Which image will be the face of 2023 elections

This photo of Michael Dukakis, a presidential candidate, damaged his campaign. Politico screenshot

This campaign season, however, seems to be based on a different set of principles. As someone who has worked in graphics and news design and now is teaching these subjects, I have spent quite a bit of time on news visuals. It seems to me that images don’t stick as well in 2018 as they did in the past.

Images were used as a way to describe the political views of the two sides during the midterm campaign. A widely circulated image from June showed a crying Honduran girl allegedly separated at the border from her parents. We learned later that she and her mother had been detained together.

New York Times screenshot of photo by Getty photographer John Moore. New York Times screenshot

Photos of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, now Justice, were also widely circulated from Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.

Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearings. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

The images were popular in October, but haven’t appeared much since. Although the Honduran Child image seemed to be a good fit for a campaign focusing on immigration, it didn’t appear in October. Kavanaugh’s sometimes sneering, impassioned face was also a popular meme, but not one image has stuck.

Perhaps that’s what makes the difference. Icons as single images are so 20th-century, when cameras were less common. now we are all documenters, and we get our photos from a wide range of sources.

There is one image that appears repeatedly in this election season. It’s not one specific image, but the face of an unelected man.

Donald Trump speaks at a Cleveland campaign rally on Nov. 5, 2018. AP/Tony Dejak

Nearly all media outlets covering the election feature President Trump. His photo looms over his tweets and Fox News, and he gazes stoically at the screen of MSNBC. Trump’s face is everywhere. There is no one image that stands out, and there are no prominent photos of him doing anything – like Bush or Dukakis.

The best photos might win awards, yet the photos that are remembered reflect personalities and not events. Trump is no Kim Kardashian, but their shared visual branding defines the campaign and this era more than any substantive event: Today’s photo icons may not reflect what happened as much as they do who happened.

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