There were hundreds, if not thousands, of photos taken at the Group of 7 summit in Canada this weekend, a two-day gathering of leaders from member states to discuss everything from climate change to international trade.
But one in particular stood out after it was published Saturday and ricocheted around the internet for its surreal composition.
In the photo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands behind a long narrow table, both hands pressed firmly into its surface atop some documents that are angled every which way. With as neutral an expression as possible, she stares directly at President Donald Trump, who sits on the other side of the divide.
Is he angry? Bored? Amused? Rare is the countenance where all three are equally plausible, but here it’s difficult to say.
Trump’s eyes stare ahead, focused in the direction of Merkel but not quite affixed upon the German chancellor. His arms are crossed in front of his chest, revealing below them only the length and wayward tendency of his tie.
Surrounding Merkel and Trump are a slew of other leaders, each with an unplaceable gaze. From his partly obscured side profile, one can only make out French President Emmanuel Macron’s furrowed forehead. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is fully visible but his thoughts remain just as inscrutable as the others’, with his arms also crossed and his glance somewhere over Merkel’s head.
To Abe’s left stands U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, the only one in the picture who looked as if he might have been in the middle of talking.
The photo first appeared on Merkel’s official Instagram account around noon Saturday. “Day two of the G-7 summit in Canada: spontaneous meeting between two working sessions,” part of the German leader’s caption stated in English.
It was a far cry from the official photos that the White House had released of Trump’s visit to the summit, which were mostly posed pictures or those that depicted Trump in a serious, commanding light. The disparity prompted some to wonder: Was Merkel — or someone on her staff — trolling the U.S. president?
Trump’s demands on trade got the G-7 summit off to a rough start.
This annual gathering typically is meant to display a show of unity, but Trump had forced a more combative tone, with messy public feuds breaking out over trade disputes.
Most of the foreign leaders had hoped to use the meeting to confront Trump about new tariffs he is imposing on imports, but instead found themselves reacting to Trump’s comments about inviting Russia back into the fold and his bombastic tweets.
Even before his Russia remarks, Trump had effectively upended this year’s G-7 summit by raising the prospect of refusing to sign on to a joint statement with other leaders asserting commonly shared principles and values.
And after French President Emmanuel Macron said the other six nations would be willing to move on without the United States, Trump criticized him and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — threatening to impose new trade penalties and pull out of NAFTA.
Some journalists felt it was this power dynamic that Merkel’s photo perfectly captured. “Big power move from Merkel’s social media team, posting this extremely memeable picture on her Instagram,” observed freelance journalist Elena Cresci.
And meme it the people did. To many, the picture was something more than “a thousand words.” It was art.
“It’s got a Norman Rockwell quality to it,” HuffPost congressional reporter Matt Fuller tweeted.
He wasn’t the only one who saw echoes of one of America’s pre-eminent early 20th-century painters in the assortment of enigmatic facial expressions of a room full of the world’s most powerful leaders.
As Trump’s body language suggests, he may not have been thrilled to be there at all.
But he did not back away or blunt his critiques, and despite first-name references to “Angela” and “Justin,” Trump did little to disguise his distrust of the international consensus model of world affairs that the G-7 represents.
Trump delivered a parting shot hours after he left, tweeting that he had directed U.S. representative not to sign the joint communiqué and then insulting the summit host, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.