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63 posts categorized "Icon Watch"

Feb 20, 2008

Fidel: The Poster


With all the Castro imagery flooding the net, I was most interested in this collage circulated by AFP.

As much as the White House and the presidential candidates want to infuse the retirement with political weight, this story is mostly about  mortality and the exit of a political rock star.

Why else would four whole rows here be devoted to emphasizing his very early days, with the last row framing Fidel as such a historical artifact that he barely made it to the "color era?"

Castro (Notes On Politics, Theory and Photography)
Castro retires (Chris Bertram/Crooked Timber)
Castro and the Colossus (Robert Sheer/HuffPost)

(images: AFP)

Aug 15, 2007

More Karl Post Mortem: Beyond My Pet Goat

(click for full size)

Although I had seen this photo before, the fact it showed up in Monday's NYT "Goodbye Karl" slideshow caused me to take a closer "visual forensic" look.  The photo, as you can tell from the clock and the TV screen, was taken at 9:25 am on the morning of 9/11/2001 at Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida.

Although everyone in the world, it seems, is familiar with the "My Pet Goat" photos, I think this one -- though far lesser known -- is as much, if not even more scandalous.

Given the detailed timelines available from that morning, we know well how George Bush spent 10 very long minutes reading a story to a group of second graders.  He entered the classroom room at 9:03, and he was informed at 9:06 by Andy Card that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Towers, but he didn't finish up with the kids until 9:16.

What is much less familiar, however, is how Bush spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes.  After taking another minute or two to speak with the teacher and principal after the reading exercise, Bush and company made their way into this adjoining classroom.  Once there, Bush spoke with Condi Rice (check), then Dick Cheney (double check), then New York Governor Pataki (check again).  What is most remarkable -- both about the photo, and Dubya's subsequent decision making -- however, are those pages in front of him.

According to his original pre-"attack on America" schedule, Bush was slated to give a speech to the  Booker Elementary student body at approximately 9:30. So, thirty-nine minutes after the first crash (which Bush was aware of by approximately 8:55); and nineteen minutes after hearing about the second crash; and with the fate of America supposedly hanging in the balance, what do you suppose Bush had in front of him and was working on?

Yep, it's the speech he ended up writing, then delivering, four minutes later to 200 elementary school students, along with some teachers and a handful of reporters.

If Bush's actions confirm his incompetent, pre-formulated, performance-by-rote, what, in addition, might the craft and composition of the photo indicate?  In this moment of extreme crisis; 13 minutes before Flight 77 would slam into the Pentagon; with the atmosphere rife with speculation that numerous highjacks were in progress, can anybody say there wasn't still time for posing?

Only White House photographer Eric Draper could tell us for sure, but with the President centered in the shot, now seemingly down to business (because the kids must be served -- again); the American flag neatly framed under Dan Bartlett's arm; Bartlett, at that very moment, happening to point out the replay of the WTC attack (as if to say, we're on it!); Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, doing her situationing perfectly situated behind the boss; and with the two suits to the left standing at attention and ready for action, I'd say this scene is strangely burdened by the sense of what it is supposed to look like.

And then, fast forward to the present, and here the picture is again, this time innocuously inserted in the New York Times "farewell Karl" slideshow.  But with no one the wiser, it serves to function as historical propaganda, as an apparent counterpoint to "My Pet Goat" -- rather than what it really evidences, which is more of the same.

Oh yes, then there's Karl himself.  Funny how he's at the back again -- with his arms folded when everybody else is now busy in "first responder" mode, using their appendages to point or write or conference.  But then, arm folding in the middle of an action scene is also taking action, isn't it?

I mean, isn't that what directors do?

(Image: Eric Draper/White House.  September 11, 2001.  Sarasota, Florida.

Aug 13, 2007

Rove Looking Going Away


It's just vintage Karl,  falling on his sword while simultaneously missing the morning news cycle.  (Folding the tent early Monday -- in the doggiest days of August -- also makes his departure dusty old by the time newsmaker Sunday rolls around.)

In my first pass on Rove's extrication from the White House, I reprise my favorite shot of Bush's architect.  It's not just for the photo, however, but the whole assemblage.  This almost two-year-old goody appeared in the NYT at the front-end of the Libby imbroglio.  It's hard not to view it without conjuring all those shots of Rove looking at us from behind Bush's back, realizing that what was quintessential about Rove was misdirection, games with mirrors, looking going away.

With an eye to the specific visual (and the original discussion thread), the interpretations at the time seem just as relevant to Karl's last official day:

With all the merde raining down on Rove, there is the sense of the aid in a getaway car -- projecting that confidence of the last laugh.

There is the feeling of Rove -- always the puppet master (or the disembodied Oz) -- in full control of his (or any) image ... especially when there is a chummy White House visual corp to hand feed it to.

There is the impression that, with Karl, you always get two faces.

Also, there is the association: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear."  Although you can take this in many directions, it reflects how the Administration's characters (with optical assistance from the media) were able to capture the larger media space with a pin-pointed view, completely flood that space, and project themselves way out of scale with little things like job descriptions, history, the constitution.

Finally though, one must consider this image in its full gestalt.  With the editorial thrust bearing down on Scooter Libby, what we have is a brilliant snapshot of Karl's true gift to the Administration, conveying the ability to escape larger critical attention while remaining in full view.  As Karl exits the stage as a key (if not, the key) silent player in the scandals of the moment, is the hint to us not to forget to notice as this media Houdini once again simply pulls away?

(Update: it wasn't until I finished this post that I noticed the NYT also featured this photo in their on-line story -- see left sidebar/lead off to slideshow.  Quintessential, indeed!)

(image; Doug Mills/NYT.  October 28, 2005.  White House.  New York Times. p. A14.)

Jun 27, 2007

Blair's Retirement Hobby

(click for full size)

As Tony Blair leaves office today, I just don't see where he derives serious credibility as the new Middle East envoy.

Reflective of the problem is how the British Royal Academy, obviously mindful of the timing, chose to laud English artist Michael Sandle's 'Iraq Triptych' at the 239-year-old Royal Academy Arts Summer Exhibition.  The fifteen-foot-long work, portraying Blair and wife Cherie after the fall (and demise of Iraq) earned the show's prestigious Hugh Casson prize for drawing.  (Here, via the, is the view from the street.)

According to The Guardian:

The brutality panel is based on the case of Corporal Donald Payne, who admitted inhuman treatment of Iraqi civilians at a court martial last year in which other soldiers in his unit were cleared amid controversy. Sandle has called the panel "Corporal Payne's Chorus" because the soldier invited others to hear what he called his "choir" of victims screaming.

I thought George Packer's piece leading the New Yorker's Talk of the Town two weeks ago perfectly captured the Blair conundrum.  Discussing the play “Frost/Nixon," Packer lays out the unavoidably reductive nature of a presidential legacy.  No amount of protestation, alternate PR or denial can redeem Bush from being permanently saddled with the Iraq catastrophe -- with the same infamy etched into Blair's new retirement hobby welcome mat.

(image: bbc news. June 2007.  Star-Telegram linked image: AP Photo/Sang Tan.)

May 16, 2007

A Moral Majority R.I.P.


Any idea why this pic was so prominent on the newswire after the father of the moral majority departed mortal earth?  If there is one expectable theme in the social dynamics of the religious right, it has to be idolatry.

If you have your own epitaph, by the way, be my guest...

(image: Steve Helber/A.P. Liberty University. Lynchburg, Va. June 20, 2006)

May 11, 2007

Legacy Shot


Oh, there is such a wide variety of images of Tony Blair on the newswire today.

On such occasions, a familiar ritual occurs in which the visual media opens up its vaults -- picking from here and choosing from there -- to summarize a political life.  In the process, what happens to file photos (that yesterday were only run-of-the-mill) is truly magical.  Each morphs into something fuller and deeper -- a legitimate fragment of how it was, how things came to be, and what might have been.  What I appreciate most about this process is the emotional charge.  Each one of these images -- immediately upon the shift in the world -- becomes a springboard to memories as well as a mirror of dreams.

As I said, it was difficult to pick out one mirror to look through today.  I chose this one because it reflects-- in its government-produced, ad-like posturing -- the last word on Blair's tenure: how he cashed in his charisma and popularity in the name of a war that contradicted all the goals for solidarity and brotherhood he has continually espoused.

Continue reading "Legacy Shot" »

May 03, 2007

Prince Harry Of Mesopotamia


Barely three weeks after the tabloid nation of Great Britain tried to pimp its released Iranian hostages to promote the Iraq war, the British Ministry of Defence is at it again.

Will he, won't he?  Won't he, will he?

And ta-da!  It's official.  After agonizing for weeks over whether tank commander Prince Harry should be allowed to serve as a high-asset celebrity promotional vehicle (and prime IED target) soldier in Iraq, the military brass gives thumbs up!  (And, as I'm sure it was factored, the press is already squeezing new mileage out of Diana Spencer.  Stateside, leave it to Newsweek to lace a slide show.)

With the dirt and the camo, it looks like he's been there already, as if making his participation seem that much more inevitable.  By the way, the name on the helmet is interesting.  Is allusion to title a necessary gesture to separate royal from commoner?  At the same time, however, doesn't that function as much like a "shoot me" sticker? (See caption regarding Mahdi Army bluster below.)

Continue reading "Prince Harry Of Mesopotamia" »

Feb 10, 2007

John McCain: Free At Last?


(click for full size)

If you consider Vanity Fair's elaborate two-page photo layout of John McCain in light of the picture Todd S. Purdum paints of the candidate in this extended profile, you have to wonder what happened to McCain that allows him to run for President and still live with himself.

In the beginning of the piece, example follows example of how McCain hates spinning, pandering and compromising what he really thinks.  In the 2000 campaign, we find out that the Senator was so disturbed about engaging in such acts, he would telegraph when he didn't believe in what he was saying by first laboriously unfolding a piece of paper, than reading off the bogus statement from memory, in a disaffected tone.  As McCain tells Purdum:

"I wanted them to think me still an honest man, who simply had to cut a corner a little here and there so that I could go on to be an honest president."

But then, we're told the 2008 McCain is a better candidate because he's so much better at suppressing his intolerance for his own hypocrisy.  As McCain reflects back on his 2000 behavior, he says:

"Acknowledging my dishonesty with a wink didn't make it less a lie. It compounded the offense by revealing how willful it had been. You either have the guts to tell the truth or you don't. You don't get any dispensation for lying in a way that suggests your dishonesty."

So, is McCain (as reflected in the title of the article) still the prisoner of his conscience for selling out in a thousand different ways?  Or has he gotten over it?

One thing that is notable about this layout, shot on McCain's Arizona property, it is how absolutely and elaborately posed it is.  The expression might be a little cynical, but I don't see a man looking all that conflicted.  Instead, it's a wonderful portrait of the new McCain -- a man so hungry for I'm not sure what exactly (power? legitimacy? validation?), the political fashion world can have their way with him.

Going back to the second quote above, maybe McCain's breakthrough is having found the guts not to tell the truth.  Otherwise, if his personal integrity meant that much to him, the man might have his back to us, actually fishing.

(image: Jonas Karlsson.  Vanity Fair. January 2007)

Dec 28, 2006

What Goes Around Comes Around



Ah, the quiet of late December!

With the re-circulation of Bush holding hands with an ailing Ford, perhaps Rove has some second thoughts about this December '05 photo op in Rancho Mirage.  Not that any one picture or any one story makes that much of a difference, but today, this file photo only helps fire the side-by-side comparison.

Of course, there was no way Gerald Ford could have passed away - - especially in the middle of the Christmas/New Year dry well -- without generating an ink factory worth of comparison with George Bush, especially on the foreign policy front.  But, leave it to Bob Woodward, White House mole and deep throat fancier, to draw Ford directly into the public referendum on Bush and the Iraq war.

Woodward spent four hours interviewing Ford in July with the agreement that the product could not be revealed until after his death.  Of course, you can find Ford's comments swirling all around the blogosphere today.  As usual, however, what The BAG is most interested in is the visual politics, and is how the pictures offer their own words.

From the hand-holding shot, it's just a short jump to the image accompanying the Woodward story ("Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq") placing "38" in the Oval office alongside future Iraq invasion co-conspirators (then Chief-of-Staff) Don Rumsfeld and (then Rumsfeld assistant) Dick Cheney.

Says Ford on Rummy/Cheney/Bush:

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction.... And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

Says Woodward on Ford on Cheney:

"He was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."

Although a visual parallel across time is inherently slanted, its emotional "evidentiary" quality often claims a veracity that overrides qualification.

And in this case, what we see here, dropped in our laps in the middle of the Iraq debate (even if someone forgot to tell the Administration there is/was a debate), is: a man in the Oval Office who actually faced up to a terminally ill war (surrounded by the guys who started the current one);  the model of a non-threatening and relatively non-egotistical man as Oval Office occupant; and, the suggestion of how a Commander-in-Chief might have actually kept these two military neophytes out in front of him, bridled up as subordinates.

(image 1: Larry Downing/Reuters.  Rancho Mirage, California.  April 23, 2006. Via YahooNews. image 2: David Hume Kennerly/Ford Library/A.P.  April 28, 1975. Via

Dec 24, 2006

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...

(click for full size)

I was wondering what you thought of the Cheney's holiday card?

This is the front, and here is the back.  (Because I saved it at a lower resolution, the actual line quality is less forgiving than this.)  I'll leave it to you to interpret, except for one thing....

Given the shape and arrangement of the wreaths, in combination with the fanlight window above, does the gestalt remind you of anything???

All vices aside, I extend the warmest holiday wishes to all readers and members of The BAG community!

(image via wildman-pete)

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