This photo was used to illustrate an Onion classic from 2008:
Democrat Barack Obama has reportedly been working tirelessly with his top political strategists to perfect his looking-off-into-the-future pose, which many believe is vital to the success of the Illinois senator's campaign.
When performed correctly, the pose involves Obama standing upright with his back arched and his chest thrust out, his shoulders positioned 1.3 feet apart and opened slightly at a 14-degree angle, and his eyes transfixed on a predetermined point between 500 and 600 yards away. Advisers say this creates the illusion that Obama is looking forward to a bright future, while the downturned corners of his lips indicate that he acknowledges the problems of the present.
Of course, Obama isn't the only politician to use the 'staring pensively into the distance' pose. It's a standard image for candidate photos. But I hadn't realised quite how far this visual cliché goes back until I came across this brilliant dissection of it from 1957, by wily French penseur Roland Barthes:
The gaze is lost nobly in the future, it does not confront, it soars and fertilizes some other domain, which is chastely left undefined. Almost all three-quarter-face photos are ascensional, the face is lifted toward a supernatural light, which draws it up and elevates it to the realm of a higher humanity; the candidate reaches the Olympus of elevated feelings, where all political contradictions are solved.
I love that. The 2008 Obama campaign was particularly good at creating the sense that there was a place, just out of frame, in which "all political contradictions are solved".
(Compare also "Obama Staring Pensively Out of Windows".)