Images From a Rough Year All Around

Display Highlights Winning Works of News Photographers

Posted July 23, 2010 at 6:22pm

This political season was distressing for politicians, infuriating for voters … and great for photographers.

The winning photographs from the White House News Photographers Association’s annual Eyes of History contest, now on display at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery (702 Eighth St. NW), illustrate what was a melancholy year of Capitol Hill melodrama. The few upbeat political award winners include pictures of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) when he was alive and President Barack Obama when he could still laugh in public.

“It was a head-in-the-hands kind of year,” said Chip Somodevilla of Getty Images, who won the award for best still photographer. His first-place shot in the Insiders Washington category catches a side view of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner walking down a hallway, clasping his forehead and grimacing downward, as if bending beneath the spotlight-like glare of the ceiling lamp above. Making his way to a press conference, he looks almost as if he is trying to prop up his disbelieving head, readying himself to feign optimism.

“He was in the thick of the housing crisis, and he was in the thick of trying to hold this economy together,” Somodevilla said. “And it’s during those unguarded moments that you get the most descriptive images.”

Roll Call’s own Bill Clark produced such an image, which won an award of excellence, when he captured a moment between two normally opposed political figures, in which human compassion seems to transcend partisanship. At an unveiling ceremony for the Capitol Rotunda statue of the late President Ronald Reagan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi comforts Nancy Reagan, who has just given an emotional speech. The California Democrat puts her arm around Reagan’s shoulder and wipes a tear from her cheek as the two look into each other’s eyes. The picture’s title, “Nancys,” as well as the nearly identical color compositions of the women, emphasizes their connectedness as prominent women in politics.

Another striking picture, the second-place winner by Reuters’ Larry Downing in the On Capitol Hill category, eerily captures the passing of two of the Senate’s most-revered veterans. The photo is dominated by Kennedy’s hearse in the foreground and completed by a weeping Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) — who died almost 10 months to the day after the ceremony — in focus in the background. Byrd’s face is the only one visible, as he sits in a wheelchair with a coterie of torsos behind him. His head is bowed in grief, one enervated hand wiping away a tear and the other holding a miniature American flag.

Pictures of protesters by Somodevilla include one of a woman with a “PRO LIFE” shirt, her hands pulled behind her back by a police officer and her face contorted by a roar.

In another, more peaceful image, a man and woman stand in a government building wearing hospital gowns open at the back, with plastic buttocks and signs that read, “Private health insurance is like a hospital gown” and “Are you covered?” A group of schoolchildren watch them inquisitively from the right, and an American flag stands to the left.

One of Somodevilla’s favorite shots shows four suited men giving medical attention to a man who has fallen ill while protesting the health care bill. The man sits against a low wall, eyes closed, and breathes through an oxygen mask. Above him, the crowd of protesters standing behind the wall looks not agitated but concerned and even contemplative.

“Of course, the irony is,” Somodevilla said, “well, I hope I don’t have to spell it out.”

The winning photographs will be on display until Sept. 3.