Photographs of politicians are usually the same: immaculate posture, calculated smiles, orchestrated expressions. They're painted more as characters, posing for their audiences. For New York City-based photographer Mark Peterson, this became a challenge to crack. "They want a picture taken from that specific angle because [they] will look the best with that view and backdrop behind them. Everything I try to do is to not take that picture," says Peterson, who is currently following the 2016 presidential candidates as a freelance photographer for MSNBC, Time, and The New Yorker, among others. "That's when I thought, 'I have to be more dramatic.'"
And boy, are these facial expressions worth a thousand words. With his alternative perspective, Peterson focuses his lens on the often ignored—yet essential—details of the shape of the mouth, crinkle of an eyelid, movement of the hands. They're loud, theatrical, and natural, cringe-worthy to any political advisor. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Peterson uses limited editing through cheap photo apps for enhanced lighting and then switches to black and white, mimicking the raw, on-the-fly snapshots of 1930s political figures.
Peterson has gathered his favorites together as "Political Theater," an exhibit presented by Fovea Exhibitions at Hudson Beach Glass through March 6. "I'm trying to reveal things in the faces and gestures of the candidates that maybe we don't know, or haven't seen." Luckily, the candidates seem to be making it fairly easy for him. Unlike his first campaign following Bill Clinton in '92, the current candidates are erupting with anger, enhancing the drama. "[The candidates are] believing that government isn't working, and are channeling the imagined or real anger from the voting populous," says Peterson. "The rise of Trump and Sanders has made this project even more viable or come to life." The most difficult candidate to break character? Hillary. "For the most part, she tries to demonstrate restraint and belief in her competency. All the other candidates are so angry, they're just going to barge in there and claim house," Peterson says. "I think some of the most revealing photos I've made have been of Hillary. When the curtain is drawn aside and you see a more real person."
This month's cover shot is pressed with power and symbolism. Republican candidate Governor Scott Walker reaches out his arm to the crowd at the Red State Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia this past August. An American flag hovers in the corner. As his hand gestures forward, Walker—like so many other candidates—reaches out for support and trust. "He's basically pleading for people to come aboard his campaign. All of them wrap themselves up in patriotism and the American flag," says Peterson. While Peterson's 35-plus years of photography experience is not solely politically based, he sure has a knack for capturing the type of picture that may be just as important as the speech itself.
Mark Peterson's photographs in "Political Theater" will be on display through March 6 by Fovea Exhibitions on the second floor at Hudson Beach Glass, 162 Main Street in Beacon. Peterson will talk about his work on Saturday, February 13 at 6:30 pm. Foveaeditions.org; Markpetersonpixs.com.