The Brilliance behind Times Magazine Cover

     First thing first: the disclaimer. This is in not a representation of my political views, nor do I care to listen to yours, which is why comments will be off for this post. Although many people are against the idea that Donald Trump has been selected as Time's "Person of the Year," Time makes it very clear what their standards are for selecting this position. The "person of the year" is someone who has had the most influence, good or bad, throughout the year. So which ever way you lean on the political fence you have to admit Trump was very influential; a single tweet caused markets to dip or grow.  My intention for this blog post is to analyze the photograph and through that, interpret what the Time Magazine staff thinks of president-elect Donald Trump.

So let's take a look at the image.


I am going to begin with the obvious and whittle my way down into the less glaring details.

Lets Talk about the Text:
The first thing you notice is the text "THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA." This seems ominous enough on its own.  The other piece of text which is more subversive is the "M" in "TIME", placed directly behind Trumps hair.  This very subtly looks like devil horns with the red font. 

Let's talk about the lighting:
Lighting is something that always has interested me in portraiture, because its where you can invoke the most emotion.  You can light a subject to make them look stronger, more beautiful, larger, skinnier, or even more scary (like when you hold a flashlight under your chin while telling a ghost story.) Now, the lighting this photographer chose is very dramatic. The ratio of light is at least 1:16 which means that the main light (left side) is at full power and the light on the shadow side of his face is at most 1/16 full power.  

They also use broad lighting as opposed to short lighting. This is an important distinction because the two have very different effects: short lighting is when the main light hits the side of the face that is farthest from the camera, and is universally more pleasing. It is used a lot on women or heavier set men because it is slimming and more flattering. Broad lighting however (used in Trumps portrait) is used when wanting to make someone look larger. It is almost only ever done on Men and often less flattering.

The light is also hitting Trump from the side and slightly above his head. This casts half of his face in the dark shadow. Here, Time Magazine is cutting his face in half: one side in the hard spotlight, almost no halftone, but one side in the ominous shadow.  I interpret this as them saying Trump is two faced. They could have used a soft-box, which would allow the light to transition smoothly into the shadow across his face.  My interpretation: while we see one side of him (the side in the light), there is a behind the scenes Trump who is even more scary. Much like we can't see his face, we can't see his intentions or his whole self. 

A soft box also would have diffused the light to fill in the wrinkles of his face, making him look younger. This a common technique often done with older subjects, especially older women.  See the contrast of the two portraits below for example.   While they could have made him look less impacted by the years of his life, they intentionally chose to show his age.  The example on the left is an example of a soft light, on the right is an example of a hard light, 


Lastly, this lighting would NEVER create that shadow behind him. The shadow was created in photoshop. If it had been made using physical lights on set, the far side of his face would be filled in much more with light. The shadow is an important intentional detail creating a sense of a looming danger. Had it been created otherwise, it would have taken away from the 1:16 lighting ratio.

Let's talk about the color palette:
First off the three primary colors are used, red blue and yellow. Not going too far into color theory, this is a very pleasing design choice.  The red power tie, his blue suit, and his infamously yellow hair compliments the red and white magazine layout. None of this was by accident, it was a very intentional choice by the photographer and editor.  That blue tint on everything else in the photo is reminiscent of old Kodachrome film.  

Kodachrome film came out in the 1930's and was very popular throughout the twentieth century. Many photographers used it because of its color accuracy, and although the process has changed slightly over the years, Kodachrome is notorious for giving a blue tint when scanned digitally.  You can google "Kodachrome blue" and find tons of people having issues with this. More importantly, the blue tint has become synonymous with the nostalgic photos (just look at all the Instagram filters if you don't believe me.)  It is also mentioned on wikipedia, here.  

So if the photographer is making us feel nostalgic, what time period are we supposed to revert to?  Trumps campaign slogan was "Make America Great Again." When did we feel most great? Maybe right after we won the second world war? (1945) Kodachrome was introduced in 1930 and was the most popular choice of film. If you don't believe me, let's look at another Time article.

"Kodachrome captured a color version of the Hindenburg's fireball explosion in 1936. It accompanied Edmund Hillary to the top of Mount Everest in 1953. Abraham Zapruder was filming with 8-mm Kodachrome in Dallas when he accidentally captured President Kennedy's assassination. National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry used it to capture the haunting green-gray eyes of an Afghan refugee girl in 1985 in what is still the magazine's most enduring cover image." - Time Magazine article written by Claire Suddath. 2009

So the blue tint in the photograph is a nod back to the early to mid-twentieth century. Fun Fact about that time: in 1938, Hitler won Time Magazine's "person of the year."

Devils in the Details:
Speaking of that Time cover of Hitler....this brings me back to the details of the photo.  No other comparisons about the people on each cover, lets just examine artistic details side by side. 

Both are sitting down in a chair as many leaders have been depicted throughout time. (Think of paintings of monarchs, Lincoln memorial, etc.)  

When a photographer wants to make someone look powerful, they kneel and take the photo from a low angle looking up, making the subject look taller or higher, forcing a viewpoint which is submissive. Trumps photo was taken at eye level.  

The chairs are very different as well: Trumps chair looks at first like a lavish or possibly gaudy throne, complete with the fleur-de-lis which is a nod to the French monarchy. Now, I don't know if this is an important detail but French Monarchies are almost infamous for how many times they have been overthrown and beheaded. Anyways...look closer at the chair.   At the top of the chair there is a rip; the chair is beaten and abused. There are also scuffs and marks along the wood. What at first appears to be fancy is actually tattered.  Perhaps the beat up chair is an editorial foreshadowing of his legacy?

Now, look up at his hair.  His notoriously bad hair was not in anyway fixed up by the editor. If they wanted to, they could make his hair look like he was 20 years old again.  Instead, they sharpened the details so you can see how thin it has become.  Suddenly the man who is all about appearances looks decrepit and aging.  

Even his suit has all the wrinkles in the arm. Any good photographer knows how to get those out. When I was taking portraits of generals,  l would make one large fold (not a wrinkle, but a fold) at the top of his arm (see Hitlers above for example). This tucks in the excess sleeve so that the rest would lay as smooth as possible.  Leaving the wrinkles in was an intentional decision on the part of Time magazine.  Why? To make a statement. Trumps entire silhouette runs up and down with wrinkles, and my view is that although he is about being the best and having a good appearance, the small details spell a different story.  I think Time is trying to bring that story out. 

His backside, hunched over from turning around, looks broader than normal. The simple act of turning over his shoulder to look at the viewer seems conspiratorial. As if he is turning his attention from his real plan to tell us "gotchya" with his squinting gaze. Trump is only showing us part of himself, the part he allows us to see. 

In my opinion, Time is worried about a Trump presidency and they are obviously not afraid to show it. I would like to say, as a photographer, that I admire the amount of detail which was placed into this photo. Regardless of your political leanings, the skill and nuances of the photograph goes to show why the editors and photographers of Time get paid the big bucks. This is the brilliance of the photograph.

*Edit: It is worth it to note that I was inspired to write this blog post after reading an unsourced reproduction of another article. I found the original article after publishing my own which argues a lot of the same points I make. I do however expand more from a photographers point of view which the original article does not.