Photographers' Blog

Foetid Pools II

June 9, 2007

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

Most horrible of the pooled photo opportunities is the grip and grin.

The grip and grin is where, for the benefit of the cameras, two people pretend to be meeting for the first time that day by shaking hands. Gripping one another by the right hand in front of cameras is something politicians appear to do as a reflex, like kissing babies at election time, but for the news photographers I know asking two people to shake hands is an absolute last resort attempt to salvage something from an otherwise hopeless assignment.

North and South Korean Military delegationsHeads of North and South Korean military delegations shake hands across table

The meeting above was clearly a significant encounter but I feel for the Korean photographer faced with the responsibility of trying to make it look interesting.

Never mind the lack of visual impact, feel the symbolism — and the doors look good.

There are always one or two examples on the wire but a G8 Summit, with its rigidly controlled, pooled media access spawns more grip and grins than an arm-wrestling contest and the Heiligendamm conference has been no exception.
I dislike them because they are clichéd visual spam, badly conceived, poorly executed and offering little if any insight into the personal or diplomatic relationship between the subjects. 

There are of course glorious exceptions and this is one of the best of its kind.

Rabin, Clinton and Arafat

Shot on the White House lawn it is constructed like a Renaissance painting of the Good Shepherd. The old enemies Rabin and Arafat shake hands in front of the benignly smiling President Clinton, enclosed within his sweeping gesture and the photographer Gary Hershorn nails it.

It was an event conceived to produce a memorable and lasting image, a landmark for posterity. There is nothing at all spontaneous about it, nothing left to chance and in fact represents all the things I most dislike about photo opportunities and grip and grins in particular, except that it works beautifully. It really does deliver the goods.

If only they were all this good.

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