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Apr 23, 2007

White House and Associates: A Two Headed Monster?


(click for full size)

With the exception of a little incident involving Karl Rove, the painfully-muted 2007 White House Correspondent's Dinner has now come and gone.  How much, however, was the event bottled up for the fact that Damaged PR Prez can no longer take a joke, and the Beltway media, in its neighborliness, is taking pity on him?  (Or go ahead, blame it on Stephen Colbert.)

WAPO's Reliable Source passed along this over-rationalization from Association President Steve Scully in the evening's opening remarks:

"An adversary is not the same thing as an enemy ... and an evening of civility does not mean we are selling out."

Sounds great, Steve -- if you swap out "civility" with "co-dependence," and insert "wounded" in front of "adversary."  ... From everything I saw, that wasn't a exercise in civility, so much as a scene from the "Emperors New Clothes."

Lacking a salient visual from the '07 WHCD (unless you count this little gem), I found my attention shifting over to the White House Correspondent's Association's visual sister, the White House News Photographers Association, and the image above, named the Political Photo of the Year (link) this past January 28th.

Assuming Nancy Pelosi has come off better in the past few months, is it because she's getting good visual press, or just less worse press, based on a conservative bias in the Beltway mediatocracy?  (Or, as Glen Greenwald sees it, is Nancy's coverage -- as far as the textual press goes, at least -- that much better at all?)

I take nothing away from Chip Somodevilla (1, 2), the fine and prominent political photographer who shot this image.  I just question what it says, as the top prize-winner, about an independent press organization nominally affiliated with The White House.  (Or, at least, this White House).  It wasn't, by the way, like "Nancy the monster" won first place while the Republicans still held the House and Senate.  It wasn't like it took honors a few days or a week after the turnover, either.  Beyond that, just think about when this photo was taken.  Yes, this was photographed November 7th, the very day of the mid-term election.

In my mind, this photo will remain a memorable piece of evidence in the media bias debate.

More than two months after Pelosi and the Democrats engineered one of the most profound political turnarounds in American history -- characterized almost uniformly in the media on November 7th, 2006 by scenes like this -- it's fascinating the WHNPA chose to commit to posterity the nightmare above.

Which leads me to ask: was this selection mostly aesthetic, or did it bear at least some slight relation to why the Beltway mediatocracy spent Saturday night sitting on its hands?

(image; Chip Somodevilla. November 7, 2006. Washington. via caption: THE FUTURE SPEAKER SPEAKS. United States House of Representatives Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA, left) is reflected through a plastic podium while addressing supporters along with Rep. Kendrick Peek (D-FL, right) at the Hyatt Regency Hotel November 7, 2006 in Washington, D.C. Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House after the Democrats took control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections.)


The photographer's intent was to make Pelosi look really wicked. I think the idea of a powerful middle-aged woman frightens men, even "liberal" ones like this photographer. And the image of Rep. Peek (great name) in the lower right hand corner adds an element of racial fear. This photo represents the Republican white man's worse nightmare—women and African-Americans uniting to seize political power.

Somodevilla is obviously a talented photographer, that image of rummy is absolutely Baconesque. That said, this shot of Pelosi is cheap, and frankly, pretty much more the kind of thing I'd expect to see from a half clever freshman, not a seasoned, journalistic photographer.

Be that as it may, we all have our off days and the results of a vote doesn't reflect on the photographer as much as the voters which was, I think, your point.

The white male's threatened image in America today: Monstrously powerful women, smiling black men waiting in the corner.

Patriarchy, be damned. We're after you, now.


Say what you will. The republicans know how to dominate the conversation. Be it Gonzalez, or Rove or White House Correspondents, or Iraqi wall. They know how to unite using overwhelming power against their adversaries.

The republican five fingers are clenched tightly into a fist. And they use it as a hammer. The Democratic five are spread apart, each indivudually wiggling, toot-a-loo. They can't even swat a fly.

Power and control, even when it's abused, are more interesting to write and talk about, than petty office politics gossip, the kind that is served up by Pelosi and Reid and Murtha... even Schumer. A bunch of stray cats, against a pack of hungry wolves. Who is going to win? Do Rove, Cheney and Bush act like they are scared, even a little? Nope.

If you photograph anybody, including a child, from way below the chin, straight up, that person will look like a "monster." It's a cheap, political and/or photographical shot. Without knowing the sentiments of the men whose images are ncluded in the periphery of the shot, the impression is men laughing at a woman in power. It's a very nasty picture with a very nasty message.

gawd that is a nasty image: some kinda sick sense female stereotype thing going on; oh, yeah ~ right up there with "negro eating watermelon" and "the Mañana Mexican" and the... gawd that really is a nasty image.

makes ya wanna examine the whole "what *IS* the deal with Fundamentalists having this thing about anything woman? thing." i mean, they must be what, terrified of/by mommy... something? is that it?

and like, this is not news. oh, hellno. entire "Dark Ages" seemed to be this one, long War Against Women thing: suppression, segregation, hurtin' and burnin' 'em and all kindsa sick shit; and all this weird anti-woman dogma is just as Judaic as Christian as Muslim... what *IS* it with all the sick anti-woman shit, anyway? i dunno. my mom went to work every day, just like dad did. i never thought about there being sick shit about he v. she until me = she was much older, fortunately.

racism, at least you can kinda sorta sick rationalize, but women? she not like he? does that make any sense, even sick sense?

gawd, that is a nasty image. if i was a man, i'd do something about this. i'd hurt this guy.

Somehow 2 posts never made it on here. But I'll just briefly add that the black gentleman in the corner is Kendrick Meek, and yes they mispelled his name. He comes from a respectable family and follows in the footsteps of his much beloved mother, legislator Carrie Meek. But most viewers of the photo wouldn't know that.

The photo is disgustingly dishonest. Tell me, in the history of our country, has the Speaker of the House ever been portrayed as Cerberus?

Margaret is right about the angle. Has anyone over 5'2" EVER had a good driver's licence photo taken? And it is a nasty and misogynist shot. The hatred of women by the male political elite and the MSM is palpable and daily. Not only is she shot from below but with her mouth open......which is what we have come to expect from the MSM. I hesitate to harp on this point again, but the conservative republican male hatred for women is apparent daily. Of course, the likes of Limbaugh et al, have been spouting this diatribe for a decade or more, but recently it has become a one-note refrain. It replaces their hatred of gays because mention of gay men only reminds the public at large of Foley and Haggard and Hastert and so many others.

Ok, I'm done.

Chimera: 1 a capitalized : a fire-breathing she-monster in Greek mythology having a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail b : an imaginary monster compounded of incongruous parts. Slain by Bellaraphon.

Hydra: 1 : a many-headed serpent or monster in Greek mythology that was slain by Hercules and each head of which when cut off was replaced by two others
2 not capitalized : a multifarious evil not to be overcome by a single effort. Destroyed by Hercules.

Echidna: Mother of All Monsters, he goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim Echidna, a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days. Killed by Argus Panapones.

Sphinx: 1 a capitalized : a winged female monster in Greek mythology having a woman's head and a lion's body and noted for killing anyone unable to answer its riddle b : an enigmatic or mysterious person . Answer my riddles three....

All female, all of them defeated by men through strength of arms. All represent the fear of the loss of power by men . What old is new again....

What an extraordinarily biased and hateful photo, to win photo of the year.

I suppose the White house Press Photographers consist largely of men who try to position Bush with a light fixture serving as a halo behind his head for their photos.

it makes her look a little ( alot) like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Adolf Hitler. Scary stuff.

putnam: "What an extraordinarily biased and hateful photo, to win photo of the year."

That pretty much says it all. I'd hate to have a photo of me taken from that angle...

"This photo represents the Republican white man's worse nightmare—women and African-Americans uniting to seize political power."

I agree, and my views on the photo have been changing in ways I hadn't thought possible. At first I thought it was typical MSM trash, and it may well be, but taken in the larger context I like to think of this photo as a nice way to frighten Republicans. It does represent their worst nightmares.

I could see holding this up to some sort of white supremacist/misogynist and watching them cringe; not from the ugly aesthetics, but because of the contents. Yes, it's a terrible angle and makes everyone in the picture look rather diabolical, but I love the dreamy/nightmarish effect when viewed as a representation of all white, male conservatives' childish, bigoted fears.

I am amazed at this conversation. Even as the assumptions fly and the accusations are leveled, I am flattered that one of my images can stir such passion. Here’s how the photo came together:
The leaders of the Democratic Party were holding their election night celebration in a hotel ballroom on Capitol Hill. During the evening – as more election returns were announced – the party leaders would walk out on stage and whip up the crowd with words of victory and encouragement. The image that won the WHNPA political award was taken before Pelosi knew she was to be Speaker. It was taken early in the evening. When assembling the stage for the big party, the set-up crew rolled out a huge transparent plastic podium with a large sign on the front reading “A New Direction for America.” When the photographers covering the event – including myself – were escorted to the “buffer” (space between audience and stage, for you non-photogs), we immediately noticed that we would not be able to get a straight-ahead photo of Pelosi due to her height – the sign on the podium would block her face. In an effort to find something other than the typical podium shot, I worked the angle underneath the sign. In fact, there are actually nine different versions of that situation on our Web site ( then search Pelosi and Somodevilla). Later in the night, after the Dems knew they were in control of Congress and celebrated with confetti, I made more photos from a large riser in the back of the room. Those photos are also on the site and one was used on the front page of the Washington Post the next day.

Here is an excerpt from an interview I did for The Photography Channel about the photo It has been very interesting and educational to hear from the members of this group. Many thanks for the great discussion! Brilliant! Thanks.


I commend you for jumping in here, especially given the unanimity of the reaction. I looked at both the links you provided -- although the Getty page to some time to get to. I understand your point about the image as a "force mulitplier," depicting Pelosi's dramatic increase in power. Respectfully, however (because I really do appreciate your reply to the post), what is it about the discussion that amazed you? In other words, at any point (from the evening you took the series of shots this one came from, to the receipt of the award, until now), didn't it at least seem this powerful shot might "cut two ways?"

When Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase was first shown to the public [1913] – the public's comments were kind-a-like the ones above.

had to crawl up under there, to get that 'special angle' through the glass, didja, Mr. Somodevilla? you know the next time you're down there in 'the pit' if you just flip open your phone, and stick it under her skirt, i bet you could win a pulitzer with that pic, Mr. Somodevilla. Allen Funt lives!

Wow, Chip, after viewing your work on the Getty website, I've never *SEEN* so many unflattering pictures of Nancy Pelosi! Thanks for putting to rest the rumor that she gets Botox treatments (this is a reference to Editorial #73260714, the super sharp image of her spectacular network of crow's-feet and undereye wrinkles). In your viewfinder, Pelosi looks quite the hag she must obviously be. Thanks for sharing! I've learned a lot! About you, I mean.

I'm not surprised that the picture was taken, but I wonder why it was chosen as the "Political Photo of the Year".

This one photo show a confident, determined politician. Ready to kick some ass. Left hand – kung fu chop, right hand – middle knuckle out ready to break a nose – and that thumb is poised to poke out an eye. The two men behind her look comfortable, or happy, with her words. The multiple views of her though the distortions in the glass make the one photo into three perspectives. Women don't have to be pretty all the time. Nobody is. Male politicians shown (often from below) yelling are powerful & attractive; but females no? Fwiw, I think Pelosi is doing a great job in a really shit-tay(x10) situation and no photo is going to make her look bad. She rocks. I like her and I like this image. If this were a studio/set shot I'd agree that Chip was not into her, but in this picture - it seems - he was recording a moment with a creative approach. And that might be why it is so popular – Politics and creative photography are not often seen together in these parts. Everthing we see is so posed. This isn't. Blah.

C Hill

C Hill, I agree with you that the 3-headed Gorgon image of Nancy Pelosi above is dynamic and fierce. I never had a problem with it (because "ogres" are inherently powerful), even though it's unflattering to photograph *anyone* from below, as any *amateur* knows. But after Chip Somodevilla's heavy sarcasm toward commenters in this thread coupled with his feigned innocence about shooting Pelosi from below, I wanted to see the rest of his work, as he invited us to do. After looking closely (by enlarging the thumbnails) at ALL of his photos of Democrats (not just female Dems), I have to conclude his comments in this thread are disingenuous. Because he's managed to capture the inner troll in *every* Democrat, which is quite a FEAT (and by the way, all of those troll pics of Murtha, Pelosi, etc. are *for sale* on the Getty website, which means they have been *edited,* they represent the cream of the crop of Somodevilla's portfolio). So then I have to wonder if Mr. Somodevilla has an agenda. I have to wonder, in fact, is he a Republican? (I even wonder if he might be on Karl Rove's payroll, but that's because I've been watching too much Bill Moyers lately). Because if Somodevilla has anything positive to say about Democrats, it's not visually apparent in his work. (In contrast, it is visually apparent that he likes Tony Bennett.)

Of course he's free to prove me wrong. Sarcasm, however, won't dissuade me.

Chip: I appreciate your comments but I would like you to answer a question that has puzzled me for some time. Why do you think there are no (unflattering) shots from below face level with the subject's mouth wide open, of republicans such as Condi, Bush, Cheney, or even Hastert or DeLay? I admit that strictly speaking as a photographer, I do see why you and other photogs like this shot, it is interesting and deserving of the accolades. My question is why this type of shot is always focusing on democrats and not republicans ...... with the possible exception of Cheney. Is the answer perhaps, the editorial bias? I viewed a few of the other photographers' shots of Pelosi on the GettyImages site and I must say they are remarkable for their depiction of her as a poised and composed ambassador without portfolio. Perhaps we should be asking if you have a bias of which you are not aware? And, really, I would appreciate your reply. And I'm speaking here politically, not artistically.

I looked thru some of your other images and some of the ones of VATech show an artist's eye with a wink of irony. I also noticed that your shots of Gonzales almost make him look like a lovable stuffed bear. Even ones shot from below face level do not show him with his mouth open......of course, he didn't open it much. So I guess what I'm asking is for you to take another look at your own biases and see why your photos of Pelosi come off so much more harsh than those of Ngan or Sullivan or Leong or Beshara. The standards and expectations of political photography are different than those of art photography.

Aside to mugatea: Duchamp's painting was not of a specific, nor a political, figure. It was not titled, "Eva Braun descending a staircase." It may have caused an uproar, but hardly applicable to this discussion. Aside, of course, from the multiple-image angles.

The reaction to that painting was more the focus of my comment – not so much the painting itself. The link I gave doesn't go into that enough, sorry. I'm a slobbering fool with a speech defect and a shaking hand; writing well and correct spelling is a challenge for me.
People, then & now, have a problem accepting images that represent figures in alternative perspectives. It upsets some. That's all I was trying to say. 'Hardly applicable'? Harsh.
btw/fwiw, I see the comments as just that and a true discussion begins only when you call someone out by moniker. Free association shared with others often leads to a greater understanding.
It's kinda what I thought this whole Bag thang was all about.
A tablespoon of flax oil before meals might help you relax.

mugatea.....Relaxed, I am, but I do tend to be terse when writing. All those years editing for ignorant bosses, I guess. I agree with you that this type of image can lead to misinterpretation. That's what I was trying to get at with the photographer, but he's probably long gone. There IS a difference in the way people assess news photography and art photography. As an artistic endeavor, I can see the allure of this photo. If it were an anonymous person hanging in a gallery. But as a political news photo, when there have been many such 'open mouth and angry demeanor' photos of the democratic leader of the house, one wonders about ulterior motives. I suppose for the nonce, our questions will have to remain unanswered.

Ya know, Cactus, it's been a prolific spring for me and my painting. I've got art on the brain. I often comment during coffee breaks. We all approach this from different perspectives > part of the appeal of these Bag comments. The flax comment was over the top, too much coffee, my bad. Wouldn't consume so much if it didn't taste so darn good. {Blue Mountain – mmm} And probably wouldn't have a shaking hand. [: )]

Since Chip hasn't responded I'm starting to think this thread is on. rtbg in particular.

mugatea, anyone who can create art with their own ten fingers has my unending admiration. Unfortunately, I must disagree with your choice of blue mountain, being a long-time serious fan of Sumatra blue lintong ..... hard to come by these days. So I can toast another serious coffee drinker.

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