SCOUT TUFANKJIAN: “BARACK AND MICHELLE OBAMA’S RELATIONSHIP IS CLEARLY ONE OF EQUALS”
Nov 15 2012
The photo of Barack Obama hugging his wife Michele with the simple
motto of his election campaign, “Four more years”, appeared on
American leader’s Twitter when his victory at the elections on
November 6 was announced. During only a day, the photo was spread
all around the world breaking all the records and getting the most
“like”-s (as of now – 4.4mln), “share”-s (582 thousand) and “retweets”
(815 thousand) in the history of social media. But only a few people
know that the famous photo was taken by a photo-reporter of Armenian
descent Scout Tufankjian. In her exclusive interview to Mediamax she
spoke on how the photo had been taken, about President Barack Obama,
her career and “Armenian Diaspora” initiated project.
– First of all let us congratulate you as an author of the most
popular photo in the history of social media. Please, tell us how
and where you had got that shot?
– The picture was taken in Dubuque, Iowa on the last day of a three
day bus tour. Iowa has always been a special place for the Obamas
since that was where his presidential campaign was first embraced by
the American people. The First Lady had not been on the first few
days of the bus tour, and she and the President had not seen each
other for a few days until right before that moment.
– Did you know that this picture was planned to be used as a symbol
of Barack Obama’s victory on November 6?
– I had no idea. A friend of mine emailed me to let me know. I was
as surprised as anyone else.
– Could you imagine that this shot of a happy-looking Obama holding
his wife Michelle in a loving embrace has become the most popular
picture in the history of social media. Do you feel proud of your work?
– I’m honored, but I do not believe that the popularity of the image
has anything to do with me or with my photography. The picture’s
popularity merely reflects the way that people feel about the Obama
family, as people as well as public figures, especially on Election
– You have covered Barack Obama’s campaigns since 2006 and collected
his photos in your book “Yes we can”. What does it mean personally
for you? What difficulties did you face at that time? What was the
most inspiring thing in this process?
– I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to photograph both
campaigns. This campaign was a very different experience for me
than the first one, because in the first campaign I was a freelance
journalist, and I faced many financial difficulties in continuing to
cover the campaign, whereas this time I was a staff member, and did
not have to worry about missing events due to a lack of funds.
In both campaigns, however, the most inspiring thing was meeting his
supporters and hearing their stories. Especially now, the people
you meet have not only had their sense of possibilities changed
through his presidency, but their lives have changed. Every day I
would meet families who were able to provide health care for their
sick children without becoming bankrupt or afford college for their
teenagers because of his programs. That is always the most inspiring
thing about traveling with the President.
– Do you have your favorite picture of President Obama or his family?
– Many of my favorite pictures of the President and his family are from
the first campaign – him joking around with his daughters backstage or
playing pool, or attending a picnic on the Fourth of July. My favorite
picture of the President and the First Lady is from an event in Texas
back in March of 2008, where you can see the love they have for each
other. My all time favorite picture, though, is of a group of young
girls in South Carolina reacting to the President.
You can’t see him at all in the picture, but that image shows what
his first campaign felt like.
– Many people worldwide consider US President and the First Lady’s
relationship very inspirational. Many people compare them with another
brilliant couple John and Jackie Kennedys. You followed closely their
path to the top, what’s your opinion about it?
– I think the Obamas stand on their own. I personally would never
compare them to the Kennedys, whose real-life story was much more
complicated than the Camelot fairy tale. The thing that inspires me
so much about the Obamas is that, despite the fact that he is the
President of the United States, their relationship is clearly one
of equals. You can see the love and respect they have for each other
in the way that they speak about each other and in the way that they
look at each other.
– You have covered numerous events in the Middle East, including the
Arab Spring in Egypt. Tell us a little about your experience there.
– I spent four years working in the Gaza Strip from 2002 to 2006,
worked in Syria and Lebanon in 2010, and most recently in Egypt from
2011-2012. Covering the the Egyptian Revolution was one of the most
incredible experiences of my life and I feel fortunate to have been
able to witness that moment in history.
– You travelled to Eastern Anatolia and mentioned in your blog that
“survivors of the Genocide moved on physically to other nations,
rebuilding their lives in places like France, America, and Ethiopia,
but in their hearts they remained Anatolian”. What did you feel as
an American Armenian during your trip to these places?
– It was incredible complicated visiting Anatolia. I came armed with
photographs that my great-grandparents had brought with them and looked
for the remnants of their old home in Kharput. I feel a connection
both in Eastern Anatolia to the land I grew up hearing stories about
and in the diasporan communities of Europe, the Middle East, Africa,
and the Americas, where the communities reflect my own.
– You initiated the so-called “The Armenian Diaspora Project”.
Please, tell us about this project and its main goals.
– I am attempting to create a portrait of the global Armenian community
through photographs and interviews, that will show our communities
as they are now, looking at issues of culture, assimilation, and
insularity. I am traveling to communities all over the world in an
attempt to create this portrait. So far I have photographed Armenian
communities in The United States, Brazil, Jerusalem, Syria, Lebanon,
and Ethiopia. I hope soon to travel to Russia, India, France, Iran,
– Have you ever been to Armenia?
– I first traveled to Armenia in 2002 with my father, and enjoyed it
very much. I’m hoping to return soon, perhaps next year.
Aram Araratyan talked to Scout Tufankjian.