On the Sean Penn/El Chapo Photo

by Michael Shaw


“I give in to the sense of security offered by the calm of Chapo and his men. There is the pervasive feeling that if there were a threat, they would know it.”

Calm, really? They must have taken this before the tequila.

The caption and credit to the photo, accompanying Sean Penn’s Rolling Stone article, reads as follows:

The author and then-fugitive El Chapo Guzmán, on October 2nd. The photo was taken for verification purposes. After a long dinner and conversation, Chapo granted Penn’s request for a formal interview. Courtesy of Sean Penn.

If the point about verification is technically true, the fact it’s posited as a singular reason is hilarious. Do you think Penn — the article sporting over a thousand occurrences of the word “I” — would have come back without a portrait?

This photo might have been for proof, but what it really does, in the most symbiotic way (the publication affixing its logo and labeling it a handout), is promote three brands. Or should we say four, as a publicity photo of Ms. del Castillo, who hooked everyone up, is also featured in the piece.

I should add, two men couldn’t compete any harder for the attention of the lens. Penn, with what might be the forearm flex of the year, looks to project –with the side-stance, the sense he’s been through the ringer, and the knowing look — that he got his man. And Guzmán, well, he’s an expert at handshakes and the “open book” pose (though there is more than a bit of paranoia in those eyes).


Originally published at Reading The Pictures, the only site dedicated to the daily review of news and documentary photography. Sign up for the Reading The Pictures Week in Re-View email. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.