Obama’s People

On Saturday I went to see the “Obama’s People” exhibition by Nadav Kander at BMAG, which is on until the end of August. This photographic exhibition of members of the Obama administration is designed to “reflect a radical shift in political power” using portraits of some of the most influential politicians in the world. The exhibition notes state that “Kander bends his subjects into highly constructed facades which appear as cut-outs, ironed flat”. The subjects of the portraits, many of which are life-sized, are all positioned against plain, neutral backgrounds, causing them indeed to appear like cut-outs, but with in many instances a wealth of expression and engagement in their faces and appearances.

The intention, it seems, was to produce portraits which allow the viewer to feel engaged in conversation with the sitters. Actually, I’m not sure I’d want a conversation with some of them. On entering the rRahm Emanuel_006_v1oom, one gets a rather eerie feeling seeing all these powerful people pinned to the wall. The images are quite eclectic, though – some are smiling, their eyes meeting the viewer’s directly and openly, while others look shifty and some, downright miserable. It is noticeable, though, that the women (Susan E. Rice and Hillary Clinton, for example) look more calmly confident and professional than the men, though Joe Biden was looking particularly jolly. Rahm Emanuel (right), perhaps not surprisingly, looks impatient, apparently rolling his eyes, while Ken Salazar presents an odd sight for eyes used to British politicians, in his cowboy hat and bootlace tie.

The “corridor of power” is a feature of the exhibition – a darkened corridor showing images of the Washington monuments at night, and opposite them, the only portrait of Obama himself in the exhibition, lit by a single spotlight and staring dreamily into the distance. The stasis of the image was striking, and overall it simply reminded me of a shrine rather than a portrait of a powerful and energetic man. It’s a very interesting take on the people of whom we will, no doubt, be hearing a lot more.

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