What’s notable is that the images are fairly informal — and they are on Flickr. This kind of photostream — not unique in itself — would previously, a generation ago, have been highly curated, entitled “The new presidential family waits for news,” and published the week following in Life or Look magazine. However, the Obama pictures appear less curated (or at least have that air), were published nearly instantly, and do not involve the mediation of traditional media. In fact, whether these are eventually printed or not as official administration photos is secondary, because they are available freely and publicly online.
Without benefit of any mainstream media publicity, the pictures were so popular that they brought down Flickr. Thus, this is an event worthy of notice: an expectation of democratic transparency in a federal government combined with a mere decade plus-old publishing infrastructure jointly craft a community around the globe. In a sense, the limited access of the photographer on that election night make this a callback to the effect of TV in the 1950s, when monolithic media broadcast a culture that was shared and discussed in the conversations of millions. Yet the means of this publication, and the premise of sharing, are profoundly different.
I think there’s one other interesting point to note. Up until this presidency, documentation such as the photoshoot routinely went en masse into archives, where it later established the basis for the Presidential Library. However, existing Presidential Libraries such as LBJ’s or JFK’s are faced with the challenge of reaching back into their collections to digitize materials and make them widely accessible, and they face significant policy, logistical, and funding challenges in doing so. The Obama administration will be publishing a great deal of material outbound — a digitally native presidency — at a magnitude far beyond any of its predecessors.