Tonight is US president Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, when presidents get to recount their victories and set priorities for the future.
With the House, Senate, (most) of the Supreme Court justices, military leaders and many guests in attendance, the speech is one of the year’s most watched and dissected political events. Expectations are set high; the speech’s text is pored over in search of meaning; frequency of applause and standing ovations are counted. Which makes one recent addition to the White House Flickr page all the more interesting.
Uploaded on Jan. 25, a new album titled “Speeches of Year One” looks back at Trump’s first year in office, through the crowds he’s addressed. The timing is right, though the tone is unexpected: While Trump-the-candidate gained popularity through personal appeal and off-the-cuff remarks, this album shows Trump-the-president as a far less charismatic speaker, usually framed as a small figure in larger scenes. Instead of cheering, raucous rallies, his listeners appear sedate and are frequently shown seated.
The positioning of the camera in most of the images is striking. Television cameras and the journalists controlling them have long been targets of Trump’s ire, often for allegedly not showing the true size of his audiences. Images from the White House Flickr album seem to illustrate the look he desires—distant shots highlighting the size of the venue above all else, with the president himself rendered a tiny spec, his body language barely registering.
Official photos taken of Trump’s predecessor, former president Barack Obama, often tried to show personality and highlight body language within the magnitude of the office, like that famous shot of the then-president with his feet on the Oval Office desk. In contrast, the Trump administration’s photographers are kept at a distance, as if their job is to maintain the sense of impenetrability.