Alejandro Almaraz creates composite images of world leaders in his series, “Portraits of Power.”

Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?

Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?

Behold
The Photo Blog
Oct. 22 2014 11:04 AM

Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?

alejandro-almaraz-All the Presidents of the United States of America from 1789 to 1889
All the presidents of the United States from 1789 to 1889.

Alejandro Almaraz

The aesthetics of official portraits of world leaders are no accident. As Alejandro Almaraz demonstrates in his series, “Portraits of Power,” they’re precisely constructed compositions, created with the intention of reinforcing the authority of their subjects. 

Almaraz created the images in his series by overlapping between four and 40 photos (and sometimes paintings) of successive heads of state, procured over “many, many hours at the library.” It’s a technique he’s used previously in his series, “Places I've Never Been Present,” in which he layered photographs of churches, mausoleums, and other buildings associated with power.

alejandro-almaraz-All the Prime Ministers appointed under Elizabeth II (1952 – 2008)
All the British prime ministers elected under Queen Elizabeth II (1952–2008).

Alejandro Almaraz

alejandro-almaraz-All the Prime Ministers of the Empire of Japan – Shōwa period (1926 – 1947)
All the prime ministers of Japan during the Showa period (1926–1947).

Alejandro Almaraz

alejandro-almaraz-All the Presidents of the Republic of South Africa from 1994 to 2008 (post-apartheid period)
All the presidents of South Africa post-apartheid (1994–2008).

Alejandro Almaraz

alejandro-almaraz-All the Presidents of the United States of America from 1960 to 2008
All the presidents of the United States from 1960 to 2008.

Alejandro Almaraz

alejandro-almaraz-All the Presidents of Finland from 1919 to 2008
All the presidents of Finland from 1919 to 2008.

Alejandro Almaraz

Almaraz found that, in both architecture and photography, power within a country is communicated in a constant visual language. A flurry of medals and other military regalia, for instance, characterize the appearance of a generation of Japanese prime ministers. In recent American portraits, the flag figures prominently. 

Advertisement

The differences between faces, meanwhile, fade away in the aggregate, leaving a standardized, identityless visage. And while the images do say something about the fixedness of a country’s representation of power (the faces, with only a few exceptions, don’t vary drastically) it’s also possible to view them as evidence of the fleetingness of power. In Almaraz’s methodology, leaders who’d ruled for many decades, won wars, and conquered territories disappear into the blur just as seamlessly as those who ruled only for a short time.  

In addition to more universal conclusions about symbols of power, the images also offer specific insights about the structure of individual governments. The virtual absence of women says much about gender dynamics in almost all the countries. And in places like North Korea, the small number of layers in the images over long periods of time speaks to the degree of control held by single individuals.

alejandro-almaraz-All the Presidents of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from 1972 to 2008
All the presidents of North Korea from 1972 to 2008.

Alejandro Almaraz

alejandro-almaraz-All the Presidents of Argentina from 1826 to 1892
All the presidents of Argentina from 1826 to 1892.

Alejandro Almaraz

alejandro-almaraz-All the Presidents of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 2008
All the presidents of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 2008.

Alejandro Almaraz

alejandro-almaraz-All the Leaders of the Soviet Union (1917 – 1991)
All the leaders of the Soviet Union (1917–1991).

Alejandro Almaraz

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.