When I saw this photo a couple months ago (taken by Natalie Keyssar as part of a TIME Iowa Caucus slideshow), I was entranced. And the caption only made it more interesting:
Bernie Sanders addressed students at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines Iowa on Thursday morning, Jan. 28, 2016.
Sanders has captured the imaginations and fired the passions of many young people. With the glam vibe of a concert movie, the picture channels the passion for The Bern.
But I think there’s more to it.
We all know today’s candidates are more like celebrities and actors than they are public servants. They’re the stars of a combined, and endlessly running TV drama/game show. What’s powerful about this photo is how it takes all that wattage, all the star-making and bestows in on the citizen. Yes, it’s a commentary on the candidate as super star. More clever than that, though, it also turns the table and posits the public, the voter as the headliner. (Given how much Sanders has been “a rock star” this season in his own right, his white hair a signature in so many press photographs, posters and photoshops, what also amplifies this “power sharing” is that, for a second, you’re not sure if that actually might be Bernie or the figure is “one of us.”)
In other words, you could look at Natalie’s photo as asking, why isn’t the citizen the object of focus? In contrast to all the attention paid to personality (and the mudslinging and the horserace), why isn’t the citizen in the spotlight?
Which brings me to the photo below. It was part of MSNBC’s Week in Pictures on Friday.
If you’ve been following the news stream, Campaign ’16 has produced a river of selfie-taking and citizen-paparazzi shots. Maybe this person’s screen went to sleep for a second. It doesn’t seem like a selfie because the candidate would be behind her. In any case, the screen of the cellphone is acting like a mirror. And, in the same spirit as the photo from the Sanders event, how novel to see a citizen pointing a camera at one of the candidate-celebrities (like one more fan collecting a keepsake) and seeing the reflection of the citizen instead.
Again, in the face of the candidate (the crush of cameras emphasizing their frenzied star status), what about us? Are we, the American people, the focus of the campaign, the election, the electoral process only in our own minds (and viewfinders)? Of course, candidates continually profess that their every action is in our name. But does anyone really believe that?
If you’re consuming these photos purely on “face value,” sure there’s a wonderful glamour in the first and a cool contrast to the second. But, I like them both a lot more for flipping things around and focusing on the public in a way that, given the depths of our displacement, is that over-the-top. Ideally, shouldn’t the concentration be on us?
(photo 1: Justin Lane/EPA. caption: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz talks to reporters after an election campaign event at the Sabarosura 2 restaurant in the Bronx, N.Y. on April 6, 2016. New York will hold its primary election on April 19, 2016.)