I saw the McCain portrait mid-week in the NYT Mag preview. Then that evening, I was at an opening at the International Center for Photography and encountered the Avedon Eisenhower photo for the first time. (I should mention that the DDE shot was taken a couple years after he had left office.)
I’m surprised to see McCain offer such vulnerability — and don’t see how he benefits by it. I would imagine Black and Schmidt would have preferred him to stick to the hero-warrior model. Instead, in perhaps one of his maverick moves, however, we get this window of uncertainty — or this “split window.”
The mouth, in particular, is awkward — like he didn’t know what to do with it. Does the half on the left side want to smile, with some opposite inclination to frown — even cry? Same, too, with the eyes. (I think the way McCain is always so torn by his emotions is reflective of torture — I primarily mean the psychic brand, but who knows?) In this case, the gaze — from the left — looks determined, confrontational, but from the right seems more glassy and lost.
Notice how he’s angled, by the way, so we get about two-thirds left side and one-third right? As an experiment, hold up your hand so it’s running down the middle of his nose and you can only see one side of his face at a time.
Notice the conflict, now? Doesn’t it seem like two completely different aspects — one leading with that smug little warrior-self and that slightly-smirky, slightly-grimacing smile, which — now considering the other side — is dragging the pulled-in, wounded and upset Johnny along?
And then, what about the General?
The “two halves” of Eisenhower seem quite different, also, the right much more expressive, and seemingly not so interested in playing along. At the same time, however, the two sides (at least, intrapsychically, and in contrast to McCain) don’t seem in conflict with each other.
Also, If the Eisenhower portrait is predominantly about age, it’s also curious how the McCain image — the candidate on the doorstep of his White House run — feel more elderly, too. Beyond the creases, the grey in his eyebrows, and the couple wayward hairs mid-forehead right, however, it’s the “infirmity” of the expression which highlights the age.
(revised: 10:28 EST)
The McCain Doctrines (Matt Bai – NYT Magazine)
(image 1: Jeff Reidel. nytimes.com image 2: Richard Avedon, Palm Springs, California. January 31, 1964. via artnet)