Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen Senator Bernie Sanders and his famous mittens in a gazillion memes over the past week. The photographer behind the original photo is Brendan Smialowski, and he has spoken up about this whole meme-craze. In an interview with The Rolling Stone, he revealed some details about the original image and other photos he took that day. He also admitted that he’d prefer if he’d never have taken a meme.
Smialowski is a former sports photojournalist from Connecticut currently working for Agence France-Presse. On the inauguration day, he had a Nikon DSLR with a telephoto lens, when he noticed Sanders taking a socially distanced seat. He took two photos, but interestingly enough – it’s not the better photo that exploded all over the internet.
“The picture itself is not that nice. It’s not a great composition. I’m not going to be putting this in a portfolio,” Smialowski told The Rolling Stone. Out of the two photos he took of this moment, he considers the second one to be better in terms of composition. However, he sent the first one because it captured a better moment. “I always say that in photojournalism, composition comes second to content. And content is the moment,” he said.
When I first saw some of the memes, they were on some Serbian Facebook pages, and I thought it was Serbian epidemiologist, Dr. Predrag Kon. When I saw the memes on some foreign pages, I realized that it was Senator Bernie Sanders. His photo wasn’t only photoshopped into photos, movie scenes, and the like. His now-famous photo with mittens became a crochet doll, a snowman, a cartoon… I even saw a painting in one of the painting groups I follow.
— bislunga (@tipaacasooo) January 23, 2021
By request, I added Bernie to cruise with Jake and Elwood, and I had to turn Bernie's glasses into shades, so he could be the third Blues Brother.#Berniememes #BernieSanders pic.twitter.com/LD2wPj1DiL
— Dave Williams (@dwilliamswriter) January 24, 2021
— James (@Surreycricfan) January 23, 2021
— Filmfare (@filmfare) January 25, 2021
— Misty Rosas (@MissMistyRosas) January 23, 2021
— Catherine Ashdown (@catherineAshdo) January 24, 2021
— Pauline (@pickassoh) January 23, 2021
— ? PRO ? CHOICE ? DAB ? QUEEN ? (@thedabqueenS) January 24, 2021
— Sandy Hunter ? (@sandyhunter2) January 23, 2021
Speaking with The Rolling Stone, Smialowski commented that he “would be more than happy to never have a meme.” However, he admitted that he liked some of the memes people created. Even Sanders himself reacted to some memes in the video that you can see above. he explained that he was “just sitting there trying to keep warm, trying to pay attention at what was going on.”
I honestly have no idea how and why this photo became so popular and why people saw it as meme material. That process will always be a mystery to me. I like the original photo, and the moment it captures, and I find it more fun than the memes. But that’s just me. What do you think? Do you see the meme potential in this photo, or, like me, you’re not sure why it turned out to be so popular?