The United States’ founding fathers were stoic men, gazing toward the frontier with rugged resolve. Our modern presidents are entirely different–smiling, approachable, and soft, like the spokesperson of a retirement home.
These are Portraits of Power, by Alejandro Almaraz. They’re an array of regional mashups, that combine all of the presidents of Finland, or Mexico, or the U.S. Each country’s leaders are stacked on top of one another, composited into a sort of averaged face–the average face that we’ve either chosen or allowed to rule us.
In one case, Almaraz mashed together all the U.S. presidents of the past 50 years, generating a face with a nice grandpa-in-a-suit feel. “It’s what the American society believes and chooses as their main representation,” Almaraz explains. “I’m not sure [what it means] but my intention with this series is not to give answers, but to produce new way to think of the theme.”
Almaraz credits his technique to the 19th-century British researcher Sir Francis Galton, who, long before the era of Photoshop, perfected a technique to combine the photographs of criminals and the chronically sick in attempts to glean symptoms lurking in someone’s face. (Galton was ultimately unsuccessful in discovering the archetypal criminal or sickly visage, most likely because those don’t really exist). But Portraits of Power is ripe for intellectual unpacking. As Almarez explains, “You can see the health of a democracy symbolized in the amount of its layers. More layers means more altering of power.”
The three Supreme Leaders of North Korea’s “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” blend into one very clear face, distinguished only by its hat and glasses–a sharp portrait of the country’s abiding totalitarianism.