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Photography and Ruptures in Time

Ezra Pound famously remarked in The Spirit of Romance that “All ages are contemporaneous.”  This was not the temporal equivalent of a flat earth claim, but rather his announcement of what was to become one of the great poetic doctrines of twentieth century modernism.  For most of us, however, the past is past.  Sure, Faulkner knew better, and there are vital cultures of memory, but modernity is about an endlessly expanding future.  Even as that dream has been steadily degraded of late, the incessant demands of ordinary life amidst a continual stream of news, weather, and sports continues to keep most of us living from day to day.  The timeline isn’t quite so narrow as that of an Alzheimer’s patient, but American society might be suffering from a similar loss of temporal bandwith.  Forced to live in a continually collapsing present, personality becomes brittle and fear can contaminate everything.  For that reason, then, there actually may be good reason to see something closer to what Pound had in mind.

A month ago I posted about the peculiar return to medieval clothing and weaponry in security forces.  I suggested that what may seem to be a superficial analogy could be documenting a regressive transformation of political power.  Globalization, excessive capital accumulation, and other structural changes may be leading not to the march of progress, but rather to the breakdown of modernity itself.  The photograph above supports that idea, except that now I’m looking at it while in a different mood.

The medieval horseman rides through the modern street, almost as if he were riding out of and then back into the past.  In the background, the signs of modernity are rather slim–primarily the diction in the graffiti.  The steel fixtures in the foreground provide the more reliable assurance, as they literally frame the horse and rider.  Fire seethes in the left of the frame, but it seems self-contained by the metalwork and lack of other material to burn.  The tableau could be an artist’s construction, perhaps by one who had been reading Pound.  Medieval past and modern present are contemporaneous: uncannily yet easily captured together in the artistic medium.  At the moment the medium is photography, the art that traps any moment–but 1/500 of a second–in an eternal present that can be seen as it was endlessly, anytime, out of time.

Art does mirror life, however.  The horseman really was there, and the photograph can remind us that time need not be linear, that the past need not be past, and that a medieval world may already be present among us.  Modernity may be riven with ruptures where what was thought to be safely superseded continues to lurk, resurface, or reassert its power.  These remnants of the past need not be the absolute opposite of modern time, as with the myth of eternal return, but rather something much more capable of displacing and redirecting the course of history.

But I’m getting grim again.  This post began, if that is the right term, with a commitment to enjoying contemporaneity, or at least appreciating how public arts could be restoring a sense of the past that is uncanny and provocative rather than conventional.  Like this:

The caption placed him at the Gay Pride parade in New Delhi on July 2, 2011.  I think he walked right out of Renaissance Italy.  Again, the slogan in the background reminds us of the present, but otherwise he could have fit right in at Florence.  And they would have understood that mask more than we can imagine.

Any photograph is another reproduction of modernity’s endlessly unfolding present, but this one also offers a glimpse into another time.  Thus, the photograph itself is a tear in the modern fabric of time.  And through that narrow aperture, we can see something eternal.

Photographs by Victor Ruiz Caballero/Reuters and Prakash Singh/AFP-Getty Images.

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A Second Look: The Family of Man

Last month I commented on the profusion of photographs showing up in slideshows reporting on the discovery of snapshots and family photo albums in the detritus left in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  The title of the post, “The Family of Man,” was borrowed from the most famous photo exhibition ever, curated by Edward Steichen in the 1955 and viewed by more than nine million people throughout the world.  The point of the exhibit was to call attention to a common humanity that presumably transcended cultural differences worldwide, and the point of my post was to underscore the way in which the snapshot or family photo album was a modern affectation that marked something of a common humanity designed to activate a powerful stranger relationality.  On reflection, however, I believe that I was only partially correct and there is much more to be said.

The photograph above appeared on the front page of the NYT this past week (4/13/11), occupying the top half of the page above the fold.  Prime space!  It was not connected to any front page story.  The caption notes that they are photos that had been damaged by the March Tsunami and had been recovered, cleaned, and left to dry.  And indeed, the image indicates both the magnitude of the task and the almost surgical care with which it is being executed.  These photographs, snapshots that one might find in any family photo album, clearly matter.  And it should not escape notice that they are all photographs of beautiful young children, markers of both the modern family and the national future.  There are many other similar photographs of such snapshots floating about the web and I probably would have ignored this one but for the prominent placement in the newspaper and the second sentence of the caption: “The nuclear alert level was raised on Tuesday.”  The apparent non sequitur notwithstanding, I was struck by how a  people ravaged by a devastating natural disaster and facing a continuing and dangerous nuclear emergency nevertheless have the time and resources to recover and preserve the family photographic record.    And I was struck too by the fact that the NYT would feature it without connecting it to an apparently relevant news article.  My original point about the importance of representing a common humanity and a powerful stranger relationality seemed secure.

But then this week I learned that three WP photographers had just won the Pulitzer Prize for their work on last year’s earthquake in Haiti.  The photographs focus on bodies.  Many of the images are grotesque and the overall affect is gut wrenching.  But more to the point, they collectively evoke a sense of pity, rather than a common humanity or stranger relationality. One doesn’t find such photos in any of the slide shows reporting on the disaster in Japan, where the emphasis is on destruction to infrastructure and advanced technology—a point vaguely gestured to by the caption for the photograph above concerning the nuclear alert level.  And when one does see pictures of bodies in the archive of Japanese images they are invariably treated with a profound funeral respect.  One might feel sorrow in the face of such images, but not pity. More to the point, not a single one of the WP photographs includes an image of a lost or found snapshot or photo album.  And lest the sample seem too small, a search of the hundreds of photographs of the Haitian disaster that appeared in the NYT, or in slideshows at websites like the Boston Globe’s Big Picture or totallycoolpix.com, confirms the point.

There may be reasons that explain this, to be sure.  Japan is a modern society with a technologically advanced infrastructure, Haiti is an economically undeveloped country mired in massive poverty. In short, all Haiti had to lose were bodies.  And yet for all of that, the disparity of visual representation is telling.   When we look West to Japan we see something rather like ourselves, and the themes and conventions of dignity and decorum that we employ in such representations are the ones that we would employ in representing ourselves.  When we look beyond our borders to the South, however, we see something altogether different, an otherness marked by a shift in both theme and the stylistic tokens of propriety.  And, oddly enough, the distinction here between looking West and South is signified correspondingly by the presence and absence of snapshots and family photo albums, cultural artifacts which, in the end, are less about the family of man and the powerful stranger relationality it purports to animate, and more about the conventions of a narrow and particular kind of economic and technological modernity.

Photo Credit:  Toru Hanai/Reuters

 

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"Mythic Visions" Redux: Looking to the Heavens With a Tragic Optic

Guest Post by Jeremy Gordon

In his recent post Mythic Vision in Afghanistan, Robert Hariman writes that in the face of  “enormous organizational and technological power,” unseen enemies, non-identifiable strategy, unknown objectives, and forces beyond the scope of certainty, photographers have tapped into mythic visions of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

After reading Hariman’s optical shift to science fiction I was reminded of a Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk and crew come across the ancient Greek god Apollo, who has been waiting for humans to believe in him again.  With faith in their technology and rational systems of knowledge production, Kirk and crew resist.  They spend the episode tearing Apollo down and so he retreats to the stars with all of the other disregarded gods, most likely taking cover as constellations, as seen here:

Afghan night, stars

There are complex themes to be explored by looking at these images with a mythic vision, reflective of a much more complex tension between men and gods (gods here being the virtues and vices of human behavior, unseen forces of contingency, paradox, luck, and chance).  Mythic vision invites various poetic optics through which scenes from Afghanistan are not overshadowed by the instrumental laws of efficiency and technology championed by Captain Kirk.

For instance, as the scene from a Greek tragedy, we might imagine Ares brewing a storm over the camp, and that Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, is part of the charge.  We see all the armor and firepower Hephaestus, the god of fire who armed Achilles with his shield, has fashioned.  But rather than being captivated by the tools at our disposal, the Humvees and desert camouflage give way in looking elsewhere to understand what the scene is about, the unseen actors who were always offstage in ancient tragedy.  The encampment is silent and, as warriors hide amongst their vessels, we can see the gods, or what is left of them, watching, waiting to play their hands.  What is telling about this image of the Cosmos, and Kirk’s denial, is that what awaits us in the future, is what we have left in the past, the faith in gods and understanding that forces beyond our control make moments of domination and victory fleeting.  Using such a tragic optic urges us to look beyond the horizons to corners and edges, to the apparitions that induce us to question if we saw Ares in the .50 caliber round that accidentally discharged, killing a warrior at point blank range?  Was that whisper in the wind the just goddess of war Athene, who blew sand away from a hidden IED?

Recognizing gods requires looking beyond the earthly horizon.

Afghan patrol, Gurkhas

The desolation wreaks of endlessness, but the trees blurred and dusted by the winds of the desert emphasize a destination, perhaps the River Acheron, the crossing point at which spirits move to the underworld.  What of the warrior illuminated in dusty green among the shadows?  Is he walking amongst the dead, following and being driven by ancestors?  Are the shadows Hermes like figures?  Hermes protects travelers and looks after boundaries, especially the one between the land of the living and the dead.  Hades’ presence is strong here, as the ground seems to swirl and blur beneath their feet.  The glare is stark and suffocating, and there is no telling what is beyond the horizon for the warrior still in color, but we can guess that violent contingencies may deny him the protection offered by body armor and firepower.  We see a spark of chance, a whisper of hidden secrets, and a hint of mysterious experiences in which the difference between technology and the Cosmos is not so clear.

If Kirk is right and we have outgrown the gods, is it any wonder warriors are instrumentalized to the point where war becomes merely an extreme sport? An ode to Achilles’ mastery of killing, as an extreme athlete?  Is it a surprise that we fail to recognize Hypnos and Thanatos on the heels of these “athletes?” When we outgrow the gods, we fail to grasp the tragic laws in the poetics of the ancient deities, always present but incognito, laying in wait only to sneak back into the rational world of warfare as violent epiphanies, even if present only for a moment, which is forever.

Photographs by Hyunsoo Leo Kim/AP/The Virginian-Pilot and Bay Ismoyo/AFP-Getty Images, thanks to The Big Picture.  Jeremy Gordon is a PhD student in Communication and Culture at Indiana University-Bloomington who pays homage to (and is repulsed by) the gods of war, rhetoric, theatre, and myth.  He can be contacted at jeregord@indiana.edu.

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A Second Look: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Fence


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When I first wrote about this photograph two years ago I marveled at the utter insanity of thinking that we could actually establish a 700 hundred mile wall fence across an otherwise barren dessert that would secure the 2,000 mile border that separates the US from Mexico.  And, of course, I was right as there is no evidence that the wall fence has done anything to slow down illegal immigration (in fact there is some evidence to suggest that the number of people sneaking past the borders has increased), though there is strong evidence to suggest that it has resulted in “borderland frgmantation” leading to serious destruction of the border ecosystem.  Notwithstanding the continuing need for serious immigration reform, then, the idea that we can maintain an impermeable barrier to secure us from “undesirable” outsiders is a preposterous fiction that only the likes of Stephen King can really pull off.  And, of course, the above photograph underscores the futility of thinking that this can actually work.

I was reminded of this photograph earlier this evening when I read a report that President Obama has ordered 1,200 National Guardsmen to the borders in order to “provide support to law enforcement officers by helping observe and monitor traffic between official border crossings” and to “help analyze trafficking patterns in the hope of intercepting illegal drug shipments.”  But for all that, “they will not make arrests … something they are not trained to do.” As with the photograph, the absurdity of the situation is pronounced, no matter which way we think of it.  If the troops are going to be used for interdiction, it makes no more sense to think that we can secure a 2,000 mile border with 1,200 troops (that’s one soldier for every 1.6 miles—and it assumes that each soldier is working 24/7/365) than that we can do it by building a wall fence.  And yet, if their primary purpose is not active interdiction, but to “help analyzing trafficking patterns,” one can only wonder why so many are needed on site to accomplish that task.

The bigger point to be made, however, is that we are not going to be effective in addressing the problem of our borders by resorting to simplistic and piecemeal military solutions.  I’m quite sure that President Obama knows and believes this, and were he to allow himself to be guided by the “better angels of his nature” he would move in a different direction towards more progressive immigration reform.  What is troubling is that he is doing it anyway, and for what are no doubt pragmatic political reasons that sadly (and ironically) belie an increasingly militaristic society.

Photo Credit: Don Bartletti/LA Times

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A Second Look: The Warrior Child

EPA

The above photograph is of a group of “young supporters of the Islamic Jihad movement” marching at a rally in Gaza City.  When I posted on it earlier this month I called attention to the expression on the young boys face, noting that his expression teetered between being vacant and deadly serious, but in either case “dissociated from our expectations of an otherwise idealized world of youthful innocence.”  One commenter noted, “How many of his relatives are dead, how many in prison …?  Why do you ignore the context?  Why do you expect an ‘idealized world of youthful experience,’ where this experience clearly has no chance?”  It is a good question as it calls attention to a complexity of the photograph that my original posting assumed but failed adequately to interrogate: the sense in which the image simultaneously activates and resists the trope of “youthful innocence.”

The original point I was trying to make was that “the idealized world of youthful innocence” is a taken for granted assumption for western audiences.  That assumption is conventionally animated by the visual trope of children playing as if adults.  Ordinarily, the key to the effectiveness of the trope is the additional assumption that the viewer recognizes that the child has a very basic understanding of the sense in which s/he is “playing” at being an adult and is thus operating in an idealized world—a world that is free of all that would undermine or mitigate youthful innocence.  The telling marker in such images is the signification of carefree joy being acted out by the playful child.  In the above photograph the children are clearly playing at being adults—note the toy guns, which activate the trope for western audiences—but their facial expressions lack any sense of carefree joy, and hence the image concurrently resists the trope.  And the implication, at least for western audiences, is that these aren’t so much children as warriors, thus triggering yet a different common visual trope used to distinguish the Islamic, middle eastern world from the Christian, western world: “the warrior child.”

The tension connecting the tropes of “youthful innocence” and “the warrior child” is articulated in a somewhat different fashion in this photograph from Craig F. Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo-essay, “Ian Fisher: American Soldier.”

Ian Fischer.American Soldier2

The similarities between the two images are palpable, but it is their differences that are notable. The guns are no longer toys, as indicated by the safety plugs inserted in their barrels; and note too that the disposition of the weapons is more aggressive as they are being aimed rather than held at ease.  These aren’t children playing at being soldiers, they are the real thing, however young.  Attend, in this regard, to the different facial expressions depicted in each photograph. In the earlier image the lead child appears to be working hard to maintain his countenance, to appear like a serious adult, almost as if he knows he is being observed, but there is no question that he is a child; here, however, the expression on the face of the American soldier, while no less intense, nevertheless seems less affected.  The eyes are cold and calculating; carefully and intently focused, they are machinelike, almost as if an extension of the weapon being aimed.  It would not be hard to imagine him as a cyborg rather than a human, let alone a child.  And yet the face of this teenage soldier is nevertheless childlike; both slender and smooth, it belies a physical immaturity that activates the trope of “youthful innocence” even as the photograph as a whole resists it.

In one photograph we end up with the warrior child, in the other we see a childlike warrior. The question is, what difference does the difference make?

Photo Credit: Ali Ali/EPA/WSJ; Craig F. Walker/Denver Post

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Global Reflections on a National Treasure

We have written here at NCN on numerous occasions about Joe Rosenthal’s iconic “Raising Old Glory on Mt. Suribachi” (here, here, here, here, here, and here).  While there is much to be said about the photograph our basic approach has been to call attention to how it operates as an eloquent inventional resource (by some accounts, a national treasure) for performing civic identity.  The power of the photograph, we maintain, is in large measure its aesthetic capacity to transcribe three related but nevertheless different (and sometimes competing) commitments to egalitarianism, nationalism, and civic republicanism.  This transcription animates an  expansive public emotionality that opens the image to to a wide array of interpretations and subsequent appropriations or usages that range from reverential civic piety to a deeply seeded public cynicism.

A month doesn’t go by that we don’t encounter new appropriations of the photograph (and we are much indebted to the many readers who direct our attention to them), and interestingly enough, increasingly many of these appropriations come from sources outside of the U.S.  Sometimes such appropriations seem to be reflecting directly on U.S. foreign policy (as with the first two images below), but in other instances the appropriation seems to speak to a more transcendent meaning that the image invokes as it appears to have little or no connection to the location of the photograph in the symbolic economy of U.S. public culture(as in the last image).  We are not entirely sure what to make out of all of this just yet and we will return to the subject of the global appropriation of U.S. iconcic photographs in a subsequent post.  But for now we leave you with three of the most interesting recent appropriations of the Iwo Jima icon and invite your reflections.

die-burger

Die Burger: Iwo Jima (FCB Advertising Agency, Cape Town, South Africa)

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Raising the Flag at Museumplein (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam)

iwo-britain

Raising the Flag in the U.K.

Photo Credits: Chad Henning, Zoran Koracevic, drawgood

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On Barbie's Fiftieth Birthday

We have written about Eddie Adams’ infamous, Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner in the middle of a street in Saigon before (here, here, and here) It is among a small handfull of photographs regularly referred to when one talks or writes about the Vietnam War—the others include most prominently the “Burning Monk,” “Accidental Napalm,” and the “Kent State Massacre.”

As with so many other iconic photographs, it retains its symbolic currency through mass circulation and reproduction, a process of distribution that animates it as an inventional resource for cultural commentary and critique as it is appropriated, performed, and parodied to particular cultural and political interests.  We were recently reminded of the ubiquity of such usages by a post at frgdr.com where a number of such efforts have been collected.  A quick google search turned up a number of others, including one by an artist named minipliman that appears to be joining the mass media celebration of Barbie’s fiftieth birthday:

We leave it to our readers to decide how the legend for this image should read … though on second thought, perhaps in this case “no caption” really is needed.

Photo Credit: Eddie Adams/AP; minipliman

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Currently Under Construction: Gray World

Several months ago in a post entitled Shades of Gray, I suggested that the use of gray tones in photojournalism could make a subject appear otherworldly. Thus, the photograph could alternately buffer the viewer from the those being depicted or reveal an inability to reach across the gulf between different cultures. Even if I got that right, there is more to be said about seeing gray. For one example, take a look at this photo:

The wildfires burning around Los Angeles this week were so hot that they could melt steel. Here a wheel rim has puddled into globs of dull metal. It’s as if the vehicle were being smelted back to its original elements, reversing the long process of civilization that turned iron ore into a truck. The fire might have been started by a match stick–or, more likely, a random lightening strike, one among thousands that happen in the area every year–yet it can become a raging inferno capable of devouring cities. In the aftermath, green shoots will appear amidst blackened devastation and the great cycle of life will continue. But nothing there will put that wheel rim back together. Nature, it seems, is no respecter of machines.

The image is a color photo, of course, and that makes the point all the more poignant. The gray metal isn’t an artifact of the photographic process. Instead, a color print reveals how gray has flowed into view. What had been hidden behind chrome has been released into the environment like lead or some other industrial toxin ready to leach further into the landscape. What had been crafted to help a society hum along now is neither artifact nor nature but that third thing: waste.

Like this:

Again, a color photo reveals a world turning gray. It actually took a moment for the colored shirts on the Iraqi police officers to assert themselves into my focal vision, rather than merely providing a felt and uneasy sense of contrast. The wreckage from a car bomb dominates the foreground of the picture and is reinforced by the second smashed vehicle in the center rear. The scene as a whole is tonally consistent with these gray/white wrecks. But for one taillight and other minor reddish hints, this is a world of grays, greens, and other dull surfaces. Whether war zone or concrete yard, it’s a world being given over to gray. No wonder the police seem out of place: colorful, nonchalant, they imply domestic peace and all the life that can be a part of that. They are balanced and then some by the soldiers opposite them, who seem more of a permanent fixture. By contrast, the police are just passing through.

People like to think that wars, like fires, are accidents; and that fires, like wars, could not have been prevented. In reality, the California conflagrations are predictable outcomes of poorly regulated housing development. And the war in Iraq–well, we know that story, and it was no accident. The truth is that for all the art and energy that goes into building up modern societies, they also carry within themselves powerful forces that are continually turning people, places, and things into waste. Alongside familiar scenes of peace, prosperity, and color, another world is also under construction: Gray world, inert yet dangerous, making waste seem like second nature.

Photographs by Phil McCarten/Reuters (thanks to The Big Picture) and Karim Kadim/Associated Press. Note that because NCN doesn’t have a style sheet or a copy editor to keep my erratic spelling in check, I use both “gray” and “grey”; something I learned, somewhat to my embarrassment, when I searched for the Shades of Gray post and turned up more entries under “grey” than “gray.” Both terms are correct, but consistency would still be a virtue were it to be found here. For that, readers will have to look elsewhere.

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Looking From the Inside Out

What we have here is a photograph shot from inside the new, “bullet train” that will begin running on the high speed Beijing-Tianjin express railway starting on August 1, 2008, just in time to accommodate the high traffic of foreigners who will be attending the 2008 Summer Olympics.  It runs at a speed record 394.3 kmh, thus traversing the 135 km from Beijing to the port city of Tianjin in less than 30 minutes and representing the height of modern urban mass transportation technology.  The photograph puts the viewer just behind the driver, and thus aligned with both the technology and, perhaps not so incidentally, efficient and effective modern state control of the world in front of it.  

What struck me most about the image is how it operates both in tandem and in tension with the now famous photograph of the lone protestor stopping the tank near Tiananmen Square in 1989.  On the one hand, it shares all of the aesthetic conventions of high modernism that we find in the iconic image of the man and the tank.  The orientation is universal rather than parochial, geometric rather than organic, functional rather than customary, and so on.  This aesthetic—what anthropologist James C. Scott calls “seeing like a state”— is reinforced by the tonality of the image which, while in color, nevertheless veers towards the grey scale of the photographic spectrum and thus gestures towards the abstract and schematic orientation of  much scientific representation.

On the other hand, there is something of a reversal of perspective.  In the original Tiananmen Square photograph the viewer is an outsider looking in on another culture from a safe distance—and in this context it is important to note that as famous as the 1989 photograph is in the western world for its manifestation of an heroic, liberal individualism, it has very little recognition and resonance within China itself—whereas here the outside viewer is invited to share the panoptic vision of the modern state from the inside.  And note how that view is circumscribed by the window that narrowly restricts any peripheral vision, creating something of a tunnel vision effect that enables us to see no more than how clean the tracks ahead are, how totally devoid they are of anything that might derail the train from its appointed task of moving passengers from here to there quickly and efficiently.  In short, we can only see what the apparatus—state, technological, what have you— enables us to see.  And, of course, this can be a problem when you are on the inside looking out, whether as the driver or as an unwitting passenger. 

The question then is, what are we missing in the process?  If there were a lone individual standing on the tracks trying to stop the train he or she couldn’t be seen—and at this speed perhaps all that would remain is that reddish-brown smudge on the windshield.  Then again, protestors—individuals or otherwise—are not likely to stand in the way of this train as they have been relegated to “Olympic Protest Zones” in designated parks, and at that it is unlikely that most dissidents will successfully negotiate the bureaucratic barriers to political protest that include applying for a permit in person, five days in advance of a demonstration, and with detailed information such as the slogans to be used, the number of demonstrators, and so on.  Maybe that is what we miss when we look only from the inside out.

Photo Credit:  STRA/AFP Getty Images and The Big Picture

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Second Look: Silda Spitzer, The Political Wife

I was among those who were shocked and thoroughly dismayed by the report that Eliot Spitzer had been busted for frequenting a prostitution service. I also should admit that dismay can turn to laughter very quickly when you start following the story in the blogosphere, not least at the Wonkette. If you go there, you can peruse some of the advertisements from the Guv’s high end whore house, otherwise known as The Emperor’s Club. (Did someone forget to tell Eliot that he’s a governor, not an emperor?) Spitzer deserves to be the the butt of every single joke that is made in the next year, but that’s not why I’m writing today.

As usual, some bystanders will have been hurt as well. If Hillary Clinton is one of them, you can understand why she might be really, really tired of this kind of news. Tired of, but not as sad as Silda Spitzer.

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Photojournalism provides a record of the art, rituals, and performances of political theater. This photo is one of many that we can classify as portraits of the political wife. I saw the image for the first time yesterday afternoon and it stayed with me through the rest of the day and into the evening. Whenever I thought of some aspect of the scandal, I soon would be back to her standing there, taking the hit. Eyes down, hands behind her back, face and neck exposed to the camera’s glare, she is a picture of vulnerability. The contrast with him is all too telling: his stance remains combative, and although caught in the glare of publicity he’s still maneuvering, still fending off his opponents while protected by a lecturn that bears the great seal like a shield.

Although close beside him, she appears to be a study in isolation. She could be a statue, and one that surely would be able to represent not only loss and grief but also duty and loyalty. That probably should be admired for what it is; I also look forward to the day when the ritual changes and the emperor has to stand there alone. But that is not this day. She has chosen to stand beside him, however far away she may wish to be. Her response is not to fight back but to reflect, perhaps to think about how she got here, or what she still can hold on to, or just to remember better days. Perhaps she might be remembering a day like this:

spitzer-inaug.jpg

She’s even wearing the same pearls.

Photographs by Patrick Andrade/New York Times; Jim McKnight/Associated Press.

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