Endless posing: the constant, awkward photos at world summits

HIROSHIMA, Japan — They came, from miles and hours away. They saw, viewing the sobering and spectacular sites the area has to offer.

And they took photos. Lots and lots of photos.

While the three-day Group of Seven summit here contains weighty discussion of the most intractable global problems, it can at times appear as if these powerful world leaders do few things more frequently than get in front of a camera.

They pose with one another every few hours, in different settings and various arrangements.

Just after Biden arrived here on Thursday, before even stopping at his hotel, he posed for a photo outside of a ballroom with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan ahead of their meeting.

The next morning, Kishida greeted him again, for another photo, each of their wives standing with them as they walked together in Peace Memorial Park, a site that is dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb dropped by the United States in 1945.

There was a series of photos a few minutes later with all of the G-7 leaders, first as they walked together. Then as they each laid down a wreath. Then as they shoveled dirt to plant a tree.

Later that night, they gathered again, and again posed for group photos. They stood at the Itsukushima Shrine, a holy place of Shintoism, walking through the stunning complex and stopping at a wooden jetty facing the ceremonial Torri gate in the shallow sea.

They paused for photos, and then stayed, chatting and laughing.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wandered off to the end of the jetty, but no one followed him and he came back. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could be heard exclaiming loudly how “lovely” it all was.

The leaders then went over to listen to traditional music before heading off, admiring the sights. Biden spent time chatting with Trudeau.

The photo gatherings are one of the few windows during international summits where the leaders are on public display, the body language and personality quirks of each head of state clearly visible. Their conversations, which usually occur behind closed doors, can be overheard, however briefly.

During one photo session at a NATO summit in 2017, President Donald Trump drew international headlines after he physically pushed aside Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, as leaders walked into position.

Among the most colorful — some would say unfortunate — photos come from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits, where leaders traditionally pose for “family photos” in sometimes-gaudy shirts that represent the host country. The tradition has sometimes been called the “silly shirts” photo and various world leaders have tried to do away with it, but the practice endures.

APEC’s “silly shirts”–the tradition that won’t go away

Even without colorful garb, the jostling of powerful leaders, each accustomed to being the center of attention, preparing for photos can awkward — or just odd. At the G-7 summit last year, then-prime minister Boris Johnson joked about how the assembled leaders might intimidate Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Jackets on? Jackets off? Shall we take our clothes off?” Johnson asked as the leaders prepared for the informal photo before their lunch meeting.

“We all have to show that we’re tougher than Putin,” the British leader joked at the summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany.

“We’re going to get the bare-chested horseback riding display,” quipped Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, referring to the Russian president’s predilection for distributing photos of himself outdoors and sometimes shirtless, including on horseback.

“There you go! There you go! We’ve got to show them our pecs!” Johnson added.

There was less of that joviality here, at least in front of cameras and with last year’s main instigator — Johnson — no longer in power.

On Saturday, with camera batteries no doubt recharged, there were more chances for more photos.

Biden arrived around noon at the Grand Prince Hotel, where the G-7 summit is taking place, and the leaders gathered outside, with Hiroshima Bay and green mountains in the background and gunboats in the water.

Biden stood between Kishida and Scholz. Several leaders waved and remarked about how bright it was outside. French President Emmanuel Macron gave a thumbs-up.

Two minutes after they entered, they were gone. Another photo in the books.

But five hours later, it was time for another. It was taken in the same spot, with larger gunboats and additional leaders.

The leaders were called to line up by country to take their assigned place on the riser. Biden was chatting with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and apparently did not hear as “United States” was called out several times.

“Joe!” Trudeau finally shouted, walking over to retrieve his American counterpart.

Biden smiled broadly, displaying his teeth. Macron smiled more tightly, his lips together.

After the photos were taken, Biden lingered with Macron. They put arms around one another. They engaged in extended conversation and walked offstage, arms around each other once again.

Three hours later, it was time for another photo.

2023-05-20 18:26:00