Symmetry disquiets. So often people, objects, or circumstances align too perfectly, too terrifyingly for our comfort. Order can feel unsettling and foreign when chaos is the sole unchanging factor. This week, nothing brought that notion to light more starkly than the image of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner standing, uniformly framed, in a window at Buckingham Palace. Captured by Samir Hussein, the inanimate, spookily uniformed tone of the photograph evokes an immediate emotional reaction. There’s a strange emptiness to the picture, and yet it is rich in metaphorical dimension. Its composition carries a dark tenor, reflective of present and lurking evils. What is it trying to tell us?
Starting Monday, President Trump, along with his family, made a state visit to the United Kingdom, where he was again the focus of consternation. He is an intensely unpopular figure in Britain, and, in response, protests flooded the streets. The Tower of London was playfully illuminated with a projection of his low approval ratings compared to those of President Obama. The juxtaposition of the Royal Family and the Trumps became easy meme fodder. Still, the most telling image to surface from the week’s festivities was Hussein’s shot, where Ivanka and Jared joined the president and First Lady Melania Trump at a banquet on palace grounds.
Ivanka Trump’s look is expressionless, ghostlike, her eyes devoid of feeling. Kushner stands by her side, cut evenly by the pane of the window, offering a faint, robotic smirk. The white of Trump’s suit top and dress blend with the white of the curtains, which stuff the photo with an added eeriness. As the image made rounds, it didn’t take long for Twitter to accentuate the similarities shared with horror staples The Omen and Flowers in the Attic. Rising maestro of the macabre Jordan Peele even joked that it provided him with a bout of inspiration for upcoming work.
For me, the background of the photo—the pitch-black interior peppered with dots of light—suggests one of the more stinging analogies. In life, there is the illusion of horror, which the photo hints at quite powerfully, and the very fact of horror. The latter of which the Trump administration, with the help of a Republican-controlled Senate, has helped to bring about through the actual siphoning of women’s rights, the erasure of trans protections, and violent immigration policy. Both illusion and fact merge here in menacing concert. It is a dangerous photo born of dangerous, uncertain times.
People often gaze at portraits hoping they suggest humanity, that the photographed are recast empathetically through our looking. But that is not true here. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner emerged from a darkness. The image promises they might retreat to it soon.
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