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April 20, 2010

Nina Berman Looking at the Tea Party

<span style="font-size: small;">Opening up with the daft, Halloween side of the Party, we have the umpteenth permutation on "Obama the Narcissist." Juxtaposed with the laughing granny, it showcases the thrill of mocking. Clicking though, however, you'll see that Nina goes deeper than that. </span>
Opening up with the daft, Halloween side of the Party, we have the umpteenth permutation on "Obama the Narcissist." Juxtaposed with the laughing granny, it showcases the thrill of mocking. Clicking though, however, you'll see that Nina goes deeper than that.
<span style="font-size: small;">This second picture captures the real signature of this Tea Party phenomenon  -- the mixed-metaphor.</span> <span style="font-size: small;">The racist Mr. Joker and Mrs. Clown  Joker-Riddler, with that stick on backwards, are the perfect complement  to the yellow "Don't Tread On Me," the flag forming its own montage with  three hot dog signs, and then what looks like one in the guy's hand.  It's as if the photo is playing with how the Tea Party rallies jumble  all kinds of different symbols together. Hot Dogs.  Government out of control. You get it, don't you?</span>
This second picture captures the real signature of this Tea Party phenomenon -- the mixed-metaphor. The racist Mr. Joker and Mrs. Clown Joker-Riddler, with that stick on backwards, are the perfect complement to the yellow "Don't Tread On Me," the flag forming its own montage with three hot dog signs, and then what looks like one in the guy's hand. It's as if the photo is playing with how the Tea Party rallies jumble all kinds of different symbols together. Hot Dogs. Government out of control. You get it, don't you?
<span style="font-size: small;">Yes, we have Big Paranoid Guy with his little flag giving us the evil eye. And  the two guys with their big guts and their little flags. But the photo  is not about making fun.</span> <span style="font-size: medium;">Because, looking at the facial  expressions, you don't just see how sure these guys are, but also how  much they just need to believe in something. As well, the boy -- who is  "out front" of the other men -- seems a lot more open and uncertain, his  shirt suggesting how easy it is to be a tiger on the  surface.</span>
Yes, we have Big Paranoid Guy with his little flag giving us the evil eye. And the two guys with their big guts and their little flags. But the photo is not about making fun. Because, looking at the facial expressions, you don't just see how sure these guys are, but also how much they just need to believe in something. As well, the boy -- who is "out front" of the other men -- seems a lot more open and uncertain, his shirt suggesting how easy it is to be a tiger on the surface.
<span style="font-size: small;">But what makes this series is the guy in the suit.</span> <span style="font-size: small;"> If he's otherwise the smiling guy in the barber chair, or the upbeat host at the Toastmasters  meeting, or the funny one when he and the guys get together for a round of golf, on the  other side of the "dividing line" from all the HOCUS P.O.T.U.S., we see  (in him, and the others) head-hanging fear, and sadness, and weariness,  and exhaustion, and regret, and yes, of course, the suspicion and anger  inside that suit over what's happening to our country.</span>
But what makes this series is the guy in the suit. If he's otherwise the smiling guy in the barber chair, or the upbeat host at the Toastmasters meeting, or the funny one when he and the guys get together for a round of golf, on the other side of the "dividing line" from all the HOCUS P.O.T.U.S., we see (in him, and the others) head-hanging fear, and sadness, and weariness, and exhaustion, and regret, and yes, of course, the suspicion and anger inside that suit over what's happening to our country.
<span style="font-size: small;">Yes, the guy in the suit seems a lot less vulnerable in this last photo. But then, he's  sharing the company, and the energy, of other angry white men, making a stand in  defense of their monument, and their right to be loud.</span>
Yes, the guy in the suit seems a lot less vulnerable in this last photo. But then, he's sharing the company, and the energy, of other angry white men, making a stand in defense of their monument, and their right to be loud.

What’s smart and, yes, respectful about Nina Berman’s Tea Party photos is that they aren’t taking the Tea Party any more or less seriously than the party’s frustrations, on the one hand, and their antics, on the other.

–Michael Shaw

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for BagNews here.

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