One of the most widely published photos shot during the inauguration of Joe Biden this week doesn’t feature Biden at all, but rather Senator Bernie Sanders sitting in isolation while wearing a big coat and homemade mittens. In case you somehow missed it, the photo has taken on a life of its own as a viral Internet meme.
Freelance photojournalist Brendan Smialowski was documenting the event on Wednesday with his Nikon DSLR and telephoto lens when he captured the independent senator from Vermont sitting with his now-famous posture.
The pose did not go unnoticed, as soon a tsunami of clever memes began rolling over the Web.
This one made me spit out my coffee! 🤣 pic.twitter.com/jrae8bjZ0c
— 🇺🇸Suz 🇺🇸🐾🐶🐾 (@LadyVeteran25) January 21, 2021
— Zain Velji (@zainvelji) January 21, 2021
— Allison Janney (@AllisonBJanney) January 21, 2021
— ⁷ ᴮᴱ🐯🍓 (@Sahra1236) January 20, 2021
Who did this???? pic.twitter.com/BMRm0BZywF
— Natalie Kitroeff (@Nataliekitro) January 20, 2021
برنی در هفته مد پاریس 🙂 pic.twitter.com/a7yXvL9SRL
— liberalArtist 💙 (@ArtistBahaar) January 21, 2021
Okay one last Bernie Sanders meme, I promise. pic.twitter.com/hnW2ElnlJE
— KD ➐ (@notkdk3) January 21, 2021
Good morning all! ☕️ pic.twitter.com/pxXvpxIk58
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 21, 2021
— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) January 21, 2021
Am I too late to submit? pic.twitter.com/PsO07S4kk6
— kevin sukho lee (@kevinsukholee) January 22, 2021
That’s it. We’re done here. Shut down the internet. pic.twitter.com/YPp8mempvI
— Hend Amry (@LibyaLiberty) January 21, 2021
I feel there is a “Where’s Bernie” game is developing on the Internet. pic.twitter.com/93eQCJhuSt
— ThePurpleDrazi (@ThePurpleDrazi) January 21, 2021
The internet really can be magical pic.twitter.com/Jrwkj2twii
— Ashley Holub, PhD (@ashtroid22) January 21, 2021
LMAO WHO DID THIS pic.twitter.com/1T8123cd0Q
— yana 🦋 (@robinspcrkIes) January 21, 2021
After the meme went viral, Bernie Sanders’ campaign even turned the photo into a $45 “Chairman Sanders Crewneck” sweatshirt, with 100% of the proceeds going to the charity Meals on Wheels Vermont. The item has already sold out.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Smialowski reveals that he snapped a couple of quick shots of Sanders while his mind was actually focused on other politicians at the event who have been more prominent in the news in recent weeks.
“The picture itself is not that nice. It’s not a great composition. I’m not going to be putting this in a portfolio,” Smialowski tells Rolling Stone. “This exact moment, I took two photos. It’s funny because the second one — for me — I thought was better. But I sent the first one because the moment — his posture, his pose — is a little better. But the composition was garbage. It was messy, but it was a better moment.
“I always say that in photojournalism, composition comes second to content. And content is the moment. Make it look pretty after.”
As with many memes of this sort, the photographer behind the photo had no idea what was coming when he shot and submitted the photo — Smialowski says he shot the photo because it was a “nice moment” and a “good slice of life.” In fact, Smialowski says he would have never created a meme-worthy photo if he had the choice.
“If I could know, I would never take a meme,” the photographer tells Rolling Stone. “I would be more than happy to never have a meme.”