The story behind the ‘Barack Obama: The Freshman’ photo exhibition


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For the record, Lisa Jack says that as she spent an hour or so photographing Barack Obama 29 years ago when they were both students at L.A.’s Occidental College, she wasn’t thinking of anything except getting her black-and-white images to come out well.

The pictures she shot that day for a photography course were good enough for a selection to finally see the light of day last December in Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ spread on Obama, and now 21 pictures from her 36-shot roll are hanging at M+B Gallery in West Hollywood, where Jack is making a belated photographic debut Thursday with the opening of her exhibition ‘Barack Obama: The Freshman.’


(For the full story in Calendar, click here. And for more photos click here.)

The description of the encounter in the gallery’s press release and on its website gives a glimpse of what purportedly was on the mind of the photographer, who went on to earn a PhD in psychology from USC and become a therapist and a professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis:

‘Being herself a young undergrad, her interests did not lie at the time with questions of identity and selfhood, but rather she secretly hoped that ‘Barry’ would ask her out afterward. He did not....’

It’s a good story, Jack says, but a tad embellished.

‘The truth is that Paris Match interviewed me and kept looking for some kind of romance. I said, ‘Maybe it would have been nice to go eat with him.’ When the gallery translated that from French, it turned into ‘I wanted him to ask me out.’ It’s pretty funny. I called up Shannon Richardson [the gallery’s director] and said, ‘I did not have a crush on him. What am I going to tell my mother and everybody?’ But I said, ‘Turn it into whatever you want. Everyone has a crush on him.’ I have more of a crush on him now than I did then, but I would never, ever touch Michelle’s man. I know better. I’m only 5-foot-2.’

Jack’s instructor, Daniel Fineman, an English professor at Occidental who also teaches independent-study photography courses, says that, judging from the images he saw in Time, she must have been pretty well focused on the task at hand.

‘She did everything right on those photos. The expressions are lively and human, decent composition, no major flaws. They’re attractive. I’m sure I would still give that person a very high grade. In a small way, I feel like I’ve participated in something historical.’


-- Mike Boehm

Top photo: Barack Obama in 1980. Credit: Lisa Jack / M+B Gallery, Courtesy Contour by Getty Images.

Angeles Times

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