Dirty Politics Make for Good Art

Mark Peterson’s “Political Theater” Now Showing at Galerie Fotoland

By Ruby Love

This month, Galerie Fotoland said goodbye to Jim Lommasson’s Exit Wounds (if you didn’t see it, you should look it up, although you have no excuse unless you’re an incoming freshman…it was up all spring and summer), which the Cooper Point Journal previously covered. On October 10, Galerie Fotoland welcomed a new exhibit which, while very stylistically different from Exit Wounds, is similarly striking/jarring/show-stopping.

Titled Political Theater, the exhibit is the work of award-winning freelance photographer Mark Peterson, who has been photographing on the 2016 Presidential campaign trail near-daily since its beginning. Political Theater is the product of Peterson’s time spent photographing politicians at rallies, press conferences, debates, and town halls.

While hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of images are made of politicians every year, especially presidential candidates, Peterson’s stand out. Shot in gritty, grainy black and white, Political Theater takes a “No pandering. No apology.” approach to campaign photography. Peterson’s high-contrast, high-sharpness, close-focus images are hilarious and grotesque in a way that makes you chuckle nervously one minute, and draw a sharp breath the next.

Walking along the wall of Galerie Fotoland, you’re greeted by the full, almost slimy lips of Donald Trump, pursed to reveal his two front teeth, filling one massive photograph. In another, the face of Michele Bachmann is seen from below; her clumped, mascara-laden eyelashes form gigantic fans above her wide eyes. We can see up her nose – every hair visible to us – and we can even see a drip of spit descending from one of her rear teeth.

At a time when the process of becoming President seems uglier than ever, Peterson’s photographs make visual the “dirtiness” of campaigning. These images are not pretty or idealistic; they emphasize the tight flexing, the forced grinning, and the outrageous boasting seemingly required by the American political process. They serve to lay bare the mechanics of what Peterson calls Political Theater.

What makes Political Theater particularly attention-grabbing is its contemporaneity—these aren’t historical images, or even images from last year…they are representing the events of this month; even this very week. While American audiences are used to images being updated on a minute-by-minute basis online (I watched memes being posted using screenshots from a Presidential debate that was IN-PROGRESS), this type of immediacy is not as common in a gallery setting.

I spoke with the Emperor of Photoland and Galerie Fotoland Curator Steve Davis, who told me he was very excited to be featuring Peterson’s series. Davis had been emailing back and forth with Peterson over the summer to set up the exhibit, and Peterson was sending fresh images from the campaign trail right up until the day the show was printed at Photoland (One of the perks of having a state-of-the art photo lab at Evergreen).

Davis told me that the program Playing Politics is visiting the exhibit to reflect on is contents for their program and half-jokingly exclaimed that his hope for the exhibit was that it would inspire, “all you Millennials [to] get out and vote!!”

Political Theater will be on display until December 7 at Galerie Fotoland, located on the first floor of the library. Mark Peterson is represented by Redux Pictures and has been photographing the campaign trail for publications such as MSNBC, TIME, New York Magazine, and Politico. You can find more of his work at MarkPetersonpixs.com.