Public image is extremely important to any political election. The International Center of Photography’s new exhibit at their Mana gallery in Jersey City, New Jersey, examines how the media’s coverage of presidential elections — specifically within the medium of photography — has changed from the 1960s to present day. The show, titled “Winning the White House,” covers everything from behind-the-scenes footage to debate photos to selfies.
“Since the 1960s there has been an accumulation of technologies and outlets for campaign photography. This has resulted in more voices in the conversation and more opportunities for voters to engage with different kinds of images,” Susan Carlson, the assistant curator for collections at the ICP, told Business Insider.
The show is on view by appointment, Monday through Friday, until January 27, 2017. The ICP shared 23 photos that act as a timeline for how media coverage has evolved since the Kennedy era — keep scrolling to see them.
(All images courtesy of ICP)
The show is divided into five main sections. The first is '1960 -- 76: The Magic of the Moving Image.'
'We searched through newspapers, magazines, social media feeds, ICP's archives, and individual photographers' bodies of work,' she said.
Major historical moments -- like debates, inaugural balls, and big interviews -- were all considered in the curation process.
'Beginning with the Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, the section focuses on the enormous impact of television on presidential campaigns and on the public's perception of the candidates,' said Carlson.
People had very different impressions of the debate between Kennedy and Nixon, depending on the medium they had used to consume it. 'Voters who listened to the debate on the radio believed that Nixon had won, while those who watched on television believed that Kennedy had won,' she said.
'When you take a broader view of the past several decades, you see how television, the entertainment industry, cable news, celebrity culture, and social media all bring us to where we are today,' Carlson said.
'We were looking for photographs that addressed the changing media landscape over the last several decades, images that spoke to shifts in the way the public experienced key historical moments,' Carlson said.
The second section of the show is titled '1980 -- 88: Presidential Candidates and the Entertainment Industry,' recognising a new era in campaigning brought about by Ronald Reagan's Hollywood background.
'Although politicians and Hollywood had had a long connection, Reagan's campaign really made use of the visual language of cinema and brought the relationship between presidential candidates and the entertainment industry to the fore,' Carlson said.
The third section of the show, 'The Rise of Cable News and the Beginnings of Internet Campaigning,' covers the years 1992 to 2004. 'The cable networks signalled a change in news coverage toward overtly ideological media and changed the way the public consumed news, which in turn had an effect on voter decisions,' Carlson said.
'The Internet also began to accelerate the dissemination of images and provide a setting for amateur commentary and seamless image manipulation,' she said.
'(This section explores) campaigns and the further rise of candidates as pop culture figures,' Carlson said. These years take an especially close look at how the media transformed both Sarah Palin and Barack Obama into celebrity figures.
While the exhibit acknowledges that social media gives the public more access into these public figures' lives, it also is aware of the increasing restrictions that are being placed on traditional media. 'Professional photojournalists' access to candidates has been increasingly restricted as candidates attempt to have tighter control over the way they are depicted,' Carlson said.
In 2013, The New York Times wrote, '(Mr. Obama's administration) has systematically tried to bypass the media by releasing a sanitised visual record of his activities through official photographs and videos, at the expense of independent journalistic access.'
The final section of the show, entitled '2016: Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Reality Television,' leads the viewer to the current election cycle.
This section of the exhibit includes professional portraits taken of each candidate in the past, with the goal of illustrating a sharp contrast with the press images being taken of them today. Here, Hillary Clinton poses for a portrait in 1996.
Celebrity portrait photographer Chris Buck captured Donald Trump in 2006. According to Buck, Trump warned him while on set: 'Make this quick, I've got many important people waiting for me.'
'In the last few election cycles, you see more photographers overtly interested in the process of candidates shaping their personas,' Carlson said.
Selfies have also a played a major role in this election. 'Amateur photographers are now able to share images widely, (and social media) provides candidates a direct avenue to address their supporters. This has all led to a wider variety of images, and created new conventions for campaign photographs,' Carlson said.
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