Photo Analysis of Barrack Obama

Posted on August 27, 2012


Barrack Obama photo

U.S. President Barrack Obama (L) walks out from Thomas Sweet ice cream in Washington June 19, 2011

Down-to-earth Personality of Barrack Obama as Reflected in Reuters Photograph

(A Semiotic Analysis)

            A photograph has an ability to tell the truth. Roland Barthez proposed a theory about “a body of attitudes” which can be used to analyse the social and ideological context of a photograph. The process of understanding a photograph is not a free association but is limited in the common ground shared by the people (Christine Geraghty in “Representation and Popular Culture”). Semiotic analysis is employed to investigate the relation between sign and signifier to reconstruct the full narrative of the photograph.

            The photograph that will be analysed is Barrack Obama’s photograph after visiting an ice cream shop in Washington, June 19, 2011. The photo was retrieved from Daylife website, a website that collects photographs from various news agencies. The website has special segment for Politics. More specifically, Barrack Obama as the 44th the President of United States of America is allocated a special page that accomodate his photo documentation. The caption of the photograph accomodates the important information since it provides the reader with; 1) Who is the subject in the photograph?, 2) What is the subject doing?, 3) When and where is the photograph taken? and 4) Why is the subject important for the photographer? The caption provides situational context of the photograph. It is believed that both the photograph and the caption reinforce the full narration of the photograph reading.

            The interpretation of the photograph is based on the semiotic analysis of Barrack Obama’s clothes, his gestures, and the photograph’s background. Barrack Obama is wearing a casual white shirt, a watch, a jeans, and sandals. Obama’s outfit represents simple, relaxed, and warm personality. His outfit is not too formal because he wanted to adjust with the situation. The situation is informal and not related to his position as a president. The watch indicates that he is aware of time as most American do aware of time, too. The jeans and sandals show us that he has a simple lifestyle that is now a trend among Americans. Obama is showing a firm smile that indicates a gentleman and tough personality. Overall, he wanted to create image that he is not superior to his citizens and he had the ability to mingle with his citizens. Seeing the photograph, it is concluded that how Obama dress depicts his effort in creating positive imaging to support his profession as president.

            The photograph background shows minor elements supporting a full reading of it. Cars parked behind Obama clearly indicates common elite environment. This means that although Obama wanted to show his “down-to-earth” personality, he also has a class and power.

            The man walking behind Obama is wearing a formal suit. The suit is commonly worn by bodyguards. His eyes are watching Obama and the surroundings. The man is likely claimed as Obama’s bodyguard. Considering that Obama is a president, a tight security is needed to protect him. However, if we look more critically, the relation between Obama and his bodyguard can represent an improvement in American Black strata. The bodyguard is White but his job is more inferior than Obama. It is believed that now there is less discrimination in competing for jobs. At the past time, Black people cannot achieve higher positions than White. They were just labors. Now, as far as they have sufficient skills, they can get higher positions than White. This phenomena leads America to be more open to the other races that at this time is considered as a minority.

            The crowd behind Obama on the far background of the photo indicates that Obama is an important person. They wanted to see Obama closer. This is also the implication to one of the reasons why the photograph took his photo. On photojournalism, a photojournalist should take into consideration the aspects of news values. One of the news values is prominence. An ordinary citizen walking out from an ice cream shop would not have attracted the attention of the national news media but a president walking our from there with casual outfit would do. The photographer captured this moment and published it to the media to attract the reader. The crowd behind Obama were a sign for the photographer that his photo probably had the same “attractiveness” in broader scope of crowds (by publishing it to mass media).

            The analysis shows us how the photographer successfully captures Obama’s positive imaging in the photograph. Simple, gentle, and down-to-earth personality are some positive imaging that Obama wanted to show to people particularly American citizens.




Christine Geraghty’s Journal “Representation and Popular Culture”

Curtis, A. (2011). What Are the Seven News Values? North Carolina: Mass Communication Dept. of University of North Carolina.             ( accessed at June 19th, 2011, 20:10)

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