"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

20 October, 2008

Examining the Image #22 – Palin & her Fey Doppelgänger – Harbinger of Doom?

Republican VP candidate Alaska governor Sarah Palin watches Tina Fey’s now notorious SNL impersonation alongside executive producer Lorne Michaels
This image copyright Dana Edelson/NBC

I’ve been wanting to take a look at the photo-journalistic phenomenon that is Sarah Palin since John McCain announced his shock decision to appoint her as his running mate. However, I didn’t want to choose one of the cheesy beauty pageant or scary moose-hunting shots which, compulsively, morbidly fascinating as they are, simply do not stand up to much scrutiny or analysis.

Then I saw this surreal shot of Palin watching Tina Fey doing Palin, albeit at one remove, split by a screen, but with all the heavy symmetrical resonances of the identical red jacket, curiously dated lapel brooch, serious-yet-come-hither specs & quasi-permanent Cherie Blair rictus.

The Cholmondeley Ladies Anon. 1600-1610.
Image copyright Tate Gallery

This type of close figurative symmetry, as seen in the famous 17th portrait of the Cholmondeley Twins above, has a long and complex tradition in the history of art while the theme of the lookalike or Doppelgänger is traditionally associated with issues of identity and duality.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): The Two Fridas 1939
This image: Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Trust

The word Doppelgänger is also often used to describe the sensation of having glimpsed oneself peripherally, in a position where there is no chance that it could be a reflection – one of the visual tricks which help to give much of René Magritte’s precise Surrealist paintings their peculiar attraction.

René Magritte (1898-1967) La Reproduction Interdite 1937. Copyright ADAGP Paris/DACS London 2006/V&A

In many cultures, a Doppelgänger seen by a person's friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one's own Doppelgänger is often an omen of death. They are also frequently regarded as harbingers of bad luck.
While the jury is still out on the wisdom or otherwise of Palin’s decision to play along with the Saturday Night Live crew, there can be few politicians who did not ultimately rue similarly irreverent depictions or imitations.
Cartoonist Steve Bell’s decision to have John Major’s underpants on the outside of his trousers springs immediately to mind while Liberal leader David Steel reportedly blamed his squeaky pocket-sized Spitting Image puppet, cuddling up on David Owen’s shoulder, for the downturn in his career.