The photograph, at first glance, might seem like a medium whose time has gone. The ubiquity of images, of every mundane thought and moment being shared world wide on the web with an Instagram-filtered visual aid, has made a photograph that reveals more than the sum of its pixels a rare commodity.
But the picture of US First Lady Melania Trump, leaning in to air-kiss Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the end of the G7 summit in France is indeed worth a thousand words. And then some.
Social media is abuzz (as it always is), making much ado about nothing. Melania’s kiss, the faire la bise, is the common greeting, the way to be polite in France and much of Europe. And it is likely that most of the people who are trying to mischievously read more into the photograph are aware of this. But the fact is that the picture does indeed lend itself to analysis.
And the point of focus isn’t the First Lady’s embrace with Trudeau, its her husband. The brash Donald Trump is captured with downcast eyes, looking sombre, even defeated. It is a side of Trump we do not know. A single frame has made one of the most polarising figures in world politics appear a man filled with subtleties.
Like words, it appears, the image has lost none of its power due to its ubiquity. A good, well-timed picture can, in the words of poet Eminem, “take the moment, freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it”. Of course, the danger of the picture, of immortalising a moment, is reading too much into it.
Melania Trump is being made to be an anti-Donald Trump figure on Twitter, and Trudeau her Disney prince, the one to rescue her from an ogre. And Trump, in one reading, is a tragic figure, the underdog who has to look on. Both the readings make sense in a still frame. Neither is probably true in life.