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Jill A. Carpenter

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What's in an Image, Mr. President?

Posted: 12/13/2013 12:58 pm

Dear Mr. President,

Set photographers free -- all of them!

When AP photojournalist, Vice President, and Director of Photography Santiago Lyon called Agence France-Presse photographer Roberto Schmidt "a hallmark" of the "democratization of image making" for his photo of Obama and other world leaders taking selfies at Nelson Mandela's funeral, he belies his own prejudiced worldview. Either this is an insult to French photojournalists (we democratize by including the French?) or it doesn't work as an insult to anyone because he's using someone with unique access to illustrate democratization, a term which at its heart means access for everyone.

To no one's surprise, a recent vast analysis of congressional election data shows a positive correlation between the number of tweets about a candidate and successful election results. Guess what? Photos can play the same role, with the added benefit of providing a more powerful, emotional, hardwired handshake.

President Obama would serve himself well by releasing more photos for public consumption. What's the downside? He is in his last term in office. Having more photos doesn't crowd out the fabulous access and resulting photos that Pete Souza creates. Having more photos would mean we could see the president fooling around with visitors or looking klutzy or even picking his nose. Looking real as well as presidential.

In other words, it would show the president in the same light as the rest of us. And because these photos would no longer be a scarce resource, they wouldn't garner the same attention. Sure, there would still be iconic moments that attract everyone's attention. But those quotidian events would simmer down to the level of interest they justify -- i.e., not much.

The next president will be elected by a wave of social media, and that will undoubtedly include photos, even selfies.

Consumers are demanding more access, more information, more involvement in every industry. And what is a voter if not a consumer choosing their preferred government?

I had the opportunity to attend a White House social last year, timed to coincide with the State of the Union Address. What did every one of the attendees want from this occasion? A photo. Not just any photo, but a photo showing them at the White House. I know, because I took most of those photos. Not with my pro camera, not to sell, but to give each guest a personal memory of that unique event taken with their own camera.

Photos are easy; you don't have to be Pete Souza. They are also uniquely personal. Let's face it, they often mean the most to the person who captured the photo. As a photographer, I can tell you that most people don't look at all the photos of their kids taken by someone else. They will, however, bask at length in the barely discernible pic they snapped of junior's peak moment -- or junior picking his nose. Why? Because there is unique, emotional content embedded in that photo along with the meta-data.

You want to get your candidate elected? Let people take photos. Lots of photos. You want to leave a lasting legacy of goodwill, Mr. President? Set photographers free.

 

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