Without words
Photo : Dan Winters

Those two portraits of Obama came in the newspaper a few weeks ago. I cut them out of the first page and left them on the table of the kitchen and later on the table of my studio. I found something fascinating about them and now I believe those two images together could tell us more about our world today than all the words in all the newspapers.

The first portrait was taken in 2008, when Obama had just been elected president of the United States of America. The second, a few weeks ago, as Obama was ending his second run as « President Obama ». Only 8 years passed between those two photos, but the more we look the more the differences between the two becomes striking. It’s clearly the same man, younger and older. Two different stages of one single life, and in between, the process of time, of eight years time running the most powerful country of the world.

On the first one Obama’s face is more round, and remarkably « fresh ». A fully grown-up young man. On the second the lines of his face have tightened-up, are more sharp, giving him a more sever appearance. He’s now a man of experience.

Beside the fact he’s handsome and rather charming on both images, I’m attracted most by his eyes, by the difference in the expression of those two pairs of eyes. The way his gaze comes to us provokes a completely different feeling. In fact a totally opposite one.

The younger Obama looks-out at the world – might it be the photographer or us looking at him on the photo – he looks at the world with hope. His gaze reaches far, seems unlimited. No doubt there is an horizon, a future to look forward too. His eyes believe the world they are looking at can be changed in a better place. “Yes we can” he use to say. And he surely trusted that was the truth.

The older Obama hardly looks out at the world, the photographer or us. His gaze doesn’t reach so far, neither does it seek any horizons. It seems there are too many obstacles in front of his eyes for him to see beyond. The future that contained hope has been replaced by the continuous problems of the present. What is there we can be looking forward too? Those eyes say they don’t know any longer.

A special kind of light, similar to the flickering one of a candle, animates Obama’s eyes in 2008. In 2016 this light is no longer there. His experience has turned it off.

Now I look at his all face again and I see how it’s not only the eyes that no longer reflected hope, but every lines that composes the expression of this man.

The times to come are darker that the ones expected yesterday. We are loosing our horizons. I understand the ex-president Obama. But precisely for that, I want to recall the times when we did believe in a better possible future. I will keep the older photo with me to help me not to forget.

March 2017