By now, President Donald Trump’s infamous photo of himself awkwardly holding a bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C., is well known. That peaceful protestors were gassed to get that photo opportunity has also been established.
But this isn’t about any of that. This is about the photograph that resulted from the walk across the street, the one by official White House photographer Shealah Craighead. It’s about the fact that it is tremendously terrible. It’s a huge failure.
That’s not a knock on Craighead. She’s an excellent photographer who has a long career, even serving as first lady Laura Bush’s official photographer during the George W. Bush’s administration. She’s a consummate professional who has dutifully photographed the Trump White House since 2017 with nary a protest. Or so we think.
Take a look at this photo from Oct. 16, 2019, perhaps the first crack in the armor that signals that maybe, just maybe she disagrees with her boss here:
In the photo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is delivering a stern, standing rebuke to a seated Donald Trump about the ramifications of removing troops from northern Syria. At the time, it sparked a lot of debate about power and sexism, with each actor looking at it in different ways. Trump viewed it as Pelosi having a meltdown, tweeting out as much, while Nancy Pelosi viewed it as standing up for herself, and changed it to her Twitter banner to troll the president. With one photo, Craighead had managed to both please her employer and trolled him at the same time.
Maybe that was the first crack in the dam, with it finally breaking that fateful Monday, June 1. Perhaps it was the usual lack of preparation when it comes to the Trump team’s photography. He did, after all, just use a lazy, in-the-office, on-the-spot photo for an official portrait and didn’t even let his defense secretary know what was about to come. What are the chances a lowly photographer would be briefed so that they could prepare?
But no, Craighead is a seasoned pro. Even without warning, she could make something. From a technical standpoint, focus, exposure, and white balance are perfect. I argue that this photo, framed this way, and photographed so lackadaisically was a silent cry for help from a photographer who’s just had enough but is too professional to openly protest. Or it’s an intentionally bad photo created in a show of protest over what had just transpired.