The photo filed yesterday by my colleague Jason Reed at Reuters isn’t really the President ogling a Brazilian’s backside, like the Drudge report implies. As a news organization, Reuters has a history of being ballsy enough to send less-than-demure imagery to the wire, like their transmission of the controversial Bush-to-Condi bathroom note taken at the United Nations. And remember Jim Bourg’s gagging McCain shot, from this campaign trail ?
This would be a much easier picture if it showed Bill Clinton or Gov. Mark Sanford, to name just two male politicians known for their wandering eyes. So far, Obama has no such reputation. Even his detractors consider him a family man. Which makes things complicated. This photograph is connecting strongly with viewers even though it runs counter to what they already know about Obama.
Or does it? We can’t separate this picture from the ugly history of racists portraying black men as sexually dangerous. Obama’s opponents tried to exploit this stereotype during the 2008 presidential campaign (as noted here and here by Michael Shaw on BAGNewsNotes). This humor in this political photograph is nearly smothered by racial baggage.
Smothered in racial baggage? Sounds a lot like PDN over the last few months, as the magazine found itself at the eye of a vibrant discussion about racism in the photo industry. It stemmed from a post on the blog Reciprocity Failure, bringing attention to the fact that PDN chose a 24-person panel of all-white judges for their Photo Annual competition. The idea was subsequently magnified by a $1000 challenge by the DuckRabbit guys. Word spread, and the topic was picked up by more prominent photobloggers, like ApE, and sparked a lively and surprisingly civilized thread on Lightstalkers where photogs like Gary Knight and Teru Kuwayama chimed in.
The dialogue culminated, sort of, in a response from PDN, posted on their site.
“Yesterday some blogs circulated a note about the fact that of the 24 judges of the 2009 PDN Photo Annual contest, all of them are white. It’s a valid point ,and one that everyone who works on PDN’s contests has given a lot of thought….Past judges of PDN photo contests have included African-Americans, Latinos and Asians who work as photo editors, art directors, web designers and educators. We didn’t choose them out of tokenism… and the lack of diversity in the photo community as a whole means that it requires effort to compose a diverse panel year after year. But it is an effort that’s worth making.”
This morning seems to mark a turning point for PDN- they’ve opened a conversation, themselves, about the racial implications of an image.
So what about the representation of race in stock imagery? Here’s what racism, when searched for, looks like to the biggest agencies. The first image that popped up in the results is displayed below, along with the total number of photos.
Corbis: 3731 pictures
Getty: 7286 images
CAPTION: STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND – MAY 30: James Mayer and Sean Mbaya of Kid British performs at Love Music Hate Racism Festival 2009 at Britannia Stadium on May 30, 2009 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images)
Masterfile: 130 images
CAPTION: Ring of Hands
Alamy: 3032 images
CAPTION: Sydney Australia immigration racism racist attitude immigrant city economic emigrate colour color creed promised land
Jupiter: 44 images
CAPTION: Phrase “fight racism” written on pavement by car