Monday, February 28, 2011

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Am I the only one that finds this photograph positively frightening?

It is one of the most starkly chilling photographs I have ever seen—as chilling as any photograph that came out of Nazi Germany—and would inspire a grim 10,000-word essay on The State Of America if I did not have more important things to do with my time.

The photograph is not a fake, and the photograph is not intended as comedy—although anyone might be forgiven for assuming that some massive joke were being played, or that the persons in the photograph were play-acting a family of nitwits and boobs.

The photograph is from a 2009 issue of the Cornell alumni magazine, which I was flipping through this weekend at the home of one of Andrew’s friends, who is a Cornell alumnus (and not an especially proud one).

The photograph was taken during the 2008 election campaign. As a matter of good taste, I have excised a figure on the right—although it was impossible to remove this figure entirely from the photograph without interfering with the portrait of the gruesome harridan of a mother standing alongside, which I did not want to do.

The photograph is an instant classic. At one glance, it captures and summarizes—as well as satirizes—The State Of America at the end of the last decade. Through dress, hairstyles, postures, facial expressions and eyes, the members of this vapid and unappealing family are revealed as unintelligent, half-educated, self-indulgent, lacking character, lacking probity—and profoundly and fundamentally in need of regeneration.

Is the family in the photograph even aware, in offering for publication this ridiculous yet somehow iconic portrait of itself, that it invites ridicule?

I grieve for the children in the photograph, appalling as they are.

Of greater importance, I grieve for this nation.



    I came upon this photograph on your blog while listening tonight to a broadcast concert by the Chicago Symphony. The opening work was by American composer John Luther Adams (not to be confused with the composer of "Nixon in China"), "Dark Waves" (2007), for orchestra and eletronic instruments.

    "Dark Waves" was inspired by the bleak landscapes of the Alaskan wilderness. The music communicates to me a tonal panorama devoid of any trace of humanity.

    Listening to this short piece of music while studying the elements of the photo was a most unsettling experience. I think that a clever university film student might put together an arresting short film based on this one photograph, artfully panning and scanning these surreal portraits and employing "Dark Waves" as the film's soundtrack.

    The title of the new horror short could be called "America IN EXTREMIS"

    The little horror short could trump anything by film director John Carpenter, I think.

  2. This photograph really jumped out at me when I saw it in the Cornell alumni magazine.

    Unintentionally, it reveals much more about these persons than they ever intended to reveal, something all great photographs do. The camera has exposed secrets the naked eye would not necessarily gather.

    In life, upon any chance encounter, we would pass by this family, and give the family no notice. The family is too bland and too unremarkable to hold our attention. We might take a quick notice of the ineffectual father and the rather horrifying mother, and the indoctrinated children, and instantly move on.

    A photograph does not allow such luxury.

    I feel sorry for all four persons in the photograph . . . but I also hold them in contempt.

  3. OK, who are these rejects from outer space?

    The title of the image is Tim Wynes, Becky Reed-Wynes and daughter Madison and son Drew.

    Are those their names? And who are they?

  4. Since I'm not an American but Austrian, I honestly do not understand the fuss about this picture. Would you mind telling me more about it?