Photographer behind viral photo of Bernie Sanders wishes he never took a meme

Jan 25, 2021

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Photographer behind viral photo of Bernie Sanders wishes he never took a meme

Jan 25, 2021

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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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.

https://twitter.com/MissMistyRosas/status/1353096688802533376

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?

[via Reddit, The Rolling Stone]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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26 responses to “Photographer behind viral photo of Bernie Sanders wishes he never took a meme”

  1. Justin Barr Avatar
    Justin Barr

    Why are some photographers so insufferable?? “Waaaaa wish I never created a meme. Waaaaa” Get outta here. Every photographer wants their work to go viral. His photo brought smiles to the internet and Bernie even used it to raise a ton of money for Vermont Meals on Wheels. Enjoy your 15 minutes and quit crying about “your craft”.

    1. Johnny Martyr Avatar
      Johnny Martyr

      Justin Barr, a rather stupid image of mine “went viral” some years ago. It’s one of my most successful images that’s made the least money for me and gotten me the fewest leads/recognition for what I do. But it continues to make money for Chinese websites daily. I can relate to the photographer’s frustration. But yes, it’s good to make people smile, in his case, and I agree that that is worth something too.

      1. K-Dub Avatar
        K-Dub

        What photo was it? Please share.

    2. Dennis Vandermeersch Avatar
      Dennis Vandermeersch

      No, photographers want to get paid for their work, not get it stolen and abused. Although the memes are funny, the photographer gets the blame and doesn’t get paid

    3. Justin Barr Avatar
      Justin Barr

      Dennis Vandermeersch he got paid for them. He was shooting for a French newspaper. And the one that went viral wasnt even the one he liked.

    4. Dennis Vandermeersch Avatar
      Dennis Vandermeersch

      Justin Barr that’s not how it works. Everyone using the picture should be paying to use it. I know there’s a loophole in the legislation, but just because someone else pays to use the train, doesn’t mean anyone else can without paying.

  2. Cavemomma Ugh Avatar
    Cavemomma Ugh

    Capturing human moments and emotion, not to mention mittens, is cringe-worthy? I don’t think so. Look at all the joy and meals on wheels that came out of it. The photographer’s flash of inspiration sparked the joy and laughter and creativity and ingenuity and kindness of others in a fantastic love-domino run. I think that would be a photographer’s dream.

    1. Claire Bunn Avatar
      Claire Bunn

      Cavemomma Ugh I am a professional photographer and agree with you. I understand what he means that it is not a technically great photo but the content of priceless. The fact that it has brought so much joy to so many people during a very dark time is what counts.

  3. Alex Bilyy Avatar
    Alex Bilyy

    Awwww. Sooo cute of him/her/they.

  4. Rick Ahern Avatar
    Rick Ahern

    this shot had to be taken

  5. James Thomas Avatar
    James Thomas

    Poor Bernie, he was forced to watch Biden steal two elections. One of them his own

    1. Michael Selewach Avatar
      Michael Selewach

      James Thomas You found proof! Finally. Please share!

      1. Alexander DiMauro Avatar
        Alexander DiMauro

        *crickets* …as expected.

      2. John Beatty Avatar
        John Beatty

        Shhhh, if you don’t feed the flat earthers they will crawl back under the rock they came from.

  6. Carol Nero Avatar
    Carol Nero

    Seriously. Just enjoy the moment

  7. Theresa Stanton Avatar
    Theresa Stanton

    It was on video too though wasn’t it? I remember seeing it live.

  8. Jessica Manigault Avatar
    Jessica Manigault

    I thought of it as cute.

  9. Jacob A. Allen Avatar
    Jacob A. Allen

    That random photographer truly regrets not watermarking it. They could have become a famous photographer, but all people remember from that photograph is the meme that came from it.

  10. Z von Dienes-Oehm Avatar
    Z von Dienes-Oehm

    One question – is the photo copyrighted? Are all those memes out there technically illegal?

  11. Ceska Brennan Avatar
    Ceska Brennan

    it’s not the photographer. it’s the subject and who he is and his personality that made the photo a meme.

  12. Alireza Rostami Avatar
    Alireza Rostami

    longexposurephotography F64 lol

  13. Mike Shwarts Avatar
    Mike Shwarts

    I don’t think he anything to complain about. Eventually the memes will get boring even if people find ways to be creative with Bernie. More important is an image that unedited will likely be used well into the future when talking about the history of this election. The photo is a capture of a bit of that history.

  14. Brian Bledsoe Avatar
    Brian Bledsoe

    Wishes he never took it? This would be the highlight of my photographic career!

    1. Alberto Alanis Avatar
      Alberto Alanis

      Yep! I would die happy lol. “Remember that Bernie Sanders Meme in 2021 that lasted a few weeks? Yep. That was me! =D “

  15. image2vector Graphicsindia Avatar
    image2vector Graphicsindia

    Hahaha, I enjoying each of meme of Bernie sanders ‘s viral photo.

  16. William James Avatar
    William James

    Interestingly, some people find the memes themselves to have a political edge — they make Sanders, now that he will almost certainly not make another run, the official “grumpy old man” of the Democratic Party — in short, they neuter him politically by turning him into a caricature. No need to take Mr. Mittens seriously anymore!