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The White House News Photographers Association has been mounting exhibitions of its contest winners for decades, and as a D.C. native with an affinity for photography, I practically grew up on them. In years past, the contest winners have been shown at large venues such as the Library of Congress, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Newseum. This year, a related but separate exhibit sponsored by the association—-one that for the first time solicited entries from photographers around the country—-is being held at the much smaller Carroll Square Gallery.
The gallery’s limited space puts the exhibit at a disadvantage—-it includes a mere 11 images—-but the bigger problem is the limited subject matter. While the winners of the group’s regular contest have documented everything from the aftermath of disasters to war zones to sporting events, the images at Carroll Square are all about the 2012 presidential campaign. Even for a Washington, D.C., audience, that’s a bit restrictive.
As a member of the press corps, I can vouch that we’re not visually interesting enough to justify a photo essay like the one in the exhibit. And there’s only so much you can do artistically with canned candidate events from the trail.
That said, a number of the images do a lot within these tight confines. Some are familiar: Vice President Joe Biden giving a shoulder squeeze to a female biker, or a close-up of an Obama supporter with a tear rolling down her cheek. Others aren’t: Mitt Romney photographed from far enough away to reveal the tumbledown barn behind his patriotic flag backdrop, or Paul Ryan and family in a silhouette prior to a campaign appearance.
The best in show, however, is the image of a Florida pizza owner giving a surprise hug to Obama, hoisting the president fully off the ground (shown up top). The serendipitous lift at the center of the image is winningly eccentric, but an even more unexpected pleasure is the contrast between the genuinely astonished customers on the left and the dutifully deadpan press corps on the right.
The exhibit is on view Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to Nov. 22 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW.
Image by Brooks Kraft/TIME Magazine via Hemphill Fine Arts