The New York Times:
Dawoud Bey’s photograph of the man who would soon be president was taken on a Sunday afternoon in early 2007, at Barack and Michelle Obama’s Hyde Park home in Chicago. The portrait is at once stately and informal. Mr. Obama’s hands are folded gracefully in his lap. He wears an elegant suit and white shirt, but no tie. He stares intensely into the camera.
The Museum of Contemporary Photography had commissioned Mr. Bey the year before to take a portrait of a notable Chicagoan. He had known the Obamas for several years and saw them periodically at social gatherings. Impressed with Mr. Obama’skeynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, Mr. Bey sensed a “growing air of expectancy” about him.
“When I was asked who I wanted to photograph,” Mr. Bey said, “it took me but a second to decide that I wanted to photograph him.”
Mr. Bey posed Mr. Obama at the head of the dining room table, light reflecting off its polished surface, and photographed him from an angle. “I wanted an interesting animation of the body, and finally through camera positioning and having him turn himself slightly I figured it out,” Mr. Bey said.
The photographer and his subject were comfortable with each other. Mr. Bey recalls that he asked Mr. Obama, who intended to be photographed in shirt sleeves, to put on a jacket. “I told him that I didn’t want the portrait to be that informal, and he was fine with that,” Mr. Bey said.
The portrait, which was featured in the Whitney Biennial this spring, reminds us how much has changed in the intervening seven years. Looking back, we grasp the physical toll the weight of presidential responsibility has taken on Mr. Obama. His hair is considerably darker and his expression more serene than in photographs of him today.
“It’s an unguarded intimate moment that Barack’s becoming president made less possible,” Mr. Bey said. “Certainly the ease with which the photograph was made, the lack of security, hanging out in the kitchen afterwards, all of that changed.”
The photograph depicts its famously private and introspective subject only months before he was to step into the abyss of presidential politics. And it defines him free of the stereotypes and myths that have come to characterize his presidency.
Idolized by supporters and attacked by enemies, presidents to a great extent lose control of their public image. They inevitably become the one-dimensional clichés that underwrite popular conceptions of them: John F. Kennedy as the tragic hero of an unattainable Camelot, for example, or Richard M. Nixon as the faithless “Tricky Dick.”
Mr. Obama’s race has rendered him particularly vulnerable to this kind of mythmaking. Right-wing extremists see him as an exemplar of what is wrong with America. He has become a symbol of a dark and foreign otherness, a threat to white supremacy and racial purity. To some, he is a Muslim conspirator, bent on dismantling American mores and traditions. To others, he is an angry black man covertly intent on avenging slavery and other historic injustices.
This mythmaking has not been limited to conservatives. A year after Mr. Bey photographed Mr. Obama, the candidate was rousing messianic fantasies on the left, stoked by the election’s most memorable image: Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster.
Distributed independently by the artist and later adopted by the Obama campaign, the poster was visually dynamic and politically effective. It radiated an aura of confidence and optimism. But Mr. Fairey’s schematic rendering of Mr. Obama — branded by a single, amorphous word — reduced the candidate to a cartoonlike, racially ambiguous cipher.
Raking across Mr. Obama’s face, in a picture devoid of the color brown, was a broad swath of off-white paint, a metaphoric blank screen onto which voters were invited to project their dreams and aspirations. The “Hope” poster visually transformed a man who unambiguously defined himself as black into an icon of the unthreatening “postracial” politician.
The poster foreshadowed the myriad ways the image of this president would be appropriated, for better or worse, for political effect. In hindsight, Mr. Bey’s nuanced portrait — intimate and complex — provides a corrective to history. Rejecting political clichés and symbols, the artist reveals a dimension of Mr. Obama rarely evident in his politically charged public image: his humanity.
“The portrait conveys a degree of complexity, a sense of engagement, comfort, and a hint of weariness,” Mr. Bey observes in retrospect. “It breathes with the sense of a real person being described. That’s always what I hope to come away with: not merely the visualization of Barack Obama, but a momentary sense that a full and dimensional person is being described and looking back at you.”
This essay is co-published by the Hillman Photography Initiative at the Carnegie Museum of Art, which investigates the life cycle of images: their creation, transmission, consumption, storage, potential loss and re-emergence. For more on the Initiative and to offer public commentary on this image, click here.
Maurice Berger is a research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a consulting curator at the Jewish Museum in New York.
Originally posted on Lotenna Blog:
The spread of Ebola virus in West Africa is getting more frightening. Many people are now asking, ‘What is Ebola?‘ ‘How can Ebola be cured?’ People are getting more interested as more cases make the news. Africa’s most populous city, Lagos has gotten its first case of the Ebola virus. A man has died of ebola in Lagos, the first confirmed case of the highly…
Originally posted on Blackbutterfly7:
We have all seen the headlines, “Fla. Mom gets 20 years for warning shot”. We have all heard some of the stories trying to tie this long sentence to race. What most don’t know is the history behind what happened. I’m not talking about what happened to Ms. Alexander but the history behind the sentencing. What most fail to realize is that it wasn’t the crime…
Originally posted on MsTranquility:
My little rounds of chocolate delight
How I love thee…
Melting in my hands
By the warmth it emanates
Dissolving on my tongue
As I nibble your outer layer
Coating my throat
With your ever-lasting sweetness
As I finish you off
With a salacious swig
Of icy cold refreshment
Originally posted on vegasjessie:
The Most Lopsided Interview To Date: Gregory (left) Lets Graham (right) Off The Hook
I jokingly predicted earlier this week in a tweet: Next on Sunday’s Meet The Press: Lindsey Graham and John McCain discuss how Obama arranged the downing of MH Flight 17. Once again, Mr. Deference to Republicans with a side of hardline questions to Democrats, David Gregory,…
Originally posted on vegasjessie:
We Must Remember The Refugees Of Palestine From The Formation Of Israel In 1948
History, once again way too kind to the Bush Crime Family’s escapades, has omitted the main reason the terrorist group Hamas was able to ascend to power in Gaza: Bush pushed for Palestinian elections when Israel, amongst others, cautioned against this. In June 2002, when Bush in…
Originally posted on The Fifth Column:
President Clinton thanks those Democratic members of the House who voted against impeachment in 1998 | (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Go figure…The Washington Post – Chris Cillizza
For the casual observer (or enthusiastic partisan), a new poll from CNN / ORC International reveals a staggering point of data: one-third of the country, 33 percent, supports…
Originally posted on Recipes for a Healthy You:
Maybe your wondering why this would be a high protein breakfast combo? All you see is an egg, which everyone knows has protein. Of course the amount of protein depends on the size of the egg. A large egg has 6.29 grams of protein, a medium egg has 5.54 grams, and a small egg has 4.65 grams of protein. The protein is shared between the egg whitea…
Originally posted on The Fifth Column:
Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire investor Mark Cuban | Credit: AP
Mark Cuban is a smart guy.
Not only does he have a knack for making a lot of money, he also recognizes the un-American activities by the corporations in question and has a plan to upset their tax-evasion techniques.Think Progress