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Book Review: Stump


Book Review Stump By Christopher Anderson Reviewed by Colin Pantall There’s a section in Oliver Sacks’ book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, where the author visits of ward full of people with aphasia; a disorder where people have difficulty understanding the meaning of words. As he visits the ward Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States of America, appears on the TV. Suddenly the ward breaks into laughter.

Stump. By Christopher Anderson.
RM, 2013.
 
See it Their Faces
A review by Colin Pantall

Stump
By Christopher Anderson

$35.00
RM, 2013. 96 pp., 84 color illustrations, 9¼x12".

There’s a section in Oliver Sacks’ book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, where the author visits of ward full of people with aphasia; a disorder where people have difficulty understanding the meaning of words. As he visits the ward Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States of America, appears on the TV. Suddenly the ward breaks into laughter. These people who cannot understand individual words or sentences are laughing at the speech that Reagan is giving?

How so if they don’t understand the words that he is saying? Sacks points out that understanding spoken language does not consist of words alone. There is also the emotional delivery of the words. Reagan was full of that. He had his ‘rhetoric, his histrionisms, his emotional appeal.’ It was this that the patients were laughing at. Stripped of the deceptive power of the words they could see a ham actor delivering his ham lines in the most transparent way. It was literally laughable and for all their disability, this ward full of aphasics could see it better than most. Sacks sums up the experience with a quote from Nietzche; ‘One can lie with the mouth, but with the accompanying grimace, one nevertheless tells the truth.’

Stump. By Christopher Anderson. RM, 2013.

Which leads us very nicely on to Christopher Anderson’s Stump. It’s a book of faces, all of which were taken at American presidential primaries and political conventions over the previous 6 years. The pictures are, for the most part, full faces show in extreme close up, clipped nose hairs and all. They say that politics is show business for the ugly and never was that more true than in Stump.

The first spread shows Mitt and Josh Romney staring off into space. If their lips were moving, you might say they were lying. But really they don’t need to speak because these are faces that are performing for the camera. Romney Senior has perfected the politician’s look of concern, his craggy features (made even craggier by the cranked up printing) knotted into his Mount Rushmore expression. But Mount Rushmore is never going to happen for Romney Senior, nor is it to Romney Junior. This member of the Romney clan has a slightly less studied look. His eyes are lupine, greedy, voracious. In the Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde describes a man who has a portrait that ages while he stays forever young. The two Romneys are the flipside of Dorian Grey. The old Romney has learned to disguise his lust and ambition, the young Romney less so.

Stump. By Christopher Anderson. RM, 2013.
Stump. By Christopher Anderson. RM, 2013.

Flick through the book and the facial patterns are repeated across the political divide. There’s ruthlessness written all over Rahm Emmanuel’s face, vanity on Bill Clinton’s and distrust on Jesse Jackson’s. Turn the page and a common theme emerges; these are self-centred faces, egos from which (and I might be projecting here) venality, dishonesty, corruption and delusion shine through.

They are (like all full face pictures) reminiscent of Ken Ohara’s One. But where that epic in monotony emphasised the blank similarity of cropped faces, and came up with the conclusion that we are all the same, Anderson’s faces state that all politicians are morally suspect but they differ wildly depending on the vice that you choose to see in their Botoxed brows and white capped canines.

Stump. By Christopher Anderson. RM, 2013.

These are anti-campaign photographs. Rather than showing who you should vote for and why, these show you who you shouldn’t vote for. They show (albeit on a projected and very superficial level) why some people say that America is more of an oligarchy than a functioning democracy. They say why representation across both political parties has become limited to the ridiculously connected and rich. It’s because of these people! Don’t vote for them again. Any of them. Ever.—COLIN PANTALL

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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