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I do not know Blackwaterdog personally. Until yesterday, I did not realize that she was responsible for most or all of the Obama photo diaries. I never seek these diaries out, yet, occasionally an intriguing title leads me to click on one--and I never regret doing so.

Yesterday, I saw a critic attack the diaries for "having less than three original paragraphs of text," which he/she said should be a rule for all diaries. I am not sure if this is a rule at Daily Kos, but it does not match my view of what a diary is or should be.

Are Blackwaterdog's Photo Essays a Diary?

A diary is one person's effort to communicate something that they feel is important or interesting to others. Historically on Daily Kos, diaries have typically been about political or social issues. On that score, Blackwaterdog's photo essays meet that requirement.

Are diaries at Kos required to contain original thought? Clearly not. Some popular diarists on Kos often do little more than post snippets of articles with a brief introduction to each. I am not a fan of such diaries, but I recognize that they serve a useful purpose by coalescing commentary from experts that some people might have overlooked in their own reading to add context to a situation. Sometimes a diarist applies creativity and intellect in this approach, including statements that others might not have realized were related. Other times, a diary is nothing more than someone relaying a situation that occurred in their own words, without imparting new insight or information. Yet, if it's a "hot topic," nobody is criticized for sharing the information.

Just as a diarist puts creativity and thought into a diary of these "snippets," Blackwaterdog exercises creativity and thought into determining which photos to highlight. Not only do they tell us about the people in the photos, they tell us about the diarist.

I suspect few of the critics have ever purchased a coffeetable book of photographs. Those who have likely recognize that they are not a haphazard, random collection of photos. Thought goes into selecting them. That thought is original.

Do Images Speak?

Like most people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as many people without one, I am very visual. Images have meaning. When children with ASDs are being taught to understand social interaction, the therapist uses pictures. These are called "Social Stories." People with Asperger's lack an innate ability to interpret visual cues and body language. One of the diagnostic tests sometimes used involves having the person with a suspected ASD look at a series of photographs of people making various facial expressions and selecting the emotion that matches best. This is because studying pictures of people helps you understand them and how they interact.

When younger, one of my sons with Asperger's used to go into the field between our house and a neighbor's house to watch kids play in the yard. He would not talk to them--did not want to talk to them when I suggested it--but he liked to watch them. I think he was trying to understand them. My ex-husband, who has Asperger's, said he watches shows like "Real World" because he finds interaction between people fascinating.

Perhaps neurotypical people take for granted how much an image of someone communicates because they do not have to spend a lot of time watching people to try to understand this. They draw an immediate conclusion about what a picture shows without taking time to study what it really shows. A picture is just a picture to some people. "So what? Obama's giving another speech," they think, viewing a picture of Obama at a podium in March as little different from a picture of Obama at a podium in January.

We have all heard the cliche, "A picture is worth a thousand words." In some cases, it is impossible to put into words what a picture communicates, no matter how many words you use.  

How Do these Photo Diaries Benefit the Daily Kos Community?

I will not pretend that everyone feels they benefit from looking at these diaries. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I feel ambivalent. I often appreciate them because I am not likely to go to the Associated Press site or the White House site to look for the photos of Obama's activities. Or I am not interested in sorting through the photos for the handful that seem meaningful. I appreciate that Blackwaterdog has taken the time to do this and to share the best of what she finds.

The photo diaries serve to humanize Obama and other politicians and give us glimpses into the personal side of being president--or being the president's wife or children. In my view, some have mischaracterized the diaries as "odes" or "worship" of Obama. That is not what I see in them. As much as I disliked George Bush, I would have found photo diaries of him just as interesting.

I am interested in seeing what the president does and how it seems to affect him emotionally. Sometimes the photos show him in rare unscripted moments. Sometimes I find it reassuring to know that there is more to him than his demonstrations of indefatigability on the stump would suggest, because we see a photo of him afterwards looking weary. It reminds me that although he is playing the political game, he recognizes that his job is not a game. And it reminds me of how much hangs in the balance based on the judgments of one man.

Some of my favorite images are ones depicting interaction between the president and children or the president and the military. Sometimes they are touching. It tells us not only about the president but about people. I am encouraged when I see that children still have hope, trust, and admiration for the office of the presidency. I wish we could recapture some of that, but many of us have become so jaded.

What do other leaders think of the president? Sometimes these photos give us a glimpse into this--though we will never hear it from their lips. When deciding who to vote for, I want to know how he interacts with other leaders. Do they seem comfortable with him or tense? Do they seem to admire him? You cannot deny the photo of George Bush rubbing Angela Merkel's shoulders spoke volumes.

Why the Critics?

I have already explained why these photo essays constitute legitimate diaries. I am perplexed at the vitriol these diaries provoke in some people. One critic said they deligitimize Daily Kos. Does TIME/LIFE Magazine downgrade the TIME brand? And let's all be honest--there are many more diaries at Daily Kos that do more disservice to the site than a photo diary.

Some complain that they are not the diarist's pictures. If the diarist had that degree of access to the president, she probably would not be posting her photos at Daily Kos. They'd be in a book or sold to a news organization. Of course she cannot take the photographs herself. She does, however, select the ones she wants to include for her photo essay. We have been assured she is aware of the need to make sure she is not vioalting any copyright laws.

Maybe a few critics do not like that the photos do serve to humanize president Obama. It is hard to demonize someone that appears human. Perhaps some who would rather not see him re-elected do not want anything on the site that presents him favorably, as these photo diaries typically do.

Perhaps some people do not like that the photo diaries clearly present us with a somewhat scripted view, because access to the president is so controlled, and although some shots may be candid, the events at which they are taken are not. You are unlikely these days to find a photograph of Barack Obama smoking, for example, or fighting with his wife or scolding his daughters.

Perhaps some, as evidenced by their words on this site, just have an intense visceral dislike of this man and seeing him in these photos, looking happy or confident, enrages them. Maybe they think he has no right to be happy when some of his decisions have deprived others of the happiness to which they are entitled (like the innocent people still languishing in Guantanamo). This is a reasonable complaint, but it need not be translated to a criticism of the diarist.

Moving Forward

My suggestion to critics would be either (a) to avoid these diaries; (b) post your own photo diaries depicting what you consider to be the consequences of the decisions you do not like; or (c) comment on the events depicted in the diaries but stop attacking the existence of the diaries themselves.

To Blackwaterdog, I encourage you not to stop posting because some people have criticized or attacked your diaries. Clearly, they have a welcome audience here, even if it does not include everyone. We are never able to please everyone and that need not be your goal.

Your critics want you to give up. Based on your diaries, I know you admire President Obama. Consider all the criticism he faces every day, from so many directions--left, right, and even the middle. Yet, as your diaries show, disparagement has not deterred him from doing what he thinks is right. Do not let your critics discourage you, either.

Originally posted to CatM on Fri Apr 09, 2010 at 10:55 AM PDT.

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