March 12, 2008
In an election year I thought it might be good to take another look (or two) at photographer Nancy Burson's image The President (second version), in which the likenesses of five of our most recent heads of state merge into one, well....larger head. Represented here are Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. At first, you're not quite sure what you're looking at: a rather confident looking man who seems familiar. Maybe he wants to sell you something, but you're not really sure what it is. As soon as you settle into that "I know who it is" feeling, an uncomfortable "Hmmmm, no that's not right" steals over you.
This election year is pretty exciting because it provides the unexpected: one shoo-in drops out after dropping in the polls, while an unlikely candidate rises in popularity. Is one different than the next?
Has Burson created what she considers to be our ideal candidate or is her statement darker than that? Some of the visual dislocation comes because of her process; she makes the composite on her computer, then shoots a polaroid of the screen, so it really looks like a combination of a TV image and a photograph.
Burson has an interesting history. In her digital work she was a pioneer in the technique known as morphing. Her blended images—also known as composites—show us our similarities as well as our differences. Her images work not only in the artistic realm, but in the scientific world as well. In 1981, she and engingeers from M.I.T. received a patent for an aging machine. During the 1990s she dedicated a significant portion of her time to helping investigators search for the missing, using the software she developed to produce digitally aged portraits from old photographs.
Have you morphed a portrait? Post a link in the comments below.
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