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Time Magazine's Person of the Year: Donald Trump - behind the infamous magazine cover

by Khyle Deen. Published Wed 28 Dec 2016 13:00, last updated: 29/12/16

Time Magazine and their annual "Person of the Year" announcement and magazine cover, is often grossly misunderstood, Time Magazine is abundantly clear on the criteria that is to be met by the chosen person - “the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year” - hop over to Twitter though, and many people all over the world choose to see this annual selection as an endorsement.

Past winners of the title (and some of the most controversial) include Joseph Stalin (1932, 1942), Ayatollah Khomeini (1979), Adolf Hitler (1938), and other historic figures that we think are safe to assume that the Time Magazine editors do not endorse.

This year, which should be no huge shock to anybody, President-elect Donald Trump was selected to grace the cover of Time's annual issue (which was shot by photographer Nadav Kander). "For better or worse,"Trump, during his campaign for US Presidency and even post-election, has certainly been one of the greatest influences on events for the year. As for how Time may feel about that question, is it exactly "for better or worse?" - taking a look at the image chosen for the issue's cover, we can see that Time made some decisions regarding how Trump's image was portrayed, certainly revealing a field of references that place the image, arguably amongst the magazine's greatest covers.


Trump's pose can be looked at as a strong take on a traditional power-portrait pose (look to Delaroche's portrait of a defeated Napoleon for a similar take on the pose)

Paintings of seated monarchs regularly hold 2 common aesthetic functions - ensuring that the association between the sitter and the throne is grounded, and making sure that the sense of service is heightened to a great, respectful level. The monarch does not rise for the viewer, therefore the viewer is the approaching figure to the monarch.

In the post-monarchic time, the power of the throne has mostly ceased to exist. Alas, the power that is held by the seated figure is still a great amount. The importance of the chair itself has lessened over time. The sitting in the chair is essentially what matters most. With the placing of a portrait in this tradition, the role of the throne is taken up by the chair. The sitter portraying the role of King (or Queen) - the effect is visually the same.

The real act of genius, the one detail that brings the importance and significant impact on the image together, is the chat. Trump is seated in what appears to be a vintage "Louis CV" chair (named so, as it was designed in France under King Louis CV's reign in the mid 18th century). The chair not only hints at the grandiose reigns of the French kings just ahead of the revolution, but more specifically, Louis XV's reign itself, who, according to historian Norman Davies, “paid more attention to hunting women and stags than to governing the country” and whose reign was marked by “debilitating stagnation,” “recurrent wars,” and “perpetual financial crisis” (sound familiar?).


The chair's brilliance though, is visual more than it is historical. It's a strong symbol of wealth and power, but looking in the top right corner, there's a rip in the upholstery, hinting at Trump's own faltered image. Behind the high display of wealth, behind the prolific promises. There is the debt, the racism, the lack of government expertise (all of which, we know of too well). Upon seeing the rip, more blemishes appear to reveal themselves, Trump's thinning hair, a stain on the corner of the seat, to name a few. This cover is less an image of a man in power, than a still shot of a leader, and his country in a state of drastic despair. The haunting shadow works expressively well here - hinting that a the pomp and circumstance may have already subdued, if it was even there to begin with.

These characteristics of the cover photo put together, add up to a somewhat alarming amount of anxiety that may well build in the coming years. The placement of Trump in the mid 1990s (scanning through the Time Magazine cover archives, no images truly resemble this cover, other than the one mentioned above, which s purely a visual comparison). We have a strong suggestion of a bleak, harsh side of power. There is also the heavy impact of wealth, which, similarly to "The Picture of Dorian Gray" hints are something potentially greater than simply physical deterioration.

As a photograph, it’s a strong achievement. When looking at it on the cover, it’s a bold, emphatic statement.


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