The Photography Of Failure

Have you noticed that the optics of the Trump White House are not-that-great?

Literally: look at the media footprint of the president. Things are far away, at weird angles and strange points of view that are tinted out of reality while being small and distant and uncomfortable regurgitations from elsewhere that skirt the personal. It’s very bizarre.

Not only does it represent an unfocused point of view but reminds of a disconnected brand that is struggling to keep up with the changing nature of the world. Imagine your parents trying to help your grandparent put together an online presence: it would be similar. This is on a much more magnified scale though, supported by teams and networks of people who have made careers in making people seem important.

It’s not working though. The entire White House presence from the supposed Trump point of view represents a failure of photography—or photography of failure. The two are so intertwined that you cannot strip their essences of each other as they are documentations of reality. This was observed by the Columbia Journalism Review who found a handful of media items distributed by the White House that illustrate their art of failure.

What also hasn’t drawn broader attention—saturated as we are by social media and the notion today that “everybody is a photographer”—is the haphazard, do-it-yourself approach to both the marketing and the historical documentation of Trump’s presidency. Until recently, Trump and the administration displayed disregard for the White House photographer and a White House visual-media operation.


Artfully applied, White House photography is an essential vehicle for informing, illustrating, and storytelling—all key elements of modern leadership and persuasion. The photos we’ve primarily seen from this White House convey a sense of distraction and amateurism.

It’s truly strange. Coupled with moments that are intended to feel observational but come off statements from voyeuristic, artless neophytes you have to wonder what the motivation for this is (or why there isn’t a motivation to begin with).

In this creative economy, in the world we live in, there is an understanding of the performative aspects of an online presences and the need for an “aesthetic.” You don’t need a Performance Studies degree to understand what is being projected or pretended online and off. Here, something is askew, slightly off, right-of-center in an uncomfortable way. It takes an extremely untrained eye to mistake these images as anything but absolutely witless.

It recalls of the intense, wonderful summation of another White House figure’s online presence: Melania Trump. Writer Kate Imbach did a deep dive into her photos earlier in the month where she found that Melania comes across as a “fairytale prisoner by choice.”

She’s hiding. She needs to hide so badly that she doesn’t care about anything else. Not her country, not how bad she looks, not the money it costs us. She has no shame because, for her, hiding is shameless. It is safe.

She lives behind glass, in cars, in her house, on private planes and private resorts. She doesn’t even get out of the car to see landmarks or walk in the park. She is never among the public, not for a second.

One side is hiding in public, passing off as anti-common in the most public position. The other? The visual and intellectual equivalent of a child wearing their parent’s business suit as they tromp around the house tripping over too long trousers. Unfortunately, the child is a septuagenarian, both the baby and the one descending from the hill.

As we close in on the one hundredth day of our current president’s tenure, know that he’s doing a bad job at many things. He knows it, we know it, and what we are being fed visually knows it as well. It is the photography of failure. He truly is a spectacular flop of a man.

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