Tuesday, March 16, 2010


There's few portrait images that embody a powerful meaning. There's handful that are recognizable from any distance, the most famous of which being 'Che Guevara'. There's a point where a shot like this stops being a photo of a person, and becomes a symbol for a belief system, or basic meaning. His symbolizing 'resistance'. Problem for that is how quickly that symbol can become co-opted into a 'logo' or 'brand' for commerce. In the case of someone like 'Che' it invalidates everything he'd actually stood for.

A better symbol for T-shirts or coffee cups I'd argue would be someone like 'Ayn Rand' who ultimately stood for uncompromising individualism and commerce. Everything Che wasnt.

Another problematic example of this 'portrait image' as symbol was the 2008 Obama poster. As soon as I saw those popping up everywhere , my immediate thought was 'Uh oh, I'm not sure they realize what they're harnessing here' Even though I liked the guy, I wasnt sure that would help him the the long run. Usually with these sorts of things, waaaay too much expectation is heaped on to it, and it's always too hard for that individual to live up to the 'meaning' portrayed in his or her image (it also helps if the subject is no longer alive). As quick as that enthusiasm is built up, it can just as quickly be brought down to earth.

Unfairly, I think, we build these 'icons' up as quickly as we love to destroy them.

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