A Portrait of Power

President Trump at a campaign rally in Missoula, MT as photographed by The New York Times photographer Doug Mills

There are few photographers whose images quite literally become history. However, perhaps we can say The New York Times staff photographer Doug Mills is one of them.

Mills has worked with many presidents since he first began covering American politics in 1983. He has honed his craft to the point where each of his photos tells a powerful narrative — and this photo in particular tells a narrative about power.

Notice that the masterful use of silhouette does not detract from our understanding of the context — we instantly recognize Trump and the fact that he is addressing his supporters. But, coupled with the high-contrast grayscale (look at those ominous clouds!), we get an additional sense of drama and crackling potential energy that wouldn’t be as apparent in reality. Also, Trump appears to tower over every other figure in the shot. He is an authoritative figure, and he allows no one to question that.

We see here that Mills’s photography is not necessarily faithful to physical reality. Clouds aren’t really that dramatic, Trump isn’t that tall, and the silhouettes are like an optical trick. But the picture does represent something more abstract: Trump’s quasi-strongman rhetoric. The President’s success as a political candidate and leader hinges upon his authoritative, powerful image. And Mills captures that message perfectly: one Great Man protecting the masses from a storm brewing above. Regardless of your opinion about Trump’s effectiveness as President, you will most likely remember him for his rhetoric rather than his actions — and in that sense, Doug Mills’s work will truly become history.


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