Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op

Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op

Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op

Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op


We say the camera doesn't lie, but we also know that pictures distort and deceive. In Picture Perfect, Kiku Adatto brilliantly examines the use and abuse of images today. Ranging from family albums to Facebook, political campaigns to popular movies, images of war to pictures of protest. Adatto reveals how the line between the person and the pose, the real and the fake, news and entertainment is increasingly blurred. New technologies make it easier than ever to capture, manipulate, and spread images. But even in the age of the Internet, we still seek authentic pictures and believe in the camera's promise to document, witness, and interpret our lives.


The Age of the Photo Op

On Thursday, May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush soared above the Pacific in a Navy Viking jet. The Navy pilot then made a dramatic tail-hook landing on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, just returning from the Iraq War. Bush emerged from the plane in a flight suit and helmet, strode across the deck, shook hands, posed for pictures with members of the crew, and then watched a dramatic flyover by F-18 fighter jets. Later, in suit and tie, with a big banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” in the background, Bush stood before the assembled crew and dignitaries and declared the end to major combat operations in Iraq.

It was a perfect set of pictures, and the media was quick to take note of the fact. One after another, television newscasts described Bush's tail-hook landing as “historic,” and compared it to heroic landings in blockbuster Hollywood movies like Top Gun, Air Force One, and Independence Day. Reporters noted that Bush took control of the Viking jet for a third of the journey, and they interviewed the self-effacing pilot about the awesome responsibility of having the president of the United States as his copilot. To heighten the excitement, CNN had one of their correspondents ride in another F-18 fighter jet with her cameraperson to be an “eye in the cockpit” to describe the sights and sensations of taking off and landing.

Yet, even as television reporters praised, even reveled, in the pictures, they were also quick to call attention to the stagecraft. So similar was the language of the commentators from the three major cable news networks that they sounded like theater critics . . .

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