Politicians Prefer You Didn’t See Them Like This
If you’ve ever seen Donald Trump’s combover flapping in the wind, you know how satisfying it is to see unflattering images of political candidates. Sure, laughing at their expense isn’t the most noble of human instincts, but it is fun.
Irish photographer Mark Duffy revels in that with Vote No. 1. His series, and subsequent book, shows Irish politicians as they appear on campaign signs, impaled by the nails and zip-ties affixing them to posts and fences. It’s a strange, slightly grotesque, and thoroughly entertaining look at politics. “I think everyone finds it funny to see politicians’ faces in the throes of agony,” Duffy says.
The comedic relief comes at a volatile time. Ireland’s economy crashed in 2008, leading to a $112 billion bailout and austerity measures. Though the economy is rebounding, the government is gridlocked. Last month’s elections led to a hung parliament and the creation of a caretaker government until a new one is negotiated. Everyone is fed up. “People are quite disillusioned with the political system in general,” he says.
Duffy lives in London and started the series while visiting his hometown of Galway in 2014. Outside his grandmother’s house he saw a candidate’s visage plastered to a car. The face was distorted by the vehicle’s lines and curves. A few hours later, he saw a campaign ad in which a plastic zip tie pierced the candidate’s neck. Duffy was fascinated.
‘Vote No. 1’, AnzenbergerEdition, 2015.
He shot every campaign ad he could during his stay, then returned to Ireland the following week to continue the hunt. Election day was just around the corner, and it seemed every wall, railing, lamppost, and fence was covered with signs. “I’ve even seen them obscuring traffic lights on rare occasions,” he says. “It’s a really cutthroat procedure.”
Duffy enlisted his mother to drive him around, starting in Dublin and moving west. Any time a sign caught his eye, she’d stop and he’d hop out to make a photo with his digital SLR. He framed them tightly, cutting out the candidate’s name and party. “I wanted it to be sort of surreal, so people don’t immediately know they’re looking at a poster,” he says. “You just see, ‘Oh there’s a face with a bug on it.’”
The anonymity makes the candidates stand-ins for politicians everywhere. You can’t help but chuckle at their clean, scrubbed faces haphazardly stabbed and punctured or splattered. It’s the same sort of feeling you have while scribbling a mustache or devil’s horns on a photo, but here the defacement is the result of chance. That somehow makes it funnier.
Duffy says most politicians appearing in his book laughed it off, and some even bought a copy. The Irish Times liked it so much the paper asked him to do it again during February’s election. He found it odd that, try as he might, he didn’t find a single random disfigurement on the campaign posters of one specific candidate. Might that fellow have wanted to avoid Duffy’s gaze? “It’s hard to know,” he says. “When you’re a politician you have to have a pretty thick skin. You’re going to be a target for ridicule no matter how good you are and what good you do.”