Recently, I was thinking about my personal heroes and what makes them unique and special in my eyes. Simply put, are these special traits visible to each person who views photos of them in action or is it the “x-factor” that I personally bring to images of these people? Can the kindness, creativity or intelligence that these people exude be seen by all individuals or are those traits that I apply to these images because I know something more about these people than meets the eye.

Below are images of some of the public personas that I’ve admired throughout my life. I’ve included my interpretations of the person featured in the photo but these interpretations are only one of a million ways to view these photos.



When I look at this photo I see good intentions gone awry. President Carter was known for his folksy charm and his casual decision to wear a cardigan on national television is an example of this charm. This photo was taken in 1977 during his famous televised energy crisis speech. He had hoped Americans would take his advice seriously but instead he received a lot of criticism with many people claiming that his Roosevelt-esque “fireside chat” was more of a lecture than an open dialogue. President Carter tried hard to get the people of this country to see that future energy crises would come to fruition if people continued to use fuel with abandon. Unfortunately, these warnings fell on deaf ears and that’s all that is left in this hollow, lonely seeming photo; thoughts of “what could have been?”


This photo is a good representation of the public image of Jimmy Carter that exists post-presidency. This is a man who was terribly unpopular in the last half of his time in office but who bounced back into the spotlight full of vigor. The general public now looks upon him with kindness and admiration for he has proven himself to be a great humanitarian and aid worker. He’s forty years older but he’s still keeping up with the times. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as strong and cool enough to ride a bike around town well into your eighties? I see this picture and think, “I want this man to be my grandfather or at least my mentor!” He’s an American original and it’s nice to see his laid-back, Southern personality still shining through in photos like this casual one.



To me, this is a beautiful picture of Princess Diana. She had an immense inner light that shown through when she was speaking to children, especially in this photo from Angola that shows her talking to a young girl who lost her leg due to a land mine explosion. The fact that she was royalty never played into her interactions with people that were less fortunate than herself. In my opinion, even in photos you can tell that she put people at ease and had genuine sympathy for their plights. She was physically and conventionally beautiful but I believe that her most attractive quality was her ability to relate to and comfort people as seen in this photo.


As a child I idolized Princess Diana but as I grew older I realized that she had another side to her personality that would occasionally peek-out in photographs. It’s not a negative side necessarily but it’s one that can be seen as shy, sad and lonely. For a good portion of the 1980s and 1990s she was the most photographed woman in the world. For a long time she did a good job of hiding this more subdued side of her personality but as her personal troubles expanded, so did the number of times that photographers were able to capture it. This photo by Brendan Beirne is a great example of that. It appears like she doesn’t know she is being photographed (perhaps she believed she was hidden behind the wood pillar) and whatever she is looking at and whatever she is thinking at this exact moment appears to be making her sad, troubled or upset. She had the rare ability to appear like the world’s loneliest person even when she was in a room full of people.



Growing up I was a competitive swimmer. During this time my favorite swimmer was Gary Hall Jr. I admired him because he was really fast but also because he found a unique way to bring drama and excitement to the world of swimming. This particular photo from the 2000 Summer Olympics never fails to make me laugh because he is so committed to his character! He received a lot of flack (and monetary fines!) for his theatrics but he definitely brought a lot of attention to his sport. The “x-factor” that I bring to this photo is one of humor and enjoyment. The “x-factors” that I think a lot of swimmers who swam against Gary Hall Jr. would bring to this photo is that of annoyance and anger. As a spectator I felt like he was fun to watch but I know a lot of swimmers felt like he was arrogant and that his dramatic entrances took away from their races.



I love the films of Steven Spielberg and I love the personality of Steven Spielberg even more. His childlike goofiness, immense passion and creativity and all-around zaniness always come through in photos taken of him. When I look at this photo I see Steven Spielberg on the edge of greatness. He was shooting “Jaws,” which despite its notoriously difficult production and financial woes, turned out to be one of the most profitable films of all-time and essentially created the “summer blockbuster” as we now know it. The Spielberg that’s seen here doesn’t seem capable of such success though, he looks like an average joe who is goofing around with some of his co-workers. That’s the beauty in what we bring to this photo now though, we know him as a talented and creative filmmaker with a string of hits a mile long but on this day he was just another young guy trying to make his friends laugh.

Overall, I can’t erase my “x-factor” or the previous knowledge that I brought to these photos. If you know something about someone, even a celebrity, it’s difficult to separate simple photos of them from things you’ve heard and read. It’s even more difficult to look at emotional, interesting, funny photos of them and not read further into them based on these prior notions. It’s not something as humans that we can necessarily control but just thinking about the ideas you have attached to certain people is an important part of the process.



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