Nadav Kander: Obama’s People

Kander Candour Camera


Today (1st Aug), I went to Birmingham for a wander with my girlfriend and happened across a photo-exhibition in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery called ‘Obama’s People’.

As I walked in, I read this on the wall:

Kander’s approach mirrors the intention behind the Obama team to bring together an eclectic body of individuals who believe that change is possible. They run across boundaries of race, gender, age and religion into a unified, intelligent, contemporary, engaging and yet formidable force which brings hope to the world.

I was, then, primed from the off with a certain amount of cynicism.

Still. The exhibition demonstrated something (very important) about art. Walking around the photos, looking at them so very hard, I didn’t find faith in the transformative powers of this new government. The photographs,  large colour portraits against a dull white background, reeked ambivalence.

Was there a critical irony intended, and skillfully brought into play, by Nadav Kander? Or is it just the medium? Is it just the Being of the art object? To enact the possibility of satire, to refuse the constraint of sincerity?

Certainly, there is a lot of sincerity surrounding Obama. I’ve seen it on TV (of all places). People say: when I heard he’d been elected I cried. In today’s Guardian, in fact, this lady, Pamela Merrit, said she cried (it was a very good piece, by the way, on the contemporary American myth that they have achieved a ‘post-racial’ society – here’s her blog).

But, though there is a lot of genuine sincerity (genuine as opposed to in-genuine sincerity?) on the part of the people affected (us all, perhaps), and though Obama does represent a minor breakthrough (at least compared to that other guy, Wha’shisface McCain, or something), still, still the photos themselves were not so simple, straightforward, innocent, faithful.

Walking around the exhibition, Joe Biden and Hilary C’s stood out for their posed poses, their billboard smiles. And that guy, Bill Richardson, who looks like a dodgy dealer in the photo… who stood down last January for dodgy dealings. And the black people. They all look so… so “token”. Like black people on University prospectuses. And the “conservative types”, who look stern and military: they are in the military! Or were. The sheer amount of military action detailed in the little explicatory placards is overwhelming: you get a sense of the centrality of this preoccupation to the Obama agenda, looking at those portraits, reading those plaques.

Maybe it’s just the white backgrounds, the flattening of photographic production – but certainly there is an unease built into the viewing experience, which begins with irony, and ends with that damn shrine troubling the centre of the room, partly enclosed, containing a single image, the only black and white image. It has a bright white light halo projecting upon it. It is the closet close-up of the whole exhibition. So close you can see the pores of his skin. 

But, not into his mind, or into the future.


 NB: I stole the quote from my girlfriend’s blog. She has journalistic skill, and her blog is v.good. So, here it is.


~ by Wit on August 2, 2009.

2 Responses to “Nadav Kander: Obama’s People”


    Another article, as comparison… This is the way the exhibition has generally be received – and is a little …narrow in focus. The magnetism of the Obama principle obviously overwhelming faculties of clear thought and of artistic response.

  2. […] Here’s my blog post on Obama’s People, by Kander. […]

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