Russian president Vladimir Putin’s annual vacation photos, a reliable dose of absurdly over-the-top propaganda, seem to have chilled out in recent years.
His past excursions, typically in the Siberian taiga, have showcased him engaged in a wide variety of activities, from shirtless horseback riding to shirtless fishing, shirtless hunting, and snorkeling (not shirtless).
They complement the many other photo ops that state media captures of Putin’s performative manliness throughout the year, be it diving into a frozen lake as part of a religious observance or just casually riding in a submersible.
Lately, the photos seem to be showing us a softer, more contemplative side of the man who used to prefer to be portrayed to his people as an ultra-masculine action star.
Putin has traded his soldier look for a sensitive outdoorsman vibe, deciding to cover his usually front-and-center torso in modest zippered sweaters and a puffy down vest. In the pictures distributed through state media service Sputnik, he’s seen inspecting wild plants and hiking with defense minister Sergey Shoygu. Elsewhere, he’s seen lounging thoughtfully on a cliff.
It’s hard to tell if there’s any implicit message behind the photos. Putin may have opted for a layered, chilled out aesthetic simply because he went on vacation in October, rather than August.
But the photos have an interesting effect of cutting against the extreme, memeified version of Putin while also burnishing his own myth. They project a gentle, more thoughtful image of the leader while still providing him a backdrop of a tamed wilderness for him to explore. The photos may not project the obvious brute strength of a shirtless hunter on horseback, but they do allow him to perpetuate that he, the autocrat, is still a simple man of the people.