Michael Cohen’s Cigar Party —an Escapade in Photographic Forensics

(…or how to waste a weekend looking too deeply at pictures of how Trump’s personal lawyer spent his Friday afternoon)

By now, you’ve surely seen photographs of Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen and his friends hanging out and smoking cigars last Friday afternoon.

(credit: Getty/Yana Paskova)

I was alerted to Cohen’s end-of-the-week bro-time (when he should have been at Federal Court) by this tweet by CNN correspondent Elizabeth Landers.

(These time-stamps on screenshotted tweets are 3hrs off.)

As one does, I zoomed into Crook’s photo to see what might be seen in the window’s reflection.

There was a clearly visible photographer with an unmistakable Canon L-series lens, and I wondered how long it would take until her photos “hit the wire.”

By the time I arrived home from teaching, the story about Cohen hanging-out with his buddies (Cohen had been photographed lunching with Donnie Deutsch two days before) was on CNN’s “The Lead” with Jake Tapper, who referred to “a CNN Producer” who’d taken the footage of Cohen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPtGax4TiOg

CNN’s footage of Cohen’s public nonchalance aligned well with photographs that were beginning to circulate, and I wondered if it would be possible to examine their relative merits, side-by-side, as I’d done with iconic photographs vs. GIFs a few months back.

(GIFs end & loop at the proposed moment captured in the photographs from Getty/Paskova)

DailyMail was quick to aggregate and publish pictures from two photographers, first taking the “fashion” angle — street portraits of Cohen in his $3,000 blazer. (It’s DailyMail after all.)

The photos were credited to both “Barry Williams” and “Getty.”

The Getty pictures were later attributed to photojournalist (and Getty stringer) Yana Paskova, who was in all likelihood the woman I saw in the window’s reflection, above, and I’d bet this is Paskova and Williams elbowing each other in pursuit of the best possible view of Trump’s lawyer on-the-move.

(GIF made from Euronews footage)

In looking at both Williams’ and Paskova’s output from the same time on the same street corner with the same subject(s), I kept wondering how the whole scene transpired. Which photo came first?

Would it be possible to combine the televised footage with the perspectives from the still photographs and make something similar to these two fights?

Plus, there were unreal moments in the footage that had escaped the still photographers altogether, and I wanted to take a longer look at them, like this Cohen-adjacent Selfie Hero.


At the beginning of the afternoon’s sequence, Yana Paskova encounters a free-walking Cohen west of the benches on E. 62nd St., where Cohen will sit with his buds and chomp cigars.

The metadata of this first photo is Friday, April 13th, at 11:10PM, which is clearly the wrong time (whose DSLR is correctly sync’d to the right time, anyway?) but the relative time appears correct enough to create a timeline where we can organize the photos into a legible sequence.

Paskova published more than these pictures, but at the time of writing, these eleven were the only photos I had access to that retained their metadata, making their time-sequence provable.

When comparing Williams’ photographs to Paskova’s, it’s interesting to see how each handled the pivotal moment in the middle of the cigar break — The Arrival of Salmon-Striped-Shirted-Friend carrying Friday’s New York Post (akin to FBI Director Comey writing “contemporaneous notes” about his meetings with the President, the “Me And The Don” New York Post cover becomes a provable photographic date-stamp, even more legit than mailing important documents to yourself.)

Paskova’s three / New York Post cover from April 13, 2018 / Williams’ two

The arrival of Cohen’s back-slapping friend provided Paskova with the three “best” images from Cohen’s confab, and it’s startling how the glances Paskova captured were glossed over in the TV coverage.

Not that it’s the coverage’s fault — it’s a measure of Paskova’s photographic skill that she came away with three memorable photographs in the span of ten seconds. Williams tried too, from a slighty different spot, with less success.

Paskova’s position, slightly east of Cohen, allowed a more direct eye-line with her subject when New York Post friend arrived. And while the body language between Cohen and Post-friend is readable in the CNN footage (a mixture of “thanks,” and “I know, I know, this is ridiculous…”) Paskova’s photographic skill yielded the raw materials for at least a week’s worth of memes; no small feat these days.

Two photographers, their subject, and relative positions / The sidewalk benches outside Loewes Regency Bar & Grill, E. 61st St., NYC

In most of Paskova’s photos you get the sense she had a measurable connection with Cohen & friends — as much as was possible, considering the circumstances.

If you zoom into the frame when Cohen greets his friends, Paskova’s pictures have a chummy intimacy that give the sense Cohen’s cool with her being there, snapping away, while Williams’ photos feel either too close (the blazer portraits) or too far away (when New York Post-friend arrives).

(Getty/Paskova — cropped)

At some point on Saturday, journalism kicked-in, and reporters began ID’ing members of Cohen’s crew.

For the Guardian, Jon Swaine dug-up fresh old dirt on Jerry Rotonda (above) a chief financial officer for Deutsche Bank’s American wealth management division.

Pierce alleged to police that Rotonda, then 31, used racial slurs, threatened to hit her, and concluded his rant by saying: “I hope I see you crossing the street so I can run your n — — — ass over,” according to press reports from the court case.

While it’s not clear from the footage or the photos that Rotonda is part of Cohen’s crew, it’s easy enough to make the Trump/Deutsche Bank connection. Only the best people, right?

The man in the blue blazer might not be as keen on the attention as Cohen, and was identified as Rotem Rosen, who’s worked for Russian oligarch Lev Avenovich Leviev.

Here, Rosen tries to say something semi-private to Cohen, attempting to thwart all potential lip-readers, twice!

Rosen was ID’d in this photograph from (you guessed it!) Miss Universe 2013 in Moscow, with papas Trump & Agalarov. Good times.

Rosen / Agalarov / Trump / Sapir

A few stray details:

These two Paskova pictures, both from the corner of Park Ave. and E. 61st St, look like they were taken within seconds of one another, right?

(Getty/Paskova)

Their true order is reversed, with the picture at left coming one hour and 45 minutes after the photograph on the right. It’s fun to explore other differences; if you look closely at the image on the right, the blinds of the corner window are drawn, yet are raised in the picture on the left.

Here’s Paskova (and Williams again) walking backward, right after making the picture on the right.

It goes without saying (really? does it ever?) that Cohen’s sharp enough to know how to use the media to his advantage, and this whole cigar break episode appears pre-meditated in a way to burnish Cohen’s image as a likable man-about-town.

If planned and purposed, its effects were probably as detrimental as beneficial. Rosen didn’t seem thrilled by the whole thing, and neither was Judge Kimba Wood, in the courthouse downtown.

https://twitter.com/KlasfeldReports/status/984863733578072066

Many wondered why Cohen wasn’t in court and instead made this public display of frivolity — dudes being dudes — but these are weird, ridiculous times.

A full year and more into the Trump Presidency, people are only beginning to realize the center cannot hold, and Yeats’ widening gyre might yet engulf us all.

Until then, there’s no cost for flagrancy in Trumpland; it’s the cost of makin’ deals & doin’ business. Whether you fly a flag when you’re in the building at Interior, have taxpayers buy you a $30,000 table, or spend $43,000 on an office phonebooth, you follow the permissive model of the boss; your dad; your father-in-law; your President; the capo dei capi.

What a world.

MDM 20180416


Tools Used to Make All This:

curl, cat, ffmpeg, screenshot-tweet, youtube-dl, skitch, pathfinder, apple keynote, nvalt, adobe lightroom, gif brewery 3, chrome inspector, google maps and image search, this “view image” extension, “send to exif viewer” extension…


(If you’ve made it this far, thank you, and I’d love you along for the ride on Telegram, an algorithm-free broadcast channel I prefer to the InstaFace Zuckerverse. Cheers.)