Australian Political Portraits

341363-fc576aea-e4c8-11e3-addf-ef174a6b8f2d This article is about politics.  In particular political portraits.  (I don’t really intend to tell you my political views.)  We are in the long build up to an election and every stobie pole has a billboard of a local member or a competitor.  Every poster tells a story.  The images are crucial to their chances in the election.  “I need to look more approachable, friendly, competent, a leader a statesman.  Don’t show me as aloof, arrogant, insecure, incompetent or insincere.” The Politicians must spend millions on photographers.

The carefully crafted picture of Julia Gillard (left) shows the hallmarks of this approach.  It has been shot with studio lighting, and is cropped in close at a slight angle to give a jaunty yet friendly and confident impression.

Let me quote a blog for political campaigners in the US.

“Time, money, and votes – three things a political campaign can never have enough of.  But there’s another valuable type of “campaign currency” that many political campaigns overlook: quality candidate photography.  Over the course of a campaign, candidate photos will be needed for use across a variety of messaging platforms – direct mail, collateral, TV ads, and social media.  History points to the power of images in their ability to shape public opinion.”

The writer goes on to make 4 pointers for good political photographs.  Relax the candidate, show the candidate clearly, allow the background to tell the story and pay attention to what they wear.  Clothing should be appropriate for their environment.  (Victory Experiences)

Tony Abbott  during his prime ministership took firm control of what was released to the press.  (Presumably under tutelage of Peta Medlin).  Unlike the early days where he was frequently shown in his budgie smugglers.  His press releases became tightly controlled.  The television news often had nothing to report other than the official video provided by the prime ministers staff.  Is this Australian, or is this approach imported from over seas?  It echoes of scenes from “the West Wing” an American political drama. (see Sydney Morning Herald)

The press on the other hand are taking photographs for exactly the opposite reasons. They would love to explore every politicians shortcomings.  A picture that shows a moment of weakness is instantly on the front page of the newspaper.

Take a look at this range of photographs of Julia Gillard.  It is quite easy to pick out the two posed shots from the four candid photographs.  What is the truth?  What makes the ideal political portrait.  I must admit that I find the posed shots more appealing.  The truth of her leadership however is a blend of all of the images.  A mixture of the confident friendly person with the vexed and troubled one.

I find the knitting image intriguing.  It portrays a femininity and homeliness about Julia that was subsequently attacked ruthlessly by the Abbott led opposition.  It was a full page spread in the women’s weekly.  It came at the very end of her time as prime minister.  I think at this time Julia needed a more strident, “I am in control” message.  I suspect it is a powerful image, but worked in favour of the opposition rather than Julia.

I was amused by this collection of images of Alexander Downer as foreign minister.  In particular I love the first image.  This is a Getty image when he was a delegate at an international conference.  The photographer has Alexander sharp between the blurred outline of other delegates and a defocussed red light.

I browsed through a large body of other political portraits and selected the following images that I thought told more of the character or more of the story of the various politicians.  What do you think?

According to Gil Lavi, an Israeli political portrait photographer,

the lighting arrangement used on candidates is integral to the fantasy sold to us. The recognition of politicians is mainly through official portraits…..  A portrait image is what’s etched in the public’s mind, so the second in which it is captured must conquer its heart”

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