I genuinely thought this was a stock image representing absolute loneliness. But no. It's our Prime Minister in Brussels today. pic.twitter.com/fxJraJgT3a
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) October 20, 2017
What is the answer to that?
Looking through AP’s image bank you get to this. It says it was taken by Geert Vanden Wijngaert at October 20, 2017 03:47:29 AM. As AP is New York based, I assume it is New York time, making it 09:47 AM CET, which would be about right for when May was meeting Donald Tusk. The Guardian has a further pic by the same photographer here, and that says Getty and AFP as well – and showing Tusk in the pic, and clearly in the same room.
Look at Getty’s database and you get five pictures from this meeting, all by Geert Vanden Wijngaert. May arriving. May sitting alone (the famous pic). May sitting with Tim Barrow and Gavin Barwell standing. And then two pictures (1, 2) with others including Donald Tusk around the table. Also note that May is carrying nothing when she arrives at the meeting (indeed in all summit pictures she never seems to carry anything), and the folder only appears on the table in the third pic in the sequence.
I wanted to check all of this, so I emailed the photographer, Geert Vanden Wijngaert. He has a website here, and he confirmed to me he was working for AP at the summit and the pictures were then put in the pool that the photo agencies maintain. These are Geert’s words:
She just was the first to go and sit at the meeting table when others were still standing. I framed the image so you only could see her. That’s what press photographers do all the time to illustrate news stories
This is vital: the room was not empty when the photo was taken.
That essentially leads me to the conclusion – to answer Stephen Bush’s question in the original tweet – that there is nothing that May’s staff could really have done. She simply should not have sat down first, looking nervous, and without papers. “The first to sit either owns the room or bores it”, I was told on Twitter, and this is very true here. Even her facial expression when arriving in the room, and in the picture with Tim Barrow, shows her grimacing nervously and not in command of the situation. Also bear in mind that, despite his modest words, there is a lot of skill here from Geert Vanden Wijngaert. He had probably only a couple of seconds to frame and snap that picture, and yet managed it brilliantly.
Oh, and pots on the table at European Council summits are not a new thing. Just the pots used to be square. Really.
Credits: David on Twitter helped me piece together the chronology with this tweet. Martyn Atkins named the second official alongside Tim Barrow for me – Gavin Barwell, and blog updated accordingly. The blog entry was comprehensively re-written in light of Geert Vanden Wijngaert’s email.