Night and Day
The royal wedding and the execution of Osama Bin Laden are a good reminder of how far the news agenda can lurch in the space of a couple of days. On Friday and during the weekend, the run was all for images of expensive dresses, dashing Rolls Royces, cheering crowds and flapping plastic flags. By Monday morning these pictures had been replaced by other more grisly ones, of Bin Laden’s very odd, stark hideaway in rural Abbottabad – his old rooms upturned in the chaos of the gunfight, his carpet smeared in blood, a smashed clock and half-full medicinal bottles on an empty shelf.
Among all the interesting coverage of both these stories are a number of images on Flickr. For some years governments, organisations, political parties and so on have been using Flickr as a medium to publish official photographs and images. A British Monarchy Photostream documents the doings of the royal family and, over the weekend, they uploaded a wide-range of wedding shots that include sets devoted to the balcony scenes, the RAF flyover and a specially-commissioned McVities Cake, which had been requested by Prince William.
More interesting than this, for several reasons, is the Official Whitehouse Photostream. The photos published here are the work of Pete Souza, a photographer who travelled across the Hindu Kush in 2001 to cover the fall of the Taliban and, in 2009, was appointed Official White House Photographer.
Pete Souza’s photographs are remarkably revealing and candid. They give a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the President and his aides, and also the decision-making processes behind important acts of government. The photo at the top of this piece is taken by Souza. It shows Obama, Vice President Biden and other senior members the administration receiving a briefing on Sunday night, a time that was described afterwards by counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as ‘one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time in the lives of the people who were assembled here.’
Souza’s photograph has appeared in the world’s press over the last few days. On a macro level, it is a perfect example of what the French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as the decisive moment. Obama is hunched forward on his chair, cold eyes on the screen. Hilary Clinton covers her mouth with a hand, concealing an expression which might either suggest shock or concentration. It feels like a decisive moment because the fate of the mission is not yet determined and, on a grander level, Obama’s hopes of re-election next year might even rest on its success.
Social media is helping to expose these moments, even at the top of society, and more transparency can only be a good thing. It connects people to the political process; shows the care and concern of those in power and encourages interaction. I’m writing this at a quarter to twelve in the morning of 4 May and, over the past few days, 1,621,516 people have viewed the image on Flickr – a staggering number.
Just about all of the White House’s images are available to be re-published by others, being licensed under a special category United States Governmental Work. In the UK all of the royal family’s photos and most of those from the Prime Minister’s Official Photostream are produced by the PA, and are therefore protected by copyright.
While I’m going with Flickr, I thought that I’d list some of the other interesting photostreams that are currently being updated. There are four here which are particularly useful for journalists, as they are licensed to be reused:
Metropolitan Police – Great images of events, vehicles and so on.
Cabinet Office – Good quality photos. They include useful profile shots of various politicians like Nick Clegg and Francis Maude
UK Home Office – Day to day work of the department.
HM Treasury – Really useful. Not just day to day work of the department, but also official graphs and stats.
And some others: (mostly unlicensed)
Image credit – Official WhiteHouse on Flickr