You’d have to live under a rock to have missed this, either that or have decided to avoid all media and social media whilst on a retreat in the mountains or on holiday. Arguably most recognisable person on planet earth since 2016 The Donald combines fame and infamy to tell us more about ourselves than he himself reveals. Dragged into Fulton Country Sheriffs office to have a Police Mugshot taken Trump has owned the moment by making the photo more about him and his seething resentment than anything else — it doesn’t matter what words are published together with the image, all that remains in the memory afterwards is the Orange Scowl.
As a portrait photographer I wanted to take a moment to dissect the photo because it’s pretty clear to me that this will be the most published image this year, and maybe even this decade. Does a photograph have to be good to be popular? Clearly the answer here is no… the lighting is awful, the pose isn’t really permissible for a mugshot, certain parameters are missing that we know from iconic mugshots so you have to question: is this really even a mugshot or has this been skilfully transformed into a PR event? In some strange way the light shining from above makes some kind of glistening halo on Trumps straw-coloured bouffant; an angry fallen Angel of the GOP.
In recent times we’ve found ourselves drowning in a sea of forgettable video, if anything this rather poor photograph hammers home the power of the still image — still unsurpassed in its ability to stop us in our tracks. It’s worth remembering this.
What is it that makes this image so powerful? We can argue that a former President getting a mugshot because he’s being tried for election fixing is an unprecedented moment; yes it is. Yet for me this is more about the power of absence. When was the last time you saw a Trump photo? For four years after The Donald was omnipresent, utterly unavoidable. Yet I’d hazard a guess that it’s a couple of years since you’ve seen an image of Trump — such is the lack of esteem in which he’s held by the media. A kind of Trump scarcity if you will. Covid and the lockdowns make it feel like a really long time ago since we’ve seen the former President, it’s possibly hundreds of rounds of golf ago. Many of us wonder what’s been happening chez Trump since we last saw him? Does Melania still hate him? What’s he been doing with his time since he ceased to be President? Has he done anything outrageous that we don’t know about? The Mugshot brings Trump back into sharp focus and because of the enormity of his celebrity it kinda doesn’t matter why — at least it doesn’t to him. Taking what could be considered a humiliating experience and owning the moment is a massive PR victory. The seasoned campaigner and self-publicist knows this. He’s got you on the edge of your seats — you want to know what happens next and despite all the evidence to the contrary he’s got you to feel like he’s in control.
Only time will tell whether The Mugshot will be iconic for reasons of fame or infamy — what’s interesting is that even a terrible photo can be the most published photo, does it’s intrinsic terribleness add something? Probably yes. So if you take photos, and given the fact you most likely have a camera phone or some description keep going — it doesn’t matter if your photos are terrible; even bad photos can be popular (but you may need to add some Donald to have a global distribution.)