My friend Faidra is a professional photographer (incidentally, the one who has taken this picture), and together we close-read this intriguing photograph. One thing she noted is that the little girl is standing entirely in the space that FDR is more or less protecting with his body. As a result, he seems to take care of her (and of the dog), but the girl is lighted up most clearly. Both their faces are actually particularly well and beautifully lit, Roosevelt’s especially against the shadow in the background. The photo breathes natural wealth, relaxation and informality. The natural stone of the cottage, the fact that it is taken on a prototypical American porch, the large tree in the background, and the tree mirrored in the glass panes – all these signal a kind of natural and informal American beauty and pride of a very unobtrusive but self-assured kind.
The front wheel of Roosevelt’s wheelchair is pivotal in the photo. It occupies the space that the girl, the dog and FDR together enclose. One might argue that the scene turns upon the wheel, or conversely, that, while the friendly and protective man shields the girl, the three together shield the wheelchair. The group are cast in impressive, wild-but-now-mastered nature, sheltered by the porch, and within that, FDR guards the girl and the three surround the wheelchair, which supports the group. The front wheel is right under the focal point of the photo, in which FDR and the girl’s hands nearly touch each other via the dog. FDR looks at the girl who is at that moment in his charge, while she is looking into the camera at us, safe and happy in her pleasant position. She represents America’s children (or indeed citizens) in Roosevelt’s beneficent charge, surrounded by beautiful and to some extent civilized nature, and supported by a massive wheel. While the wheel supports him physically, it also symbolically underlies America’s global success: always in motion, always developing itself technologically, always first to invent the wheel.
What do YOU see?