Editor’s Note: The photo essay in question is not linked because the photographer published material without credentials from the event and without permission from the subjects.
Wild revelers supporting Donald Trump? That’s not the best way to characterize students at The George Washington University. Nevertheless, that’s the suggestion French publication Libération made Sunday in a photo essay about GW’s school-sanctioned Inaugural Ball. The sensationalist French newspaper published photos online Sunday, some risqué, by a British freelance photographer. The photographer attended the event Friday without university permission.
The article, titled “Avec Les Etudiants Celebrant La Victoire de Donald Trump” (or, “With the students celebrating the victory of Donald Trump”), featured uncaptioned photos taken by Matt Stuart, a Magnum photographer. Magnum Photos, a photography co-operative, also tweeted a link to the Libération article, which suggested a club-like atmosphere amongst college-aged supporters of President Trump. The photo essay presented a stark contrast to The GW Hatchet’s coverage and the university’s own photography from the event, which show a more subdued party. The event is a 24-year-old tradition at GW held every four years regardless of which political party controls the White House.
In the background of one of the photographs stood GW senior Sofia Oliveros, who called the photos “ridiculously scandalous.” She said Stuart wore nothing identifying him as a photographer for any media outlet and she assumed he had been hired by the university to photograph the event.
Clementine Andre, an international student from France said Libération can be sensationalist and “extremely leftist.” She found the photos intentionally biased.
“I see it as a manipulation of images with the photographer’s clear intention to make GW seem pro-Trump,” said Andre. “I do not understand why the photographer was at the ball and why Libération would publish and distribute false info.”
However, the university was unaware Stuart was there.
“Media interested in attending were required to RSVP and were given a press credential at the event,” said a university spokesperson in an email to MediaFile. “There was a press table with a visible check-in sign at the main entrance of the event where media were required to check in and receive a credential. This photographer did not RSVP, and he did not have a credential for the event.”
The university acknowledged that the event was open to pre-credentialed media, but it is unclear whether students were made aware of this.
“I was not made aware by GW that press would be there, and if that information was out there, it wasn’t made readily known to me,” said freshman Gabrielle Parkhill. A shot of her licking the frosting off a cupcake appeared in the photo essay. Like Oliveros, Parkhill said the photographer did not ask for her name or indicate for what outlet he worked.
All three students interviewed took issue with the pro-Trump characterization. Parkhill said she did not vote for President Trump but said, “I went for the experience of going to an inaugural ball, which is something I am not sure I will get the chance of again.”
That distinction seems to be lost on some who have seen the photographs. Stuart posted one photo to his Instagram account, which collected comments such as “Horrific,” “American Psycho 2017,” and “Stay classy young republicans.”
Stuart has not responded to requests for comment.