critique

4 November, 2006

I’d post about politics — I’m talking about it a lot more lately — but am trying not to get too sucked in. Anyway, in a lot of ways I said everything I wanted to say in my first-ever blog post back on Not a Stripper. (Which I still think was a great name for a blog.)

No, I log in tonight to talk about this Vanity Fair article. Pieces of it remind me of a story from some friends who had taught at a preschool right after college. Two kids came to them, #1 complaining that #2 had called (him? her?) a monkey. My friends told kid #2 to apologize. #2 turned to #1 and said “I’m sorry you’re a monkey.” You see, in the article, Dicky Perle, Kenny Adelman, and Davey Frum are shocked — shocked! — to find that the Bushies were incompetent all along. Except I think they actually ARE shocked. Sigh. I will never understand this. I can’t see that a one of them quoted in the article takes a lick of responsibility. If you give a baby a candle — let’s name this baby G — and G ends up burning the house down, it is a TEENSY BIT YOUR FAULT. “But” –abababpt! No buts! Giving someone power you know they are not capable of managing is IRRESPONSIBLE. “But I didn’t know G would drop the candle! He had a real good grip on it when I gave it to him.” Yep. They’re all reeeal sorry that George Bush was a monkey.

Anyway! Not what this post is about. I’m here to discuss with you the photos in the article. From Nigel Parry, Perle:

And the rest from Annie Liebovitz:


Boy are there a lot of things I want to know about these images. A few things are clear. For three of the four ringleaders, Liebovitz shot close-up every-blemish-visible portraits, with what appears to be a wide angle lens. I am not too experienced and it may be that she got up in their faces with a non-wide lens, but either way, the intent was to subtly distort. It’s a truism that portraits with such lenses are unflattering, and a look at Bush’s nose illustrates why. To shoot these people with distortion and unflatteringly fits so perfectly with the aesthetic of the moment that I wonder if the images were recently made or if she took the opportunity at some point in the “greeted as liberators” past to get these, and lay them in for a time when they’d be out of favor. On the other hand, nobody looks AWFUL. Condi even looks sorta cute. I wonder how these look to a non-photographer. Do I find them unflattering because of what they look like, or because I know that Liebovitz knows the truism and that her choice to subvert it has potential political meaning?

Perry also chooses a distorting wide lens to freakify Perle (to great effect IMO, it’s a really creepy image, and started me thinking about the portraits in this article in general.) Did he know of the similar concept in the other shots, or was it just his solution to the “gotta take a creepy picture of Perle” assignment? Due to the truism, it would be a natural choice for such an assignment. And if that was how the decision was made, how was that communicated? “Shoot this guy so he looks evil”?

Lastly, we have our outlier. Don didn’t show up for Annie’s shoot that day, it seems; his photo is different in every way: focal length, composition, distance, color. I’d bet that it was taken in a completely different context — flatteringly-wise, it looks like it could be from a time like May 2003. This is really why I am so curious about these images and how — and when — they were made. Did Rummy veto his close-up, forcing them to go with an earlier shot? Did he even sit for one? Rumor has it he’s wicked smart (in a certain sense, anyway). Did he suspect at some level what the game would be, did he think in terms of controlling his image, did he see the other shots first and realize what he was in for? Or is the choice intended to have journalistic meaning, set Rumsfeld apart? If so, why does he get the kind treatment
while everyone else gets the funhouse mirror?

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9 Responses to “critique”

  1. Dr. Birdcage Says:

    Hmmm…. I have thoughts, but no time to write them up, but this is very very very interesting. Yes, I would say shot with something a bit wide— like around a 30? Perle’s looks a littke wider. The thing that gets me about the Perle shot is the incongruous chair (he is anything but folksy), and the claw-like hands. My thought on the Leibowitz shots is kind of, holy shit! I can’t believe they let her do that! Also, Jesus Christ– these people have time for frigging photo shoots?! Aren’t they supposed to be busy running the goddamned world or something?! Apparently Rummy’s in charge when everyone else is out of the house.

  2. techne Says:

    I agree about the focal length guesses, and I wonder if the perle shot used the wide end of the canon 16-35L, the vignetting reminds me of f1.4’s NYC shot of me in the snow (altho maybe it just means it was full-frame…hmm.)
    But it gets better–no time to post right now, but I now think the closeups are from 2002, and the wide faces may even have been published then. I can’t find an archive though. And there is a group shot dating from them that is similarly interesting.
    edit: here is a much more in-depth critique of the original VF spread in 2002, the cover of which I found here. Note the saddam headline — within months of 9/11. What a fantastically rich vein this sort of photo critique is. I don’t know much about Leibovitz as a photographer, but my best friend and I were obsessed with her eye in high school; we looked at this one compilation every day, and for years she had the keith haring and I had the john lennon portraits on our walls. Why did she shoot so wide, at a time when 89% of the country was rallying around these guys? Anyway, among many other interesting things, the critique mentions that the closeups WERE published in 2002, in b&w, and talks about that choice in detail. The photo choices for the print article are going to be interesting.

  3. Bsivad Says:

    That shot of Perle also reminds me of a famous photograph of (I think) Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, where he’s seated in a chair sort of like that, tense and uncomfortable, clawed hands and all; I’m sure the photographer is aware of it, even if Perle is not. I’ll try to find it online.

  4. Bsivad Says:

    Ah, here it is: Alfred Eisenstadt’s shot of Joseph Goebbels.

    Perle’s head is facing the wrong way, and he looks as jolly as Santa Claus compared with Goebbels, but the angle from which the photograph was taken is almost identical.

  5. Dr. Birdcage Says:

    the cover is totally fascinating. It’s like someone handed her a cover of the Justice League and said make ’em look casual. Though the article was so weighty with the snarky use of quotation marks that I began to get a headache. I’ll have to reread it again later when I’m not being distracted by other things, but I’m not sure I’m buying his argument either. To me, the use of the wide angle in portraiture isn’t just unflattering– it conveys a sense of the sitter’s vulnerability. It feels like you’re looking down at a child, or that you’re a child looking at the big wide world. Maybe it’s just me, but it conveys nothing of strength or “destiny.”

  6. Dr. Birdcage Says:

    Oh, and the “My Name is Amber, but I’m not a stripper” thing? priceless.

  7. Momb Says:

    I think it’s maybe a “fisheye” lens (that’s the only name I know it by); Chuck Osgood used it to good advantage at Art’s wedding on a certain relative of yours.

    As for that name, by the by, there were darn few people named “Amber” in 1976, and none of them were strippers at the time that I could see. Strippers then were “Teddy Baer” (a neighbor, actually) or Brandy, Candy, and, of course, Dawn. I can see how one could get confused if they didn’t know me…

  8. Dr. Birdcage Says:

    Brandy, Candy, and Dawn. The trifecta. But Candy ended up doing eight to ten for trying to sell a large quantity of cocaine at the strip club to an undercover cop. True story. My mom was so right when she banned me from hanging out with Candy anymore after that awful year in eighth grade.

  9. 9t84well Says:

    The photos looked like they’ve been through some verison of photoshop. What I see is the grim reaper look on all the faces. Except gb and perle. perle actually looks like he is trying not to say something. gb looks smarmy as usual. It is that quality about gb that most infuriates me and, I think now, so many people. He is a rich kid with power. And you are just another bug he would like to squash.
    Shiny, Ricey and Rummy look like either someone stole their candy, or they are going to tell your mommy if you don’t be good.
    Good luck with your photog work. I’m still learning and am not in the middle of political ruckus. Buy hey, opportunity may pop up anywhere!


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