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October 17, 2008

Davis’s close-ups capture democracy gone wild at HPAC

As one of the most dramatic election years reaches its climax this November, it is important to take a moment to reflect: 2008 was bombarded with historic political achievements, tense battles for office, and tawdry personal scandals, all of which were captured by photographer Jeoff Davis for his exhibit Political Frenzy at the Hyde Park Arts Center.

Davis’s collection of candid photographs reveals some of the highlights and lowlights of both the Democrat and Republican campaign trails. Unlike the photos seen in the local newspapers, these are the shots Washington really doesn’t want people to see.

Davis manages to capture America’s politicians in some rather awkward positions—some with mouths agape, others with looks of pure confusion—but all seem to fluidly coincide with the theme of frenzy. Photographs of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton catch the politicians at the podium, looking as if they could kill. Joe Biden and John McCain also fall victim to the “open mouth” pose. Davis manages to bring elements of interest and humanity to the photographs that are often left out of the staid newspaper pictures of politicians. Each portrait seems to humanize the often robotic movements of government figures and reminds viewers of the campaign’s sometimes maddening effects.

Political Frenzy also provides some insight into the masses of Americans who participated in this year’s political race. Davis includes crowd photographs from both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, evincing a glaring dichotomy between cheery, banner wielding supporters, and bloody, tear-gassed protestors. Images of protestors having their eyes sprayed with water to remove the tear gas and faces bloody from confrontations with police fill the walls of Davis’s exhibit. Frenzy is a reminder that the campaign takes physical casualties, not just figurative ones in the form of scorned politicians, in this year’s battle for the White House.

The exhibit also serves as a moment to recognize the passing of the political torch from the old to the young. The Clintons, prominent figures in Davis’s collection, appear stoic in most of the photographs. Could they be angry because of the lack of support for Hillary’s campaign from the Democrats? If so, the photographs don’t seem to show it. The Clintons, still a force in Washington, seem instead to be waiting patiently for the future of the party.

On the Republican side, George W. Bush’s photograph also reflects the passing of the political torch. Bush has a somber look emphasized by his downward stare. The once jovial president appears very concerned, like the rest of the Republican Party, for the future of the Right in Washington.

While most of Davis’s work depicts the campaign trail in a very serious manner, some photographs take a more comical approach and suggest some political bias. One photograph of a man in Confederate garb at the Republican National Convention is a reminder of how the bizarre makes its way into politics. Another image of Sarah Palin in a Hitler-style pose is a reminder that irony can often do the same.

Whether Davis chooses to portray politics in a negative or positive light, his work manages to capture the madness that can occur during an election year. Political Frenzy shows that at some point all politicians experience the glory of winning and the despair of losing. But unlike most photographers from the campaign, Davis chooses to be unafraid, highlighting the battle scars of this year’s political frenzy instead of hiding them.