Photos in the Crowd

The buoyancy of the President’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, at the inauguration yesterday, was refreshing and delightful. Its fashionable to lament the fact that children “grow up too quickly these days.” Its becoming equally fashionable to note the innocence of the Obama girls in the midst of the overwhelming pomp of campaign, transition, and inauguration.

Malia gets her own snaps for the family album (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Malia gets her own snaps for the family album (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Especially noteworthy, bizarre yet endearing, was Malia’s insistence on taking digital photos of the event with her consumer camera (appallingly, though not unsurprisingly, E! Magazine has wondered aloud about how much those pictures would be worth). Most hilarious was the moment, right after her father’s speech, when she leant forward and asked the old man sitting in front to take a photo of the crowd, because he clearly had a better view. It was Joe Biden, the new Vice-President.

Meanwhile, a defining image of the inauguration for me was the sight of thousands of other citizens all stretching to capture the moment on their own cameras, phones and camcorders, something like this:

The clamour for the photo (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The clamour for the photo (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

This sort of image will become, has become, commonplace.  I think this obsession with recording significant moments for ourselves is fascinating.  Malia and The Crowd had two utterly different viewpoints on the proceedings, yet both exhibited the same urge.  In both cases, there is an irrationality to their actions.  The inauguration was long known to be one of the most reported events in the history of news media.  On one level, its absurd that the First Daughter would need to actually press the shutter herself – the image of her father raising his hand will persist without her (I noted athletes doing a similar thing during the Olympics).  Likewise, its absurd that the grainy figure of Obama raising his hand in a wave, as he strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue, will not be similarly recorded in high-resolution, extreme close-up, by hundreds of professionals.

And yet, I’m as guilty of this as the next man.  For example, was my recently posted photo of Gordon Brown at all necessary?  To no-one but me, I would suggest.

And that, I suppose, is the answer.  Contrary to what the reporters at E! Magazine might hope, Malia’s photos are not for public consumption.  They are a personal aide memoir (much like this blog).  The camera-phone photos, poor quality, though they may be, server as a document to one’s presence of the event, a self-generated certificate of attendance.  The grainier the better, to the extent that poor picture quality actually becomes a mark of authenticity.


ChicagoSuz, a commenter at Huffington post:

Weegee (my favorite photographer) would go to a fire and while all the other photogs were taking pictures of the flames, he would take pictures of the fire’s victims watching their homes burn. That seems to be what Malia is doing. While the media focuses on her Dad, she seems to be focusing on the people who came to see him. It’s a whole different perspective.

Update II

Here’s the sort of image I mean.  The glow from the digital camera screens looks like fireflies:

President and First Lady at the Washington Hilton. Photo by Kevin Mazur/
President and First Lady at the Washington Hilton. Photo by Kevin Mazur/

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