editor and that “Blurry” Obama

Much of what happened, in terms of politics and even the dialectics of an office, is a painful experience; there’s a lot of compromise. Much of my best work did not see the light of day in the magazine. But when I reflect on my 12 years there I still have to celebrate the handful of images, which were produced over the course of that period. But let me point one thing out to you, this picture of Obama made by the then contract photographer, Ilkka Uimonen, was never published by Newsweek, was never published in the States at all, it has never been seen. I had to come all the way to Cortona 7 years later to find a group of people who would publish that. It’s a strange satisfaction. I have harboured interest in this picture, among others, for years and years, because for me it’s genius. But photography is subjective; some people to whom it was sent said: ‘It works, but can you send us the one in focus?’

from: James Wellford : The Death of Newsweek – via Emaho Magazine

What’s so interesting, first of all, is the opportunity to read such extremely frank remarks by one of the past decade’s top photo editors about the world of news magazine publishing. Having left a crippled Newsweek, Mr. Wellford “tears the bandaid off” in criticizing the publication’s larger commitment to photos, photo stories and photojournalists.

The other compelling thing is the photo Wellford highlights in the interview, identified as Obama’s first presidential campaign appearance — and the fact Newsweek (nor any major news organization) would publish it. Jamie Wellford sees a lot of meaning there. As he states now:

“There was so much hope and expectation in Obama that reusing that image now, after his government was partly disappointing for a lot of people, to me it makes a lot of sense.”

I appreciate his presumption about the photo and I’m not saying it’s not true, but it’s actually not clear to me what the effect specifically says and does. For example, did the intent of the image, when it was originally made, have more to do with Obama’s political style? Or was it motivated more by the fact the man was such an unknown? And if the photo is a commentary on Obama’s relationship to policy, was the ‘08 candidate really all that hesitant to stake out positions and place himself within the political spectrum? Finally, is it possible that what the photo meant then — given Obama’s seven year record — is what the photo means now?

(photo: © Ilkka Uimone for Newsweek. caption: DMZ Boston MA, Then Senator Barack Obama, in his first campaign appearance. Now the president.)

  • BooksAlive

    Obama is not hesitant about staking out positions, but his subsequent actions are problematic. Voters who would like to see him work harder (or differently) to have his proposals enacted are faced with having to follow FDR’s maxim for getting things done, “Make me do it.”

  • black_dog_barking

    The fact that the image is blurred could be commentary on the subject but it could also be read as explicit criticism of the messenger. One reading of the absence of focus here is that it highlights the cumulative effect of the steady decline in media attention and media focus on the important details of important events like presidential elections. If so, there is an unexpected honesty in soft distortion.

    In this image I see the seeds of the same thought processes that produced the 2008 Obama campaign posters. Obviously not the source of the Fairey images but seems to have tapped a common spring.

  • Scarabus

    Which task do you think would be easier: (1) to find politicians for whom this treatment would be inappropriate? or (2) to find those for whom it would be perfectly appropriate? It’s OK to focus (sic) on Obama, because the higher the hopes one has, the greater the inevitable disillusion that follows. Honestly, though, I think this is a comment on the profession even more than the man.

    • Michael Shaw

      I was thinking something similar. Doesn’t dealing with congress justify the look alone?

  • rob

    it’s Ilkka Uimonen

  • Sam Hill

    Perhaps it was, for what ever reasons, the only frame the photographer could salvage from the event. A good bullshit story has got a lot of bad pictures published. In this case it took seven years to make up one good enough but it finally did get it in front of the public.

  • Sam Hill

    It is not art . It is not a psuedo psychological anylogical abstract distraction.
    What it is, is simply bad craftmanship, both in the taking and in the editing. A great photographer is known as much for what photographs he does not show, as he is by what photographs he allows his/her audience to see. And no one, not even the trash collector, should have seen this waste of resources. It’s an embarrassment to the profession. I have seen truly stunning news photographs and I have seen truly stunning art photographs. On the rarest of occasions a single photograph has been both. This particular graphic is none of them.

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