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'Portrait Of An Ex-Prime Minister Surprised By An Admirer' - An Art Historian's Analysis Of David Cameron's Wilderness Photo

07/08/2017 17:11

It's a photograph; a snapshot of a frozen moment, hastily taken. The flash illuminates two figures captured outside in the darkness. Our gaze settles immediately on the male subject staring into the camera lens. Flushed cheeks on a youthful-looking face, a shy smile formed on pursed lips. Delicately, he holds a wine glass, his middle finger slightly raised - seemingly innocently. To the right of the image his left hand dangles a newly lit cigarette suggesting he has just stepped outside to smoke. His arm is awkwardly over-extended (perhaps out of a desire to avoid a cigarette accident) and envelops the figure standing beside him and neatly frames the image.

A post shared by Lucy Edwards (@laeedwards) on

Beside the male, this second figure, who stands with their back to the camera, wearing a long, wavy purple wig, a crown-like headpiece and a light-reflecting sequin jacket with a large pink heart on the back is over-exaggerated, and stereotypically female. The props and deliberate gesture of this figure reminds us of the self-portraiture of Cindy Sherman, the American photographer whose work explores the stereotypical presentation of the social roles and identity of women. In any image of a man and woman in art the issue of the gaze is relevant. Why is the woman looking away? Why is the man not looking at the woman? What is the relationship between the man and woman? What does it say about dominance and equality?

The photograph reminds me of Lucian Freud's 2004 painting 'The Painter Surprised By A Naked Admirer' - an image of the painter at work in his studio, staring off canvas directly at the viewer and ignoring the naked woman wrapped around his legs. Her face is turned upwards towards his and her eyes are closed in some sort of reverie.

In this photograph the male, like Freud, is another well-known, high achiever well- used to adoring fans and underlings - David Cameron, the former Prime Minister. Next to him is Lucy Edwards, an art consultant, according to her Instagram account where this photograph was posted before it was picked up by all the major news outlets.

In the history of Western Art so often the female is the beautiful muse, or mere adornment to an image. Typically she lacks power, profile or status. But in this photograph, whilst the female is turned away from the lens, her face obscured by a wig and seemingly gazing at the male subject of the photo, her clothing suggests all is not quite as it seems. For on the back of the sequinned jacket writ large across the pink heart is the name CORBYN.

Lucy Edwards is wielding the political power of the portrait, she has created a narrative, a document, a piece of propaganda, not to mention, that old-fashioned purpose of a portrait - a likeness - and the power of her photograph is derived from the collision and conflict of word and image. Cameron was ambushed by his fellow festival go-er and became a mere prop in this ironic and playful portrait. So like Freud, David Cameron was surprised by an admirer - just not one of his own!

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