A photographic gift for Obama
When Durham photographer Jean-Christian Rostagni prepared to document President Obama’s Inauguration in January 2009, he decided to record the historic event from the viewpoint of the crowd gathered on The Mall in Washington. He produced a series of black and white prints of the crowd from different vantage points, but one image stood out to Rostagni, and to viewers of the series.
The photo, titled “Of, By, For,” is a panoramic shot with the heads of spectators in the foreground, the Capitol in the far background, and a sign with an image of Abraham Lincoln in the nearer background. When he saw the Lincoln sign, “I dropped everything and took two shots,” Rostagni said. The second shot he took became “Of, By, For,” after which the sign quickly disappeared from the scene. “It turned out this photograph is the most meaningful,” Rostagni said.
He writes on his website of the symbolic significance of the photograph, “as if Lincoln, whose fight allowed Barack Obama to become President, was transmitting the United States destiny to his protégé.”
Now Rostagni is seeking support to give a print of the photograph (which he also framed) to President Obama. Rostagni is contributing $2,500 to the $5,000 project, and is seeking donations for the remaining $2,500. Donors get a 35 percent discount should they decide to buy a print themselves. If the project does not get enough donors, or if he is unable to deliver it to Obama, the money will be refunded, his website states.
Rostagni already has pledges from a number of Durham residents, as well as several contributors from his home town of Valence, France. He said he is seeking to get as many donors as possible from a wide range of countries.
One of his supporters and contributors is Baba Sada Sow, who is from Senegal originally, and who works for the mayor of Valence. Rostagni’s goal is to have an African, or an African-American, give the photo to Obama once the money is raised.
“Of, By, For” is part of a series titled “First Morning on Venus,” which Rostagni said is meant as the conclusion of a series of photographs titled “Life on Mars.” The “Mars” series was Rostagni’s comment on the Bush administration’s post-Sept. 11 policies. “The Bush era was something that Europeans and the French did not understand,” and saw as an over-reaction, Rostagni said. Obama’s inauguration to him represented a return to reason, and a better relationship with his native France and the world, he said. (Portions of “Life on Mars” were exhibited at Through This Lens gallery in Durham.)
When Rostagni returned from the Inauguration, he and his agent looked through many photographs of the event. They found that few tried to convey the crowd viewpoint. “I looked at all the photographs at all the agencies throughout the world. None has anything even remotely like that … that tried to convey the perspective of the average Joe who was in the middle of that human ocean,” he said.
Rostagni works predominantly in black and white. One of his interests as a photographer is politics. He has a extensive body of work about political life in France and the United States. Other photographic topics on his website are cars, sports, and numerous American subjects, including Old West Durham and the opening of the Durham Performing Arts Center.
For information about this project, visit jean-christian.net/art/representation/foto4obama/#buton