Photography has been a powerful political tool nearly since its invention, but especially in the increasingly image-driven last 50 years. “Winning the White House: From Press Prints to Selfies,” a new show presented by the International Center of Photography at ICP Mana, the institution’s space at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, explores that long history, from official portraits and campaign ads to selfies and televised debates. In images that range from Cornell Capa’s moody color picture of Kennedy debating Nixon on a black and white TV, to M. Scott Brauer’s poppy pictures of Clinton and Trump on the campaign trail, the show examines the tension between candidates’ use of photography to define themselves, and the medium’s ability to undermine that carefully staged image.
As the show argues, the rise of iPhones and social media have broadened the arena for that tug of war, and changed its terms. Says Claartje van Dijk, Assistant Curator of ICP, who co-organized the show, “Since the time of Abraham Lincoln through the present day, presidential candidates have used photographic imagery in their campaigns to impact public opinion. While staged and curated press prints have historically been the tools of choice for candidates to reach and perform for their electorate, the delivery method has shifted from print publications to broadcast to computer and mobile phone screens—and the imagery has become more personal, more immediate and seemingly more off-the-cuff.” The show is open by appointment until January 27. On Tuesday, October 18, ICP in New York City hosts “Town Hall: Freedom of Speech,” part of a series of conversations designed to inspire civic engagement in the run up to the election, moderated by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman.