Friday, January 23, 2009

"at the desk, in the chair"

guest-posted by Armadillo Joe

Howdy, Blog-O-Maniacs! Armadillo Joe here again with a website recommendation you should add to your regular surfing, at least weekly if not more frequently. Its called BAGnewsNotes and I first saw it on the sidebar over at Digby’s Hullabaloo (which you should also read daily).

The proprietor is named Michael Shaw. He’s a clinical psychologist who uses his background and training to analyze news photographs. I always learn something when I click there or see something in a new and enlightening way. In our image-drenched culture, we need more people like Michael and his contributors to deconstruct the barrage of images we are often force-fed on daily basis by our pervasive media culture, to unpack all the implications embedded in a photograph by the taker of the picture and the publisher of it when each inject any particular image into our mass media, whenever they simply go about doing their jobs. Photographs seem spontaneous, but the process of taking, culling, selecting and presenting them for consumption can often hide a deeper agenda. Being savvy about them makes us better consumers of media output.

As he puts it on his info page:

"The BAG" offers a daily semiotic analysis of news and political images from a political, cultural or psychological point of view, and is also a platform for original social photography and photojournalism.
Its all heady and informative stuff. I think what he does is pretty brilliant generally, but the analysis excerpted below moved me in a way I can’t fully explain. Though I can't really quantify it, I give credit here mostly because it did move me to create a blog post about the process itself, rather than the subject. So here it is:

I should note that, within days, this photo is going to look completely mundane. For the moment, though, it's profound to the eye as the first White House photo of Obama officially at the desk, in the chair.

Unfortunately, it will probably take me a few viewings to shake off the echo of "W" (who actually rarely sat at that desk -- except for photo ops, which typically revealed a surface as uncluttered as we see here). For the moment, I still see him sitting in that striped chair, far right, with that adolescent grin on his face and a couple of boom mikes over his head, yukking it up with whomever of the steady stream of dignitaries happened to be parked beside him.

One other note about the picture and the handiwork of new WH photographer Pete Souza, by the way. Whereas Bush and Rove were obsessed with framing "W" with "the other George," notice how Souza's angle insures that Obama -- in his first photo from the Oval Office -- is introduced, in the sweep of the scene, by Lincoln.
Again, I can't explain it, but something in all of that deeply moves me. Maybe its the feeling that the grownups are once again in charge and that their being in-charge connects in the most powerful office in the world (both figuratively and literally) to a long line of great Americans and somewhere in those previous generations, in the painted gaze of men long dead who faced down graver threats than those we face today and triumphed, I can find some reason to not completely give in to all of my apocalyptic nightmares of boot-stomping American corporate fascism, "The Road"-style environmental degradation and a Road Warrior post-petroleum future that now all seem to have been part of a horrific eight-year fever-dream, a fever that broke this past Tuesday around 12 noon Eastern.

What is that sensation? That urge...? That feeling...? Its so new and yet old, somehow. Familiar but still fresh and exciting. What is it?

Oh yeah!

It's spelled H-O-P-E.

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