What’s So Great About This Picture?

Editor’s note — In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this piece, Joanna Jeronimo, is my wife. She is an artist, her work represented by 5 prestigious galleries on Maui, where she was the analytically trained, highly regarded Art Reviewer for the Maui News. Joanna and I taught a class together at the University of the Pacific’s Osher Life Long Learning Institute (OLLI), titled, “Photography – Art and Technique,” for several semesters. The following is her analysis of one of my photographs currently on display at Stockton’s Haggin Museum in my exhibition, HOW I SAW IT, now through January 15.
CARTER CAMPAIGNS FOR REELECTION – In 1980, President Jimmy Carter delivers a speech in Modesto as he seeks another term in the Whitehouse. He lost the electron and Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. Photo ©Rich Turner.

The organized chaos of the picture grabs our attention first, the hard edges of dark and light stripes of the flags slant on dynamic diagonals that demand attention, pulsating and moving the eye to the President.  Squint at the photo and you can see the dark and light flag stripes form powerful arrows that have movement.  Seriously, stop and squint at the photo. Above the stripes, are the stars, our hopes, our states, our dreams for a better union, twinkling light against the dark sky upper border that keeps us focused inside the frame. 

The President looks into the crowd with an intensity that shows a transparent complexity of earnest emotions one wishes would come back to politicians. He is listening, completely focusing on a speaker in the crowd and our eye follows Carter’s gaze into the crowd. To have that kind of attention and focus from anyone is what we all long for, isn’t it?  And to have that from such an important and prestigious person, that’s pretty heady stuff, and Mr. Turner not only grabs our attention with it, he uses every other element in the photo to point the viewer to it, capturing the moment for an eternity. 

Following his gaze into the crowd, one can feel the hope. How does Turner communicate the hope to us without showing us their faces? The tightly packed heads all tilt up, completely focused forward, as if unwilling to relinquish a single moment of experiencing every expression of the President who came to listen and speak to the people of the Valley. The light from above right rolls from head to head imparting a softer, curvier sense of unity as the upstretched arm enthusiastically waves a flag whose blurred stripes contrast with the stripes behind them, points us back up and directly to the face of a weary president, shirt sleeves rolled up, ready to get to work, standing steady atop the calm block of his white shirt and black podium, as he listens to the people he serves. 

This is a news shot, Turner arranged nothing here, he was one of a throng of reporters and photographers, all angling for a shot and he must work with what the situation presents, and as he states in his exhibit title, it’s How He Saw It.  Had he moved left or right, forward or back, up or down, changed a lens or aperture, if it were a different moment Carter would look different and the crowd would be different and it would be a different picture. Turner caught the moment, not just caught it, he saw it and was prepared with years of earnest work to improve what he was looking for and the right skills to capture it. He knew what he wanted in the shot and what he didn’t and when he saw it he caught it and we get the story of an American President’s meeting with the people of this Valley.

That’s some of what’s so great about this photo and why if you like viewing art,  How I Saw It is worthy of your visit before the exhibit closes this Sunday, January 15.  If you’ve seen Turner’s other exhibits, be prepared because you’ll see not just his majestically poetic Delta shots, but a lifetime of incredible skill he brings to the mighty and the criminal, the heartache and joy of Valley life creatively presented clearly without gimmicks or exaggeration.  

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