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Portraits of Power: Overlapping Portraits of World Leaders Reveal the Composition of Power

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There is a specific composition to ‘portraits of power.’ Almost without exception — no matter the country or year, even if the medium was paint and not light — every leader stares out of a frame with a look of seriousness on their face, seated just so, emanating the power and authority granted or given them.

It’s these similarities, punctuated by minor cultural differences, that make photographer Alejandro Almaraz‘s Portraits of Power series so engrossing.

Each image in the series is constructed by overlapping anywhere between 4 and 40 portraits of world leaders from a certain country and time period. Early American presidents and late American presidents, British Prime Ministers, Finnish Presidents and “Supreme Leaders” of North Korea all blend together into composites that each say something about the nations at whose helm these people sat.

Presidents of the United States from 1789 to 1889.
Presidents of the United States from 1789 to 1889.

The images also say something about photography and its relationship to power. Body positioning, head positioning, and basic composition vary very little even between countries, indicating that there is a certain ‘composition of power’ that has remained the same over the years.

But beyond that, photography also acts as a great equalizer. As photography critic Vicki Goldberg explained in her analysis of these images:

Abraham Lincoln has disappeared beneath his predecessors and successors, Benito Juarez beneath his. More startling is that Stalin, who himself had many important men wiped out both from life and from the photographic record, has morphed clean out of recognizable existence in this throng, and Mao, whose image reigns eternal in Tiananmen Square, vanishes altogether. These photographs are time capsules that can only be opened by historians.

Prime Ministers appointed under Elizabeth II (1952-2008).
Prime Ministers appointed under Elizabeth II (1952-2008).
Prime Ministers of the Empire of Japan - Showa period (1926-1947).
Prime Ministers of the Empire of Japan – Showa period (1926-1947).
Presidents of the Republic of South Africa from 1994 to 2008 (post-apartheid period).
Presidents of the Republic of South Africa from 1994 to 2008 (post-apartheid period).
Presidents of the United States of America from 1960 to 2008.
Presidents of the United States of America from 1960 to 2008.
Presidents of Finland from 1919 to 2008.
Presidents of Finland from 1919 to 2008.
Presidents of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from 1972 to 2008.
Presidents of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from 1972 to 2008.
Presidents from Argentina from 1826 to 1892.
Presidents from Argentina from 1826 to 1892.
Presidents of the People's Republic of China from 1949 to 2008.
Presidents of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 2008.
Leaders of the Soviet Union (1917-1991)
Leaders of the Soviet Union (1917-1991)

To see more of the images from the series, or read Goldberg’s full introduction to the series, be sure to visit Almaraz’s website by clicking here.

(via Slate)


Image credits: Photographs by Alejandro Almaraz and used with permission

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