A Photo’s Journey

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I have often been asked which photo of last ten years would enter the record books and retrospectives. There were many contenders, but as far as cultural impact, the photo above, taken in 2011 of President Obama’s National Security team during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was a touchstone.

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It is now a default scene against which political dramas and comedies are measured. Political Animals, a melodrama about an ex-president and his secretary of state wife, paid an early tribute in August 2012. In 2013, Veep (above) had a two-episode storyline which parodies Washington politics inherent in any politically charged moment/photo such as this.

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In 2016’s House of Cards (above), Clare Underwood occupies President Obama’s position, and another woman replicates Hilary Clinton pose. Not just political dramas are playing the homage; in the corporate world of 2017’s Okja, the photo is restaged, with Tilda Swinton again having hand over the mouth — this is the closest reproduction.

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Even the White House photographers might be taking a page out of the Obama photo. For the longest time, the Kennedy-era photo of a president as aloof and cerebral, an isolated man lost in the burdens of presidency,  was the go-to image, with The West Wing recreating it in its opening titles. Perhaps no longer. When President Trump called for a missile strike in Syria, he and his advisers were photographed in a similar angle: the president was no longer a single striver occupying the Loneliest Job in the world, but at the head of a ‘team of rivals’ — as Doris Kearns Goodwin once wrote.

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