Monday, May 25, 2009
Obama on Flickr
"Barack Obama," Pete Souza, All rights reserved
It's propaganda, of course, carefully edited from the voluminous daily stream of still images shot by White House photographer Pete Souza. But -- in content, style & delivery -- the Official White House Photostream on Flickr is also something new .
JFK's people were the first to exploit pictures & films that purport to show character, not just events. The now-classic shots of Kennedy sailing or little John John playing under his desk in the Oval Office had an enormous positive impact worldwide. But Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B Johnson, got burned by photography. The storm of protest that erupted when he lifted his beagle by the ears (see below) became an object lesson about the pitfalls of the camera. Since that time, presidents -- though often liberal with access -- have been cautious about the way they use pictures.
"LBJ pulling his beagle Him's ears," unknown photographer
Until Obama. Digital photography & the internet present an unparalleled opportunity to humanize newsmakers, & Obama has both the looks & the self-control to take advantage of this. In the Flickr stream his people are confident enough to include, not just the President's many official meetings with foreign & domestic dignitaries (from every angle), but also his casual encounters, goofy humor & horseplay on the south lawn. They are even confident enough to post the pictures at high-resolution for anyone to download free under a generous Creative Commons license.
So is anything off-limits in this wraparound media world? I'm glad to say that the photostream seems to stop short of the truly private Obama. To me, this feels politically & culturally right. Face it, even a guy this charismatic has got to be able fall asleep on the couch & snore with his mouth open once in a while. And you don't want to see it. I don't anyway. I don't want to be Obama's Facebook friend.
And, yes, it is propaganda -- a new kind -- as it needs to be. Even in the public realm, don't expect any nice publishable shots of Obama blowing his stack (if, indeed, he ever does) or snoozing at meetings. Do look for Obama's opponents to use whatever they can -- the more-unbuttoned of these shots -- for attack literature & ads on themes we don't even know about yet. There's a huge up side for Obama, but there's also a risk.
Obama is betting that viewing habits & attitudes have undergone a seismic change in the last 10 years. I think he's right.
Thanks to Todd at Gallery Hopper for the link.