The New York Times magazine – on a good week, one of my favourite newspaper supplements – today published a deliberate echo of Rolling Stone‘s American bicentennial issue The Family from 1976, that featured 76 ‘Portraits of Power’ shot by Richard Avedon. (Not entirely coincidentally, Avedon’s photos are currently on display in a gallery in Washington DC.)
Where Avedon mixed politicians with models and counter-cultural icons, The NYT has gone just for members of the new Washington arrivals, under the heading of ‘Obama’s People’. And the images are reproduced in carefully corrected colour rather than black and white exactitude.
They’ve stuck to the formula in most other ways though – 52 simple portraits, short captions stating name and job title only, and they’ve also echoed Elizabeth Paul’s elegant, thin black typography as well.
Kandar is an interesting choice, both a big name and a photographer with his own style: bright fashion lighting, few smiles, often making his subjects seem alone and uncomfortable. They don’t so often engage with the camera as with something off to one side, an affectation that makes both the subject and the viewer feel uncomfortable. When they do look straight at you, it sometimes feels like a reluctant compromise.
He also has the portraitist’s eye for careful detail. So the press secretary is clutching briefing notes, the personal aide all manner of devices, the international lawyer is dressed up and ready to go…
As with the Rolling Stone original, the photos have been chosen as pairs, rather than in order of rank. Sometimes it’s a colour in common, other times it’s a visual contrast. Great photo editing from The NYT‘s Kathy Ryan.
Occasionally, inevitably, adverts intrude – which makes those single photos without a soulmate seem awfully lonely, however much they smile.
My favourite portrait is of this pencil. Sorry Denis McDonough, Senior Foreign Policy Aide, but its missile-like quality and colour, echoing your laser-like gaze, is the star of the photo.
At the back are slightly extended biogs.