Feb 18, 2008

Political photography: The illusionists


Photo op by Peter Kennard

The camera never lies – or does it? Peter Kennard and Alexander Rodchenko have both manipulated images to undermine those in power. The results are subversive and unsettling, says Tom Lubbock

Source: The Independent

What is the power of images? Take this one. It shows Tony Blair, in shirt and tie, facing more or less front, and grinning hard, as he takes his own photo. But behind him the scene is entirely filled with the smoke and fire of a massive explosion, blowing the desert apart. Its detonation seems to be simultaneous with Blair’s snap.

Obviously it’s a composite image. It’s entitled Photo-Op and it was made a couple of years ago by our leading exponent of photomontage, Peter Kennard. The figure of a self-snapping Blair was extracted from a news photo (originally, what he had behind him was a group of children and naval cadets). It’s then been superimposed on a bit of shock-and-awe from Iraq.

The picture is a great coup. It catches Blair at his most Blairite – the casually contemporary guy, the publicity narcissist, in full grimace. And the whole scene is very nearly believable. It’s the kind of thing that Blair, in his boyish gung-ho silliness, could almost have done – gleefully snap himself, with his own war as a souvenir-backdrop. The composite is so seamlessly realistic that the eye can’t unpick it. This is no cut-and-paste collage. Photo-Op is made on Photoshop.

So what’s the power of this image? Well, it delivers a brilliant insult, in the way that it manages to condense a lot of suspicions about Blair’s character and priorities. And it plays a neat pictorial practical joke (which even a viewer who didn’t share those suspicions might enjoy). But for all that it’s morally apposite and visually clinching, Photo-Op doesn’t actually prove anything. For what can a montage prove?

Kennard has been taking images apart and fitting them together for almost 40 years. If you go to his retrospective at the Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park, you can see work going back to the early 1970s. There are attacks on the government of Edward Heath, illustrations for the Workers Press, old bits of artwork coming slightly unstuck. The causes may be fading history, but Kennard’s grim wit and graphic impact are already clear.

Read entire article

Show info:

Peter Kennard – Uncertified Documents, Pump House Gallery
London SW11 (020-7350 0523), to 30 March

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