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Thursday, 15 January 2009


The shot of Hilary Clinton is rather interesting in that it looks rather different than other pictures I've seen of her.

Oh, and is Joe Biden wearing a Canadian flag pin?

Nattering on the interwebs; I'm shocked.

Nice series, insightfull in some cases.


That was so interesting, thanks for the link! That is not what I would expect of political photos... I love how so much personality shows through them.

I really wish they had kept the cookie.

@ Martin: That's definitely not a Canadian pin :P

Is it just me, or they all look, very, very weird?

The Jill Greenberg-ish shininess of the skin (when is that look EVER going away??), the fake drop shadow, awkward body language, unflattering skin, crazy eyes, etc.

I think there's a reason why most official portraits are stuffy and grave: because that's the only way you can make these kind of people not look like fools.

This feels like your grandpa trying to rap. Or worse, like the mayor of your town trying to rap at a council meeting.

As a side note, Mike, I like your comment on the newspaper as the best photo mag: it struck me when I read Time magazine the other day that the most interesting photography is anywhere but in photography magazines!

Yup, Kander definitely pulls it off. Doesn't matter how "important" the subject is, it's difficult in the extreme getting strong, evocative portraits with the basic minimalism of subject thrust against backdrop. That's why
lesser photographers (of sometimes grander renown) resort to simple gimmickry.

This is the sort of thing that Avedon did so well, The Mission Council for instance comes to mind. Overall it's pretty good stuff, but that shadow drives me nuts, it doesn't seem consistent with the rest of the lighting.

And look, Steven Chu is the United States Secretary of Energy-Nominee. Imagine that, someone who is actually qualified for that position!

Are those shadows natural? They look bizarre sometimes. And when I try to look closely, the collar shadows seem to show a fairly high light, and the background shadows suggest a low light.

It's a great group of portraits. The polished politicians really stand out -- they look stuffed and mounted.

People do, in fact, look...interesting. If that best translates as "weird" for some viewers, so be it. I like the fact that most of these portraits reveal vulnerability: things easily observed as being imperfect.

Also interesting is how many subjects are looking away from the camera. A certain directness of connection is lost, but in turn we can examine the subject more intently when they are not staring back at us.

Technique is not invisible in this collection: Kander has left a subtle stylistic mark. Thankfully, the personalities of the sitters dominate and project, and one can ask little more of portrait photography.

The Vice President-elect is wearing a Blue Star Pin, signifying that he has a child fighting overseas.


The photos are interesting. It's very difficult to shoot 50 people and get any sort of variety, but I think they did a pretty good job with this project. The shadow doesn't bother me at all.

I love the comment above that "The polished politicians really stand out -- they look stuffed and mounted." So true.

I just blogged a bit about this as well.

If nothing else, the NYTimes should be commended for commissioning the project.

the lighting for the subjects with the "weird" shadows may have utilized both a high key light (perhaps a softbox or umbrella) and a fill light from a ring flash that is used to produce the "bizarre" shadows

the portraiture is amazing and i loved the insight that both kander and his DOP gave in the audio commentary!

The weird-looking shadows... if they are real then I'm guessing the photographer used a ring-flash. Does anyone have any more insights into what kind of lighting setup was used? It looks consistent for all the portraits.

All in all, a credible job - but there are oversights, like the reflection in Ken Salazar's eyeglasses. And how clever! ... an artistic justification for running a portrait production line. Tom Daschle's portrait is the best of the bunch, IMO.


I love the minimalist approach to these portraits. A pleasure to view. Many thanks for the link.

I think the shadows are added in PS, though that surprises me. A no-no for any journalistic project. No ring-flash, or we'd see it in the catch lights and in the shots of Kander at work. People seem to be different depths from the white backdrop. So the shadows should be variable. They just visually don't make sense. I hope they are real, but if so don't understand them based on the photos of the lighting setups. But better that than a PS addition.


I fully agree with your comment that the NY Times is the world's best photography magazine (I know, big surprise, right?). But what I find more interesting is that fact that even though the NY Times is really starting to hit its stride* in terms of becoming a full multimedia web presence, it is STILL having financial troubles. If the NY Times can't pull this off, just imagine what is happening to all of the smaller newspapers around the country. And I don't just mean the local village rag, I'm talking about the main papers in largish cities, too.

Still, I think we have reached the point where the online version of the NY Times is in many, many ways** better than the print version. They have photojournalistic slideshows, fashion slideshows, portrait sessions, real estate slide shows, cooking videos, interviews, etc. None of which you can get in the same depth and quality (if at all) in the print version.


*They did have some really awful misteps in the beginning (e.g. "Bloggingheads" - actually, I just checked, and they still have these going. Ugh.).
** But not all. Sometimes you just want to hold the paper in your hands with a cup of coffee.

A great deal of effort to produce that "driver's license photo" quality.

The portraits are nice even though their compositions are a little static in many cases—with the person centered within the frame.

Last night on the PBS News Hour there was a segment on the Senate confirmation hearings. I had looked at this collection late afternoon yesterday. I was amazed to see some of these pictures, minus the bodies, heads only, with background colour not white but changed to coordinate with the News Hour set decor.

Needless to say they did not look the same and, to my eye, they definitely did not look better.

I have a sneaking feeling that the lighting and background were designed to provide conveniently 'plastic' image fodder for media outlets.

It seems a bit ironic to me to be aestheticizing these pictures when it's possible they are nothing more (or less) than glorified stock. But of course I've been called naive many times before: there's no reason why fodder and aesthetics can't coexist quite happily.

As a home delivery subscriber to the NY Times, I get my Sunday magazine (along with some of the other Sunday sections) on Saturday morning. I had a chance to go through the full page printed versions of these photos over my bagel and coffee this morning.

At first blush, my reaction is -- what an unflattering collection of technically ok photos. The hack that does my kids' school photos could have done a better job. I glean little or nothing about each person's personality from these photos (even those of subjects who I am familiar with, such as Mrs Clinton).

I find it interesting that so many of the subjects are looking away from the camera and I am interested more in what they are looking at, than at looking at them. Or perhaps this reflects the inability of those subjects to maintain eye contact?

On the other hand, this issue is a keeper. I intend to refer to the photos on a regular basis with a black Sharpie marker, to "X" out and date those who don't make it through the term.

I thought the photos were well-done, but I'm not sure I'd find them compelling if they were not of famous, or soon-to-be-famous, people. It's the old Annie Liebowitz question.

I thought some of the "back-story" photos were very interesting. Rahm Emanuel was doing a ballet stance in one photo (he's a trained ballet dancer.) Senator Clinton was wearing the same outfit she (and Amy Poehler) wore on her "Saturday Night Live" appearance. David Axelrod looks like he's having fun - and he looks like *he's* fun to be around.

Hugh - re: "...And look, Steven Chu is the United States Secretary of Energy-Nominee. Imagine that, someone who is actually qualified for that position!..." Yes, he seems well-qualified, however, the outgoing Sec of Energy, Samuel Bodman, has a doctorate in Chemical Engineering - so no slouch either. Please, it's time to get some treatment for Bush Derangement Syndrome.

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