Two days after Donald Trump’s inauguration, I posted a tweet about his use of a low-resolution, potentially unlicensed image being used as his header image on his preferred weapon of choice, Twitter. On technical and professional levels, it was a fail (you can see it at the top of this article). I should have realized it was a sign of things to come.
Around the same time, we saw Trump’s first presidential portrait, a scowling affair lit from below. Any introductory level photography student knows this is a style of lighting better used for Halloween photos (or if you’re Jill Greenberg, photos of other presidential candidates) than a sitting president.
In September, Aneesh Kothari asked the question: should President Trump fire his video team? The argument for that being that the cuts in most of his videos make no sense; They’re essentially from the same angle with shots edited back and forth in an awkward way. In these videos, Trump shouts at the screen in an equally puzzling fashion. It’s possible that Kothari’s article didn’t make it into Trump’s daily briefings, as he was still using the same technique for videos into December, sharing a screed against sanctuary cities on Twitter early in the month.
The hits kept coming in November, with a new presidential portrait released by the White House. This one was no better, featuring a distinct lack of professional lighting and poor composition with a frame sticking out of the corner. It’s as if he gave the photographer no accommodations for a formal photograph, which is entirely possible. Compare that with Vice President Mike Pence’s photo and the difference is easily visible.
Even as late as last week, Trump still hasn’t learned the basic step of using a high-resolution photo for Twitter. Low-resolution featured photos are still the order of the day for the @realdonaldtrump handle:
Never mind the optics of not having much diversity in most of his pictures, as most bill signing and speech photos show.
Trump’s questionable use of photos extend to his retweets. As recently as two days before Christmas, he retweeted the following meme:
This appears to be a Joe McNally photo that has been altered. A different Trump head has been plastered on and a CNN logo is smeared on his shoe. Though he isn’t the creator (and thus the infringer) of the photo, his retweet amounts to a tacit endorsement of the practice.
Though Trump has hired Shealah Craighead as the official White House photographer, it seems like she’s not given the same freedom as Pete Souza was during his tenure as President Barack Obama’s official photographer. Most of the photos on the Flickr feed are poorly composed grip-and-grin photos, with odd tilts and couches in the way, compared to Souza’s wonderful documentary photography. Much of that probably reflects on the personal tastes of each commander in chief the respective photographer worked with, as both Craighead and Souza are not lacking for talent.
Ultimately, it's erosion in small amounts; a pilfered photo here, a poor quality photo there. But all of it is a signal from the top that photography, especially truthful, documentary photography, doesn't matter. That's bad for photographers all around.