The White House revealed the new official White House Portrait of Michelle Obama today. I’m working on a series of portraits right now and am obsessed with the subject. Even though I love her signature bare arms, I found the blue curtain exploding directly above the center of her head a curious choice of composition, as well as the white rose blocking her hand.
It reminded of John Baldessari’s “Wrong”, a photograph he made in response to a photography book telling would be artists that strong vertical design elements sprouting from people’s heads in a photograph or painting is wrong.
While he was surely mocking the idea of there being a “right” when you make art, I think this White House photographer needs a spanking.
I’ve been perusing stacks of old photo albums to recall my mother and her friends’ style, their manner. The camera used from my childhood created these rather small square images. They’re very faded now. Mostly wide shots with the head smack in the middle. Our old photo albums are like everyone’s. Like the way old televisions shows’ newscasters have their heads smack in the middle of the screen.
The narrative of seeing all the pictures at once on an album page tells a story in a way that a single picture doesn’t. Even the aesthetics the photo album alters the way I recall past time. Today people either “scrapbook” where everything looks so ‘done’, or they never develop the photos since it’s on their computer/phone/email anyway. In the 70s there is a rawness to the hand of my mother haphazardly laying them on the sticky paper.
Today, with disposal digital pictures (take twenty, keep one) people are much more experimental and favor tight shots and liberally clip the tops of heads. More prints are made, fewer treasured. I wonder if we’ll all reflect upon our future past with less preciousness as a result.