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October 15, 2013

Shooting Boehner: Shutdown Visuals Meet GOP Aggression

Boehner closeup shutdown Ernst
Boehner Close up w Vucci Ernst Reuters

From time to time, I’ll read a quotation about how the camera can be likened to a weapon. This group of photos yesterday speaks to different flavors of that.

I suppose it was only so long before the GOP insurgency outran its protection as the elephant in the room. With the government shutdown slamming headlong into the debt ceiling deadline, the magnitude of damage, frustration and anger toward the House Republicans and the Speaker for sabotaging the government becomes almost palpable here.

Specifically, what Boehner treats as just another photo op —  the ho-hum subject, and group exercise, of however-many tight portraits — becomes, instead, the portrait of a man surrounded. In the crisis gripping the Capitol, the enlistment of the lensmen and women in these shots is not singular or out-of-the-blue. Rather, this unusual framing — this shooting of the shooting – is employed by a collection of the most professional and accomplished Washington newswire photographers in the business, including Jonathan Ernst of Reuters, Evan Vucci of AP and AFP’s Jim Watson.

What’s going on, symbolically of course, are the press members — as the proxies of the people — not just dropping their typical submissiveness but actually challenging Boehner’s destructiveness and irresponsibility.  Call it (metaphorically) getting in his face, putting him on the spot, putting him under a microscope or under the gun, this framing is about accountability — and its absence. And, to the extent he and his caucus are perpetrating violence on the legislative system and the public spirit, the photos do feature photographers targeting Boehner with their lenses.

Boehner photographed during shutdown Watson AFP

If it were business-as-usual, Boehner could rest assured he was simply posing for a dozen or so different close-ups — that nobody would be “breaking the contract” by panning out and depicting him as frozen in the pose — and head of the circus. Consistent with his leveraging of the press and the government, however, the Speaker’s obliviousness here is a quiet shaming he invites. Parses stagecraft from statecraft, what the photo is doing is peeling away the emperor’s new clothes.

Boehner shutdown press circle

This image, on the other hand, less quietly riffs on the theme: Simultaneously, he’s: being surrounded; man in the middle; revealed in harsh light; being looked down upon.  To the extent the Republican aggression is best likened to a kamikaze mission and the press ultimately functions like a mirror, what the photo also evokes is a circular firing squad.

(photo 1 & 2: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters caption: Photographers take pictures of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) as he appears before reporters after a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 15, 2013. House Republicans hope to pass their own legislation to reopen the federal government, rejecting the deal that emerged from Senate negotiations.caption 2: Photographers take pictures of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) as he appears before reporters after a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 15, 2013. House Republicans hope to pass their own legislation to reopen the federal government, rejecting the deal that emerged from Senate negotiations. photo 3: Jim Watson/AFP caption: Speaker of the House John Boehner(L) speaks after a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 15, 2013. photo 4: Evan Vucci/AP caption: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, leaves his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, for the White House and a meeting with President Barack Obama regarding the ongoing budget fight. Facing a fresh deadline, Boehner said Thursday that Republicans would vote to extend the government’s ability to borrow money for six weeks – but only if President Barack Obama first agrees to fresh negotions on spending cuts. Under the Republican plan, the partial government shutdown would continue in the meantime.)

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