Time’s Trump cover – a revealing portrait

There was an outcry over the ‘horns’ supposedly given to Donald Trump on Time’s cover, but the really chilling effect is in the composition of the image

Donald Trump Time Magazine cover

Oh, so you thought 2016 was bad?

Well hold onto your hats. Because an astonishing 61,900,651 US voters have decided that everything’s going to be just dandy next year if the most powerful person on the planet is a racist, climate-change-denying, incoherent, tax avoiding, serial-philandering liar, with a string of sexual assault allegations behind him.

What could possibly go wrong? So let’s maybe not get too optimistic about 2017. Time magazine certainly isn’t.

Because despite naming Donald Trump ‘Person of the Year’ (in terrible type, I might add), their cover design betrays a very different message.

For a start they seem to have cheekily given him a crown of horns as his bizarrely coiffured head overlaps the ‘M’ in the masthead. But after a social media storm the magazine has hastily denied deliberately implying that the President-Elect is the devil, saying it’s just a coincidence…honest. They cite several previous cover stars with devil-like horns caused by the inconvenient placement of the ‘M’. It happens all the time, apparently. Even to the Pope. Maybe it’s a running gag in the art department. Who knows?

But I’m pretty sure that every pixel in Nadav Kander’s chilling portrait has been carefully orchestrated. Because it’s a vastly more brutal portrayal than merely adding a couple of cartoon horns.

Shot in Trump’s palatial New York penthouse, the first prop to hand no doubt was the throne-like chair, ornate and tacky. And falling apart. Just look at the unretouched, damaged, threadbare area on the back and the stains on the wood. Despite the golden silk fabric, it is lit by a hard, depressing, cold blue light. Yes, the analogies and associations come thick and fast. They ain’t good ones, and that’s just the chair.

When we get onto Trump, the gloves really come off. We view him from the back as he turns to look at us. The expression is, needless to say, sinister (but at least that blue light seems to have sorted out his orange skin). One would assume that the chair, sorry, throne, is metaphorically facing the future. But there’s no light there. Just a dark shadow hangs over his face from that direction. The only light comes from behind. The past. Maybe a reference to his campaign tactics of cynically dwelling on old American glories.

But even that light harshly exposes the baldness beneath his ridiculously vain comb-over. Then, amongst the dark shadows and muted tones, we notice the red of his tie leap out of the picture like a vibrant splash of blood. Deeply unsettling.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a scary shadow looming on the wall over Trump’s left shoulder. The spectre perhaps of the dark forces lurking in his proposed cabinet of crazies about to find themselves at the heart of government.

Chilled to the bone yet? I know I am. What a terrifyingly great image.

Those who criticise a photographer for taking such an assignment, would do well to remember the power we have as imagemakers. This photograph is a stark warning.

Paul Belford is founder and creative director of agency Paul Belford Ltd. See paulbelford.com and @belford_paul

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