iOS app Android app

Michael Shaw
Michael Shaw is a Clinical Psychologist, an analyst of visual journalism, and a frequent lecturer and writer on how politicians and the media frame political imagery. Michael's clinical training -- which is woven into his commentary -- involves the analysis of character and character styles. His research has dealt with the creative process, visual thinking, and how metaphors can create psychological insight.

BagNewsNotes is the only destination on the web dedicated 100% to visual politics and the analysis of news images.  The site also features photojournalism from top names in the field. Launched in 2004, BAGnewsNotes is closely followed by the political blogosphere; the political and visual media; the photo community; and university visual studies, communications and photojournalism programs.

In addition to his private practice, Shaw spent nine years as the consulting psychotherapist at The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), the architecture and design program and think-tank in Los Angeles. For five years before that, he served the same function at Otis College of Art and Design. Counting both experiences, he has spent thousands of hours collaborating with students and design professionals in their creative process, as well as participating in the formal and informal analysis and critique of visual images.

Shaw’s experience with cyberspace began in the early eighties. Working for a publishing technology firm in New York, he was involved in developing some of the first on-line, interactive graphic content designed specifically for the public. It was from these early services (know at the time as "videotex") that the html standard emerged, and new communication companies, such as AOL and Yahoo, first took shape.

The BAGnewsNotes site began in June 2003. Originally, it was the home for a civics tool/ visual experiment/political cartoon called BAGnews. Beginning in mid-2004, however, spurred by the photo coverage of the Bush-Kerry presidential campaign, Shaw turned his attention to this new "discipline" -- the visual analysis of political images.

Michael Shaw has been a regular front-page contributor to the Huffington Post since September '05, writing a blog feature called "Reading The Pictures."

To contact, please write to: mshaw AT bagnews (dot) com.

Entries by Michael Shaw

Reading the Pictures: ISIS Attacks Iraqi Base Full of US Trainers, Ho Hum

(26) Comments | Posted February 25, 2015 | 6:36 AM


In WWII there was a saying: Loose Lips Sink Ships!!! Do we need to publicize that there are 400 U.S. Marines and other service members at the base, that there are 800 Iraqis training with U.S. and other coalition military advisers at...
Read Post

Reading the Pictures: The Optic of Family Values Just Doesn't Mix Well With the Optic of Gun Rights

(147) Comments | Posted February 13, 2015 | 8:17 AM


Seattle gets most of the national attention when it comes to Washington state, but sometimes the real action happens in Olympia, the state capitol. On Saturday the capitol building in Olympia served as a meeting ground for gun rights activists who gathered with...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: Breaking Down the Surprisingly Humanistic Charlie Hebdo 'Muhammad' Cover

(21) Comments | Posted January 14, 2015 | 8:20 AM


If you remember, a phrase and concern that echoed through America in the shell-shocked aftermath of 9/11 was: Is irony dead?" It seemed no one could imagine humor as a conduit of meaning anymore. The wry use of words or pictures for understatement,...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: Dysfunctional Congress Pictures of the Year

(6) Comments | Posted December 31, 2014 | 8:08 AM


Between the "Political Pictures of the Year" slideshows at Politico and Roll Call, there are more dramatic images than the ones in this post. A shot of Obama hugging a nurse who just recovered from Ebola was widely circulated,...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: The Glass Ceiling and Gwyneth Paltrow's Legs

(0) Comments | Posted December 19, 2014 | 7:38 AM


Presenting "leading lights from the worlds of technology, business, media, and entertainment," Vanity Fair's business feature served up this group portrait from the "Code Conference," hosted by tech journalists Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg in Palos Verdes. Though the guest list (below or...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: The Senate CIA Torture Report and Our Favorite Rice Photo of All Time

(2) Comments | Posted December 11, 2014 | 3:18 AM


It's still one of my favorite photos from the Bush Administration. This ran in a NYT article in the Music section dated April 9, 2006, and it read, as we posted at the time, like "fiddling while Iraq burns."...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: About Race and Those Ebola Handheld Thermometer Pictures on Western News Sites

(4) Comments | Posted October 28, 2014 | 8:40 AM


LA Times

Have you noticed the pictures of African health officials using handheld thermometers suddenly springing up in US news stories and photo galleries? I found the picture above in the Charlotte Observer's Daily Edit. Most assuredly, this airport...

Read Post

Obola: Visual Attacks on Obama Pick Up Right Where Kenya/Muslim Slurs Left Off

(59) Comments | Posted October 21, 2014 | 8:19 AM

It's hard to tell how much the far right, in its enduring hate for Obama, is seeing an opportunity in the Ebola hysteria, or the Ebola anxiety is feeding and re-igniting those racist and religious attacks on Obama...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: If It Loots, It Leads: Stereotyping the Police Shooting of Michael Brown

(9) Comments | Posted August 14, 2014 | 8:19 AM



Excuse me for referring to the photos from Ferguson, following the tragic killing of Michael Brown by a local police officer, as instructive. It's not my intention to convert the pain and raw emotion...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: Why You Don't See Photos of Hamas Fighters (and Why Western Photographers Have Been Unfairly Blamed)

(17) Comments | Posted August 7, 2014 | 11:52 AM


I can understand if the New York Times, Tyler Hicks and other conflict photographers are frustrated. Working conditions in Gaza are surely hard enough without the drumbeat of allegations and personal intimations,...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: On the Brilliant Michelle Obama Brown vs Board of Education Site Visit Photo

(6) Comments | Posted July 25, 2014 | 8:28 AM


If you aren't completely transfixed by photos from Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq or the border right now, you might have come across this. Simply put, it's the best visual to come out of the administration in months, maybe longer. (Full backstory on the photo...

Read Post

The Open-and-Shut Assault Case Against Occupy Activist, Cecily McMillan: Just Look at the Pictures

(350) Comments | Posted May 8, 2014 | 4:20 PM

cecily mcmillan

Officer Bovell certainly not the aggressor and certainly appreciative of any misunderstanding after elbowed by Cecily McMillan when he grabbed her from behind.

cecily mcmillan

Larger angle of Reuters shot as multiple other Occupy hooligans are snatched up.

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: Were the Reuters 'Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory' Photos Staged?

(2) Comments | Posted April 3, 2014 | 8:49 AM


Following up a post last week at the NY Times Lens Blog, Donald Winslow at the National Press Photographer's Association (NPPA) website detailed the circumstances surrounding a photo story distributed last September by Reuters. Published after the Assad government's...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: On the Photo Exploitation of Kiev: Esquire's Hashtag Mining

(0) Comments | Posted February 27, 2014 | 7:29 AM


It's called hashtag mining. And ever since Thomas Dworzak did it so creatively in these photo/scrapbooks presented by NatGeo, I was anticipating something more weird and bizarre to come.

What Dworzak did was remarkably simple. Following particular (in some instances, you...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: If We Had Only Seen Hoffman in Pain

(0) Comments | Posted February 19, 2014 | 7:58 AM




These photos have been on my mind since February 2. I look at them now and the anguish, especially of someone trained to hide it, is wrenching....

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: Putin & Sochi: Let the FU's Begin

(25) Comments | Posted January 31, 2014 | 6:57 AM







With the Winter Olympics about a week away,...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: Twitter Is for Twits. Justin Bieber, Justin Bieber.

(0) Comments | Posted January 27, 2014 | 7:46 AM


Judging by the journalism PR site, MuckRack, one of the most popular news posts this weekend was a piece by the NYT Bits Blog trumpeting the demise of Twitter. Lamenting "the good old days," the author, Jenna...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: So You Missed the Photos of Bangladeshi Garment Workers Having a 'Gap/Walmart Bar-B-Que?'

(3) Comments | Posted January 14, 2014 | 6:56 AM


So you missed the story (and especially, the photos) of Bangladeshi workers not just setting alight their own factory but burning the Western clothes they've been producing? That would be, articles for corporations including American Eagle, Marks and Spencer, Gap, Sears,...

Read Post

2013 In Photos: The Year's Most Telling News Imagery

(6) Comments | Posted December 18, 2013 | 10:24 AM

Reflecting our hyper-visual culture, the "Best Photo of the Year" list has fast become a media staple. If you indeed come across one, what you can generally count on are the most dramatic, sensational or touching scenes from the past year's current events. Because we at BagNews spend the year...

Read Post

Reading the Pictures: The Most Important Michelle Obama Photo Ever, Clarified

(45) Comments | Posted December 5, 2013 | 7:20 AM


...and then you wonder why the Administration is so thin-skinned about photo access when it's so easy to shut the cameras out and self-publish.

If you were anywhere around the social nets Wednesday, you would have seen the national...

Read Post