NO CAPTION NEEDED
ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

January 22nd, 2008

Fred Thompson, Trouper

Posted by Hariman in the visual public

The papers of late have been full of pictures of the front runners in the presidential nominating races surrounded by throngs of near delirious supporters eager to touch the hem of the political celebrity who has come to their otherwise inconsequential state. (OK, I’ll retract that last remark in respect to South Carolina, which has started a war.) These photos are full of the energy of massed bodies, close encounters, and the charismatic touch. They are representative of important features of our political process, for better or worse, but they don’t tell the whole story. To get closer to that, we have to look elsewhere, like here:

thompsontrail.png

You are looking at a photo from last week of Fred Thompson stepping onto a stage in Prosperity, South Carolina. The long view allows us to see the candidate as part of a scene, rather someone around whom everything else is compressed. The view also isolates each part of the scene: candidate, bunting, handler, local supporter, and wife-and-kid are each identifiable as if pieces of a grade school diorama. What is most revealing, however, is that we see both stage and backstage in a single view. What would have been The Candidate framed by the Red White and Blue becomes instead a tacky stage set–hey, don’t trip on that cord! And instead of those gathered in his name, we see instead wife-and-kid waiting in the wings, or waiting to make their entrance, but either way now bit players that make Thompson no more than the lead in the school play.

I suspect that this image is presented to remind us that Thompson’s campaign remains a non-starter. One reason I think so is because the shot above called to mind another taken last year:

thompsonbackstage.png

Now we’re in Anderson, South Carolina. Not much has changed. Again, the key element of composition is that we are shown both stage and backstage. And as before, the difference between front and back is only a flimsy curtain and our customary inattention to political stagecraft. This photo may be a bit more grim in that we see Thompson just before he puts on his theatrical mask. And we see a bit more of the area behind the curtain–enough to really know that backstage is a cold, harsh, functional place of calculation and paying the bill.

Again, the message is that this guy is not going to win. He’s playing on far too small a stage in too small a place to what barely counts as an audience. (Pop Quiz: how old will Thompson by the time that kid on the left votes?) That’s not exactly news, however. I think the real value of these images is that they show us what every candidate experiences and endures. The big winners only get there by playing before small houses like these in the community theater of American politics. And when some of them make it, the stage gets larger, but there is always a stage.

Photographs by Jim Wilson/New York Times and Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press.


Digg!

4 Responses to ' Fred Thompson, Trouper '

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to ' Fred Thompson, Trouper '.


  1. on January 22nd, 2008 at 8:36 am

    [...] James Joyner wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptYou are looking at a photo from last week of Fred Thompson stepping onto a stage in Prosperity, South Carolina. The long view allows us to see the candidate as part of a scene, rather someone around whom everything else is compressed. … [...]


  2. on January 22nd, 2008 at 9:29 am

    [...] unknown wrote an interesting post today on Fred Thompson, TrouperHere’s a quick excerptThe big winners only get there by playing before small houses like these in the community theater of American politics. [...]


  3. on January 22nd, 2008 at 9:35 am

    [...] Hariman wrote an interesting post today on Fred Thompson, TrouperHere’s a quick excerptYou are looking at a photo from last week of Fred Thompson stepping onto a stage in Prosperity, South Carolina. The long view allows us to see the candidate as part of a scene, rather someone around whom everything else is compressed. … [...]


  4. on February 8th, 2008 at 11:38 am

    ann archer photos…

    Man i just love your blog, keep the cool posts comin…..

Leave a reply


FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains images and excerpts the use of which have not been pre-authorized. This material is made available for the purpose of analysis and critique, as well as to advance the understanding of rhetoric, politics, and visual culture.

The ‘fair use’ of such material is provided for under U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Section 107, material on this site (along with credit links and attributions to original sources) is viewable for educational and intellectual purposes. If you are interested in using any copyrighted material from this site for any reason that goes beyond ‘fair use,’ you must first obtain permission from the copyright owner.