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Jan 17, 2006

Women In The Starring Role


Big job for anyone?  Big job for a woman?  Big job for this woman?

The NYT ran an only slightly more cropped version of this Reuters shot this morning on page A3.  It shows Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet at her first major news conference following her victory.

As a long time activist, mother and self-avowed spirit of the '60's, is Mrs. Bachelet being diminished here for her lack of political stature or resume?   Or, are we seeing some visual "blowback" given that South America and Africa (link) both elected their first female heads-of-state within days of each other?

(... Or, is this simply an innocent attempt to portray drama, or the momentousness of the moment?)

In the NYT version, at least, Mrs. Bachelet's face is more discernible, and her expression is quite confident and engaging.  (This is in marked contrast to this AFP version of the shot on YahooNews which makes the new leader look lost and clueless.  In the AFP image, notice how Bachelet's expression seems to somehow also draw attention to the fact the flag is sagging at the corners, whereas this doesn't register as much in the shot above.)

A number of you wrote me thinking that new German Chancellor Angela Merkel was being diminished through patronization during her press conference with Bush in Washington last week (example 1, 2).


(Actually, in surveying images of Merkel, it seems that she tends to be diminished more through enlargement and physical distortion than through "shrinkage.")  Still, in comparing all three images of Merkel with the Chilean photo above, are we looking at a similar tendency to somehow minimize these new female leaders?

(Apologize in advance if any of the YahooNews photo links change or expire.)

(image 1: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters.  January 16, 2006. Santiago, Chile.  image 2:


In reaction to yesterday's picture of president Bush and the image of Martin Luther King, momly wrote: "In this picture who is the bigger man?" In the picture of president Bachelet the flag predominates. It was telling yesterday to see the joy for Chile in the announcement of her election win. It's rather that in her victory that Chile is "normal" again and that is cause for celebration.

Having mentioned momly's reaction to yesterday's photo which ressonated with me, I'll also mention that your reaction moved me. Indeed it's important to remember Martin Luther King's humanity.

The photo of Bachelet is stunning. Is this woman small? Or is normal government an idea stewarded for a time by mere mortals. With the current imperial regime here in the USA, I for one would welcome the image of a smaller president.

The message is: succesful, powerful women end up alone.

Call me naive, but the Bachelet image is merely an attempt to depict the entire flag of Chile in its correct proportions. Perhaps if Bachelet had been farther from the background, her figure could've appeared larger.

Or the photog could've gone up close and used a wide lens, but that's just silly.

For the old boys everywhere, for the military, the church for machismo this is blowback.
I rather like the aesthetics of the photograph (Mondrian like.) I find it powerful in a Spartan and simplistic way.
She is totally swamped in a red background, confirmation of a survivor of the inferno of torture, rape, sadism and dictatorship. Here is a powerful independent person a feminist a woman who has inspired many in her country and hopefully elsewhere as well. I like the "pinko" color of her outfit, no basic black and pearls for this lady. One doesn't need a close up to understand her humanity and the cathartic healing she brings to Chile.
Isabella Allende couldn't have written a better story nor Pablo Neruda a poem or Victor Jara a cancion.
From one who listened to the last interview given by Salvador Allende on the CBC radio as the coup was underway his closing statement was "...that Chile would live in hell..."
The first 911 for Chile in 1973 has delivered this Phoenix, I hope America can find such a Phoenix to deal with the second 911 of 2001.
I understand fully the desire of the MSM to create distance and dissonance toward Brachelet.

What courage she must have to sit on that stage with only a microphone and a glass of water.....and the Chilean flag. To have won in a macho catholic country and then to be alone on the stage. Wow! If anything, this photo just underlines that.

But when compared with the AFP Yahoo photo, the AFP still gets in the flag but Bachelet seems to be more in control. Generally, I'm not one to overlook sexism, but in this case the drama gets my vote. That's hard to turn down.

jtfromBC remembered that Allende was assassinated on 9/11/73. I'd almost be willing to bet that this little factoid escaped the notice of the photographer and the editor. I'll also bet that 97% of the US public doesn't know it and probably 80% wouldn't know who Allende WAS. If there is any editorial heavy-handedness in this (top-down) it's more likely a result of the southern latitudes having the nerve to stand on their own two feet and tell US corporations to go home.

Another thing not getting attention in this country is that Bachelet is divorced, agnostic, socialist and has one of her children by a man she was not married to. In a catholic country. Does anyone think she could get elected in the USA? Google her images (mostly in Spanish-language papers) and you get an impression of a very confident, well-rounded woman.

It's definitely eye-catching in its simplicity, and I kind of like the effect. But she obviously doesn't have a Karl Rove; if she did, the flag would be a little smaller, so that she looked bigger. (Now, if I just put my thumb over her face, she completely disappears; there's just a table with a glass of water.) And she would be wearing a color that looked better against the red.

This photo and the comments are why this site is so good.

I'd earlier read brief news article about the Bachelet election, but didn't think further. Now I see the strength of the woman, the strength of a nation that would elect a person with her background. Indeed, the strength and confidence of the many nations that elect women leaders.

The technique of Rove is (perhaps) visible in the attempt to set the stage, but one becomes aware of how good Rove is at his craft (colors, sizing, placement).

Meahwhile, why did the Mainstream Media pick such a photo- is there an intent to diminish the new left-wing president, an intent to diminish this woman,and even an attempt to diminish the nation that elected this leader. I think so.

Yet from this photo and the comments made by others, I see a strong woman and a nation that is working to move forward.

And it makes me reflect back to what goes on in the United States.

I don't think either of these images belittle or minimize women. Men get the same treatment, and I feel that even sniping at a woman's beauty/grace/wardrobe are legitimate statements, since that is part of how women are viewed.

isn't the scale a bit the fault of those who designed the backdrop? I'd have cropped it the same way (as a photographer/editor) to get the whole flag. yes, it gives a sense of momentousness, but it also makes her look tiny. perhaps the national drama seemed more important to planners on the ground -- that is very much conveyed here.

I like the image. thanks, too, to the commenters who pointed out that she's alone on the stage; not something you see that often. nice. strong.

The backdrop seems to overwhelm the foreground.

Could it be, perhaps, that Chilean politics are more concerned with substance than with the package? I wonder what someone from Chile would say about this picture?

The charicature of Merkel strikes me as harsh; but then, that is the nature of charicature.

There are no religious icons or symbols. The leader looks comfortable, perhaps seated, our equal, not posed above us fronted by podium (or pulpit). No badges or official seals, uniforms. No teleprompter.

If those boxes on either side of the table are stage monitor speakers then this is a very large setting. Which would explain the size of the flag. Can't tell if the glass is half full or half empty.

Both Bachelet photos make me smile. They are great, not only for the astute observations already made by previous commenters, but also because the subject — a woman — appears to have flummoxed the photographers — who are men. Both photographers are compelled to get the damn star in the frame with her.

So what would happen if the star were missing? Well, besides throwing the world off its axis if the viewer has to read a caption to find out who this is and what country she's from, the photographer would be forced to move in for a closer shot (otherwise it certainly would look like he *is* minimizing her). And a close-up is more intimate, and . . . uh-oh! Hey, let's try to get that star in the frame! Hysterical.

Merkel seems to have the same effect on Bush. These pics are not as amusing, however, because we get to see Bush's Miss Prissyface. He has no social graces whatsoever.

The women are moving ahead regardless.

After being tempted by the info on this site, I read more about President Bachelet. Incredible story.

"Still, in comparing all three images of Merkel with the Chilean photo above, are we looking at a similar tendency to somehow minimize these new female leaders?"

What I find most striking in photos of president Bush with female leaders, is his unbearable, patronizing, gaze. I compared Bush/Miers with Bush/Merkel (= your example 2) on:

It's really weird the way his head is tilted so far to the side in those photos with Miers and Merkel. (I tried it, lol, and it feels very unnatural.)

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