They say a photo is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, it's worth your career.

A momentary snapshot can send the public a strong signal about what a politician's fate could be. It can seem to seal that fate.

That was in part the case for former Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield, who was captured in an award-winning photo that became one of Canada’s most legendary political images.

Fifty years ago, on May 30, 1974, former Canadian Press photographer Doug Ball was there when Stanfield tossed around a pigskin with reporters as they travelled together for an election campaign.

Robert Stanfield playing football at North Bay Airport, during an election campaign stopover, May 30, 1974. File photo by The Canadian Press/Doug Ball

While the Opposition leader caught some tosses, the photo most news outlets chose for their front page showed him with his hands clasped, brows furled, lips pursed and knees buckled as a football dropped to the ground in front of him.

The Globe and Mail wrote that it appeared "this football is too hot for Conservative leader Robert Stanfield to handle," while others commented on his age.

Ball said the photo editor for one publication seemed to make the wrinkles on Stanfield's forehead appear more pronounced.

"It was kind of the feel of the election at the time that Stanfield was probably not going to become prime minister," Ball said. "And so, they went with that."

A political picture is worth a thousand words — and, sometimes, a career. #CDNPoli #PoliticalPictures #PoliticalImages

Stanfield ultimately lost the election to Pierre Trudeau, and Ball said he's always understood that images hold power.

Research has borne that out.

The video footage and photos of a boxing match then-MP Justin Trudeau fought with Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau in 2012, along with media descriptions of the event, seemed to markedly sway public opinion about the Liberal MP.

A jubilant Trudeau was pictured standing on top of the ring with his glove in the air after his victory. Another photo showed him kissing his then-wife in triumph.

Elise Maiolino, a researcher who eventually went on to work for the Prime Minister's Office, analyzed 222 national newspaper articles published about the match.

She found that Trudeau appeared to be more "masculine" than people previously believed, and, in turn, that aided his transformation into someone seen as a suitable leader for the Liberal party.

Canadian political history is full of momentous imagery, from professional photography to a new age of memes:

The portrait of Winston Churchill: Nicknamed "The Roaring Lion," a stern 1941 portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in the Speaker's Chamber of the House of Commons became one of the most iconic of the 20th century. Karsh snapped the photo after Churchill delivered his historic "some chicken, some neck" speech on the Second World War to Canadian parliamentarians.

Pierre Trudeau’s pirouette: A photo of Pierre Elliott Trudeau pirouetting at Buckingham Palace during a visit in 1977 would make its way across the world. Trudeau was standing feet away from what appeared to be Queen Elizabeth II — her back toward the camera — while his right arm was lifted above his head, his legs in slight movement. Ball, the one who took the picture, said the woman in the image was actually Princess Margaret.

The 'Shamrock Summit': A 1985 Quebec City meeting between Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan — both of Irish descent — was seen to be a turning point in relations between the two countries. CP photographer Paul Chiasson captured a joyful Mulroney walking side-by-side with Regan down a red carpet as he landed at the Quebec City airport, and TV broadcasts showed the two singing "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" together — a much-repeated anecdote in the decades since.

The 'Shawinigan handshake': In 1996, former prime minister Jean Chrétien was leaving an event when he was approached by protesters angry about cuts his government was making to unemployment insurance. One of them got in his way. Chrétien took labour activist Bill Clennett by the neck in what was nicknamed a "Shawinigan handshake." Clennett did not press charges, and Chrétien defended his actions, later joking about them.

Premier Kenney fills up with gas: Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney staged a photo-op in 2022 to announce temporary measures to the gas tax as his popularity was plummeting, and as he was facing a leadership review — but it didn’t go as planned. Kenney attempted to fill his blue Dodge Ram with gasoline, but repeatedly failed to pull the pump’s nozzle from its gas tank and had trouble paying with his credit card. It became a meme, and months later, Kenney stepped down.

Premier Kinew changes a tire: A photo of Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew offering roadside assistance in April has, for many, come to define him. In the image-turned-meme, he is seen kneeling on the side of a dirt road changing a tire. Indigenous Peoples in Manitoba began editing Kinew into other photos: picking berries in a field, stocking beads in a store, fitting a ribbon skirt, and taking bannock out of the oven.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2024.

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