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May 18, 2008

McCain, The General, And Wars On The Face, Too

Mccainriedel

Dde

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)

  • http://www.nocaptionneeded.com John Lucaites

    Some interesting differences here. In the Ike photo we get very low contrast between the portrait an the background, he seems almost to be fading into the past quite literally … and it is a bright light sort of. Note too that the “sad” look is in some measure a function of his eyes … notice how he gazes — no stares somewhat blankly — outside of the scene, as if he knows what’s coming (and, of course, his now famous Farewell Address makes it clear he did know). With McCain notice how the contrast between portrait and background is pronounced, sharpening in the image and moving him more into the present. And note the eyes again here, looking directly at the viewer, making a demand of some sort … I don’t think he looks sad or old … but rather the elder statesman. And that’s an issue that the Dems are going to have address, esp. if Obama is the candidate, because already the spin is that he is inexperienced … and so we get images of naivete (the rhetoric of “hope”) juxtaposed with someone who presumably has had to deal with the very “real” problems in the world and thus has to manage the tension between ideals and reality …
    It is actually probably a pretty smart thing for McCain’s folks to be doing just now. Which of course scares me some.

  • Michael

    The position of McCain’s head in relation to the camera sets him higher, which contributes, I think, to a certain monumentality about the photo. Which is worrying for the same reason that John Lucaites is worried.

  • catfood

    I think more than anything else, the McCain photo exudes a sense of paranoia. It could be used in conjunction with a PSA about mental illness.

  • http://www.nocaptionneeded.com John Lucaites

    If there is “paranoia” there — and I’m ambivalent about that — it would also be a key point for distinguishing McCain (who won’t talk with terrorists a la GWB and the neo-cons) vs. Obama (who would talk with them). That is, it is a paranoia that could be exploited in the same way as the other things I mentioned in the sense of that bumper sticker: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you …

  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com Stan B.

    One has to remember that when sitting for a portrait, the subject can have little to no idea as to what the photographer wants, sees, or ultimately presents to the world. If that wasn’t the case, Mr. Newman would never have gotten that picture of Mr Krupp…
    http://www.wac.ucla.edu/bishop/People/Arnold%20Newman/Adams.pdf

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    Ike was born in 1890 so he and Sen McCain are about the same age in their respective portraits. At the time of the portrait Ike’s resumé included commander of SHAEF and two term President of the United States. McCain is best known for currying favor among the press corps.

  • catfood

    Clearly, “The Wars Within-” was laid out to conform to the contour of McCain’s jaw. Does anyone have an opinion regarding “The New York Times Magazine” masthead overlapping the top of his head, whether it suggests a halo, a balancing act, boxes him in, etc.?

  • DennisQ

    The McCain photograph gives him some seriousness that he’s been lacking. I think of McCain as the clown who jokes about bombing Iran and called his wife a trollop (and worse) in front of the press corps.
    Even the serious McCain has drawbacks, such as his ignorance of important facts. This guy may be as out of touch as Ronald Reagan. But Reagan didn’t inherit the colossal mess that the president following George Bush will inherit. Clown or not, McCain doesn’t seem up to the job.

  • Asta

    The expression in McBush’s, er, I mean McCain’s eyes says, “Back off, you little jerk,” or “I dare you,” or “If you walk through my front yard, I’m calling the police.”
    Eisenhower — now that’s something else totally. There’s humbleness. The softness you find in the eyes of a wise old soul. Trust. Loyalty. And no, I am not likening him to my best canine friend, but I have no doubt that my dog would be a better and more honest president than McCain could ever be.

  • Zzyzx

    The photographic techniques do tend to give McC a harder edge, even though Avedon is noted for, and accomplished here, a sense of stark reality, probably the kind of photo the public was not used to seeing of their Ike. But I think the techniques are less important here than the faces these men have grown into.
    First, Ike was 70 when he LEFT office after two terms (in 1961). However, during his term in office, he had a heart attack, bowel obstruction and a possible stroke. This photo was taken in 1964, when Ike was a very sick man (he died in 1969). Actually, that may have been of interest to Avedon who, about a decade later, photographed his dying father in a stunning series.
    What is interesting to me is that the halves of Ike’s face are relatively similar even though he had suffered a stroke. OTOH, McC’s facial halves are quite dissimilar. His right side looks smiling, challenging, engaging in an (almost) playful expression. His left side, however, looks grim, with an accented downward tilt to his mouth.
    How much of this dichotomy is due to his several operations for skin cancer, or whether (as rumored) he is being injected with botox, is anyone’s guess. When you watch him talk on TV, his face is not expressive and he barely moves his mouth. (But his eyes blink constantly.) All of which makes him more photogenic, but then I don’t remember Ike being very expressive, either.
    As to the “wars within” McC, I think that should be of more interest to every voter than his age. I see a man hell-bent on controlling his temper (and not all that successfully), living down rumors (and testimony) of selling out his fellow POW’s and all those savings and loan scandals. Just because he acts like a maverick doesn’t mean he is one.

  • http://www.groupnewsblog.net/ the littlest gator

    Thanks for this one. We were discussion ageism over on gnb this week too. Will McCain’s age be a factor in this election? I think that it should be… http://www.groupnewsblog.net/2008/05/ageism.html
    I think photos like this will be make it a part of the discussion for sure.
    The Eisenhower shot is a fantastic comparison.

  • Robert Collette

    In Halberstam’s book: The Fifties, Eisenhower states that no one over 70 should be president.

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