Why photo of the First Couple was Obama’s most retweeted ever

Images and graphics are often the things shared most by people after an event of last night’s magnitude.

Photos capture moments frozen in time.

Graphics can distill the complex.

Interactive graphics can allow people to peruse and discover at their own pace.

Illustration is striking—partly because it is used so infrequently—and because something drawn by hand can convey a very human aspect of mood and emotion.

There were some masterful examples of visual storytelling captured, created, experienced and shared in real-time around the world last night.

Here are a few things that caught our attention.

This image of President Obama and the first lady was tweeted out by his staff minutes after he was re-elected for a second term with the phrase: “Four more years.” Twitter reports it is his most re-tweeted tweet, ever.

“The Obama machine understood both the closeness of the race and the power of his image,” said Kenny Irby. The president and his staff took total control of his image throughout the day. Obama had not been seen or documented since early in the morning.

“I am struck by the fact that this image was clearly documented much earlier in the day and that the caption does not represent it as a reflection of a specific time during the counting of the ballots or some such event,” said Irby.

There is a controlled branding to this choice. “It was not about what the event was, but rather who was in the image,” said Irby. “Millions only cared to see the unity of the first couple and the victory associated with that.”

Photojournalism is changing the way photos are shared and exchanged. “It is no-longer only the pursuit of deeply passionate, highly skilled practitioners with an abiding zeal to shine light in dark places and offer a face to the faceless,” said Irby.

Captured four years apart, two key moments in the Obama family life show the president a little grayer and his daughters more mature. These “Today” show photos allow juxtaposition in ways that other story forms can’t touch.
Among the many great photos published during the campaign and election by White House photographer Pete Souza, this moment between running mates and their spouses is a visual surprise that few people would otherwise see.

Many interactive graphics had a game-like feel to them, coaxing users back again and again to play through the scenarios even before the election. Some incorporated elements of social media, so a stream of conversation happened alongside the graphic.

Countless people watched vote totals unfold graphically on multiple screens—perhaps with a laptop open to The New York Times’ 512 possible paths to the White House and NPR’s interactive that was created in fully responsive design so that it could be easily updated and used on virtually any device, platform or browser.

The U.S. interactive team of the Guardian used humor and illustration to create the hysterical “Action-packed journey to US election day in novel form.” Proof that visual storytelling can be both data-driven and highly entertaining, the interactive has been shared more than 10,000 times.

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  • Jennifer Roche

    I honestly don’t see how the timing is relevant to the impact of the photo. Both campaigns used images from their experiences along the election trail that were not always posted in real time. I also don’t think there is (was) an expectation by the electorate that images of the candidates be used solely in real time. I do think you can fairly call just about everything both campaigns did manipulative.

  • http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/ Prokofy

    But it wasn’t taken after the election victory, but much earlier. So it’s awfully manipulative, indeed the author implies that.

  • Jennifer Roche

    I think your analysis is accurate, but it only scratches the surface of the emotions beneath this image that drove it viral.

    Obama supporters had worked very hard to re-elect a beloved President. The final weeks of the campaign were a dog fight. Supporters knew it was close, knew Obama had been under relentless attack. Election night was tense in the beginning.

    In this image, Michelle “arrives” after the news to embrace the beloved President after a long, hard fight. Sent out by his campaign, it tacitly implied a hug on behalf of us all. His face is content and reassured, just what his supporters wanted to imagine he might be feeling after he had won. It was also what so many of them were feeling.

    Secondly, the Obamas’ marriage is undeniably enduring. Indeed, it is likely a big part of what holds the President strong and steady. In this image, the president and first lady’s love for one another reverberates with ideas of love of country (including that they are dressed in red, white, and blue) and showing strength along a journey.

    As the Obamas endure, so does a nation.

    It was pitch perfect.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Cool! –Julie

  • Jonathan Turner

    I did find it online — It was taken in Dubuque, the same day as the visit to Davenport! I work in the Quad-Cities (including Davenport), so that was a pretty historic day!

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Jonathan, It looks like it could be: http://www.barackobama.com/news/entry/davenport-iowa-weve-been-fired-up-all-evening/ But I’m not positive. –Julie Moos, Poynter Online

  • Jonathan Turner

    Was this taken in Davenport, Iowa August 15?