© Mario Tama/Getty Images

Note to photographers covering the United Nations General Assembly: It pays to carry a telephoto lens.

Yesterday, Michael Shaw at Bag News noted that Getty Images photographer Mario Tama had managed to zoom in on the text of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly on September 23, capturing the prime minister’s handwritten notes, cross outs and revisions.

Six years ago at another UN gathering, President George W. Bush slipped a note to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice saying he would need a bathroom break. The text of that note was captured by a sharp-eyed Reuters photographer who, like Tama, was shooting from a booth above the hall.

Though slightly less amusing than a request by a world leader to go to the boys’ room, Netanyahu’s revised speech came 40 minutes after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called on the UN to establish a Palestinian state.  Comparing Netanyahu’s typed text with the speech as he delivered it, Shaw speculates that Netanyahu had scribbled down changes in reaction to Abbas’s statements.

Tama tells PDN that he had been covering the UN assembly for three days from locations among the roughly two dozen booths above the assembly. “Some are filled with photographers, others with video people, others with translators,” Tama explains. “As photographers we have a bit of leeway to explore angles from a few different booths, as long as we stay out of the way of the official UN camera crews and the like.”

As Netanyahu’s speech went on, “I began to notice some heavy blue-ink scribblings on the side of his notes,” says Tama, who has covered the UN many times in the past ten years.  “I don’t recall ever seeing such prominent markings and corrections on a world leader’s speech before.”

He notes, “After shooting all the angles of him delivering the speech, I decided to try and just focus on the notes for the latter part of the speech.” He shot several photos of the notes with a  400mm lens, but couldn’t make out the words through his viewfinder. “I could only properly make them out once I blew them up in Photoshop.” The images, he says, “obviously had to be cropped quite significantly, hence the less than perfect image quality. I felt in this instance the unique content overrode quality concerns.”

Tama adds that if he had seen similar notes on Abbas’s text, he would have photographed those as well; he only recalls seeing that Abbas’s speech was in Arabic.

More of Tama’s close-up images are shown in “Over Netanyahu’s Shoulder” on Bagnewsnotes.com. Tama says to his knowledge “Bag News is the first significant publication of the images.” 


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