In 2008, Barack Obama made history as the first African American to be elected president, capping a meteoric rise in politics and concluding a campaign that encouraged progress and optimism. For many, his election signaled increasing racial unity as well as an unprecedented feeling of hope for the future. When Obama entered office, the U.S. was undergoing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Despite the sagging economy, however, he expeditiously enacted the Affordable Care Act, which extended health benefits to millions of previously uninsured Americans. Obama oversaw the drawdown of American troops in the Middle East—a force reduction that was controversially replaced with an expansion of drone and aviation strikes. The mission to kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was successful, but Obama’s pledge to close the Guantanamo prison went unrealized. When he left office, the feelings of solidarity, which had been fostered in his campaign, languished, and political divides grew deep. Artist Chuck Close took two large-format photographs of President Obama in 2013, one smiling, one serious, and used them to create double portraits in a variety of mediums, including these Woodburytypes, which were made through a photomechanical printing process that creates a slight relief of the image. At the end of each presidency, the National Portrait Gallery partners with the White House to commission one official portrait of the president and one of their spouse. These photographs by Close will remain on view in America’s Presidents until Obama’s official painted portrait is completed in early 2018.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
© 2013, Two Palms and Chuck Close