Purple Magazine
— S/S 2009 issue 11

Barack Obama


THESE PHOTOS ARE ALREADY DOCUMENTS. How much time has passed between the moment when they were taken and the official entry of the American President into the Oval Office of The White House? A matter of a few weeks, months, years? It’s as if it were a century. Or, in any case, a lifetime. Because the man portrayed in TERRY RICHARDSON’s pictures is not the same man now. He appears to be light-hearted. Charming. Relaxed. Cheerful. Strangely detached. Young, too. Yes, incredibly younger than the man in the constant flood of official images handed out by press offices today. This Obama is still carefree, unsure of his destiny, uncertain about his programmed rendezvous with the future — although he looks anxiously at his watch.  A cool Obama, in an almost physical sense, as he doesn’t yet have the weight of the world on his shoulders — doesn’t yet know that the world is going to give itself to him.

I LIKE THIS OBAMA BEFORE OBAMA. I like his face. I like this instant of happy anxiety caught in the lens — with history still hesitating, not yet knowing where it wants to go, where it will go. I just like it — so why not say it? Because it’s the face of the man I met more than four years ago now, of a man I believed in immediately. Few knew him, and even fewer imagined that he could become what he is now. When I saw him “explode” on the stage of the Democratic National Convention at which John Kerry was nominated, I immediately wrote that here was an individual beyond the norm, someone who could shatter all the labels, clichés, and differences between communities, someone who ultimately could become the first African-American President of the United States.

I titled my article in The Atlantic Monthly, “A Black Kennedy.” My editors light-heartedly picked on me, telling me to “go for your Obama. We respect your fantasies. Just don’t go overboard — at least don’t insult the memory of a great American myth.” Giving into their friendly pressure, I went along with the change of the title to “A Black Clinton” — which, in hindsight, made as much sense. Did I completely believe what I wrote back then? Was I fully convinced that this young man, his sleeves rolled up, wise beyond his years, cracking up with laughter, could be the next Clinton, the next Kennedy? Like him, I couldn’t be sure… Like him, I didn’t know what would happen. Nor did Terry Richardson, when he caught him in these pictures: a fragile moment of truth, of suspense, and of destiny.

[Table of contents]

S/S 2009 issue 11

Subscribe to our newsletter