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Apr 18, 2005

All in the Footwork


Generally, I tend to assume most news photos have a some kind of editorial slant.

That's why I was interested in this image that accompanied Howard Fineman's piece in last week's Newsweek.  The article, title Playing Rope-a-Dope (link), profiles the reluctant Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid.  The story outlines Reid's assumption that the Republican's are overreaching, and his strategy of keeping the Dems united and letting the GOP bloody itself. 

It's clearly possible to see this picture as uncomplimentary to Reid, especially with the "under the table" vantage, and the prominent role of the aide's mostly bare foot.  On the other hand, the fact that Reid is keeping to the background with his head down is exactly Fineman's point.  It's easy to fret that the Democratic leadership is fragmented or is lacking in charismatic figures, but what if Reid is exactly what the doctor ordered right now? 

The Reid that Fineman describes is hardly retiring, by the way.  (I guess you can see that in the way that left leg extends.)  Explaining that the Senator is a former amateur boxer and a long time student of the game, Fineman uses fight analogies to emphasize Reid's strategic skill and quiet tenacity.  After digesting this information, it makes you think that Harry is actually sitting there reviewing his plan for executing a legislative technical knock out.

If this period does prove decisive in exposing the right for its arrogance and abuse of power, I can't imagine anyone will remember that Harry Reid was in the center of this picture.  Consistent with his character, however, I think he'd prefer it that way.

(image: Charles Ommanney for Newsweek; April 18, 2005, p. 45)


It is the camera point-of-view that is under the table. The phrase itself suggests the loser of a drinking-bout, and the loser is not Reid. Reid is pursuing his plans with a calmness that disdains to even notice the camera and its position, but the confidence is real, not feigned. This is the opposite of the Bush swagger. The proximity of the secretary's foot--near but above only emphasises the camera's low position. And it is not sexy unless you are a masochist or a fetishist.

Reid is between the door and the camera--no escape there: He seems to know he is in control.

taking the boxer image further....

does the image not suggest a fighter in his corner? I've seen several ring side shots with similar lens angles and frame percentages filled with assistants and coaches. Typically a hand and a towel and a coach shouting fight notes are part of the composition.

I'm curious why the empty chair next to the senator is in the frame. The main composition is strong enough without the chair. A message that no one willingly enters this ring, or is the distortion that comes from the outer limits of the lens stating something entirely different? Note the flatness and pitch of the furniture framed by the table in the forward corner.

As far as way-below-the-belt POVs go, Reid's fellow Democrat Adlai Stevenson is the photo Winnah and still Champeen.

Smart, skillful guys don't always win, though.

The foot often stands in for the phallus in freudian ad images.

This "semi-erect" foot is a stronger indicator of power than a downward oriented foot, but clearly not as strong as it might be.

Goddamned right-wing media. Whose foot is that? Boxer? Hilary? The classic spin of Democrats as "womanly" or pussywhipped, as opposed to the more macho, manly Repugs. Or maybe it's hinting of a sex scandal... or more invocations of The Clenis.

More visual slander, is what it is. Reid, in fact, is the toughest fighter in the Senate, and I'm damn glad he's in charge (and glad that Boxer is around. Hilary, I could live without, but whatever). And Pelosi in the House is right up there too, "womanly" hah, she kicks ass.

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