With Body Language Like This, Who Needs a Caption?

INSERT DESCRIPTIONDoug Mills/The New York Times

I was struck by the photo above, which accompanied a Times article about President-elect Obama‘s first news conference.

Not only does it give us a good look at many of Obama’s economic advisers, but it’s a great study of photo-taking body language. Many photographers I know have nicknames for the way people stand when they’re having their pictures taken, and in this picture you can see just about every option:

The “fig leaf” pose (hands coupled and held in front) as exhibited here by Joe Biden, Larry Summers, and others; the “toy soldier” pose (hands stiffly at sides) as exhibited by William Donaldson (far left); what looks to be the “hands-in-pocket” pose, by Paul Volcker, to the immediate right of the podium; and, although you can’t see it in this photo (I saw it in another photo of the event that I can no longer locate), the “firing squad” pose (hands behind back) exhibited by Bob Rubin, who in this photo is mostly hidden behind Biden.

But the real outlier here is Rahm Emanuel, hands on hips, eyes scanning the room, looking ready to intervene in any way necessary. What shall we call this pose? “Football coach”? “Bad cop”? Or, as some have said of Emanuel, “absolute enforcer”?


I'm about the same height (5' 8"), weight, age, and ethnic heritage as Emmanuel. I've never thought of myself as small. "Short" for men is usually around 5' 6" and below.

A photo like this is a mere blink of an eye in a 30 minute conference. Reading anything into the body language here is meaningless -- any one of these poses could arise from random causes. For example, some of us have problems standing without support for long periods. If you have back trouble, putting your arms akimbo is one way to take the strain off your shoulders or hips for a few minutes.

Try taking a few breaths and relax, people! We're still in limbo until January 20.


Looks like they're all doing the potty dance.


y'all have too much time on yer hands!


short or tall , if Emmanuel were Muslim, he would have never been considered for this position..


It seems to me that Rahm stands out for two reasons:

(1) The "thirds" principal, that you divide a picture/screen into thirds, and the focus is always on one of the two lines that divides it into thirds. Rahm is much closer to one of those lines that Obama

(2) His shirt being more visible. Amongst all those black suits, that splash of white really draws your eye.

Seems to me that's the simplest explanation..

Daniel D. in Oregon

Very interesting, thank you.


"I have a Napoleon Complex and I'm not afraid to use it."


As a dancer, he's standing in (a slightly relaxed version of) first position - as typically at the start and finish of a class exercise.

John F

In honor of the Marine Corps birthday, I think we should call it the "Drill Instructor". Put a smokey-bear on him and he'd strike fear into any Parris Island recruit.

Ellene Cain

He WAS a ballet dancer once.


Clearly this pose should be called "Riverdance Ready". He's just waiting for the music to start.


When I first saw this i referred to Emanuel's as "the Teacup Pose" as in:
'I'm a little... short and stout'




It's a great word, and fun to say.


How many are disturbed by Emanuel's pose?


To me the pose says "If you look here you'll see that I have a firearm and am quite prepared to use it when things get nasty". Not very subtle.


Based on this picture, the top of Emanuel's head would seem to be somewhere around the middle of Obama's face. Obama is known to be just over 6'1" tall. According to the Celebrity Heights site, for most people there is a different of 4.5" from the top of the head to the middle of the eyes, and an additional 3" from the middle of the eyes to the bottom lip. If Emanuel is somewhere between eye level and lip level on Obama, that would put his height in the range of 5'5.5" to 5'8.5" ... on the short side, but not freakishly so.


Notice anything else? He is (or is about) the shortest person in the shot.

Make me think there is something to that Napoleon Complex thing.

I just wish he'd have put one hand inside his jacket and looked more triumphant!

If I had to pick the worst guy to work with in that picture, I'd have to say that Rahm exhibits over-compensating dominance (perhaps for shortness in height...or, um, length)? Ha!

P. Hames

He reminds me of one of my Marine Corps* dirll instructors, who was also a shorter person. He, too, was a self-described "bad ass."

*Today is the USMC's 233 birthday.


Heaven help us from Dick Cheney, Jr.

Ed Keppel

Air Force types recognize the "fighter pilot" pose.