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It’s the photo that launched a thousand memes.
While all eyes were set on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, photojournalist Brendan Smialowski captured an image so striking, so impactful, that social media users couldn’t help but welcome it into the meme hall of fame.
Nearly a week later it seems like there isn’t a person on earth who hasn't seen that photo of Senator Bernie Sanders staying disgruntledly warm during the inauguration. Or at least, some iteration of it.
In an interview with the New York Times, Smialowski said he was photographing all the big name politicians when his naked eye wandered to uncle Bernie.
“I just remember thinking, I need to go back to Senator Sanders,” he told the newspaper. “It was just how he was holding himself, and how he was positioning on the chair. I moved over and just kind of in the moment decided it was worth taking the picture.”
Smialowski, who has covered several inaugurations, said he was pleased that the image came out so clearly, since he was shooting with a long lens and a slow shutter speed. For those of you who don’t speak camera, that means Bernie was definitely sitting very still.
“I genuinely enjoy the fact that people are having a lighthearted moment from a political photo,” Smialowski said, commenting on the flood of memes that followed. “Things have been pretty tough for the last year and politics can be pretty nasty, and here are people just having fun.”
He’s not exactly sure why the photo went viral, especially since it’s not his “prettiest” work, but Smialowski admires the creativity that has transformed his photo into a cultural moment.
“This is not my work,” he said. “This is other people sometimes just kind of mindlessly dropping a cut-and-paste job and other times taking a lot of time and effort to really kind of do something cool and make a new work. That’s pretty impressive to watch.”
“Sanders is a well-defined politician; he has a well-defined image,” Smialowski said. “It was a good moment, and I think the fact that it’s a good moment helps it, but really what carries it is who Senator Sanders is.”