Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
If you cruise through the Instagram photos geotagged “Trump Tower New York,” you will surely note a glaring common theme: internationally recognizable obscene gestures thrown up right in the face of this gaudy landmark. In fact, there are so many photos of flipped birds on this geotag that they start to feel, taken together, like a real artistic corpus—a genre all their own. And so we wondered: aesthetically speaking, which of these photographs of random people giving the finger to Trump Tower are the best? Let this critic be the judge.
The subject’s small, mischievous smile and almost-hesitant double-bird remind the viewer of a boy on the outskirts of a group, quietly ruining a family group photo. One imagines the subject and the photographer walking away quickly after the picture was taken, giggling.
In this entry, the detail’s the thing. The safety pin on the ribbon; the small hint of tattoo on the wrist; the dotted pattern of yellow lights under the Trump Tower marquee. The composition might be slightly improved by a shift of the finger to the right—but the asymmetry arguably has its own appeal.
The intrusion of the loving arm of the photographer into the frame, as well as the golden-hour light streaming from the top right-hand corner of the image, lighting the photographer’s arm hairs and the gilding on the tower’s façade equally, render this bird flip almost romantic in feel.
The entire internet, texters and tweeters and emailers alike, seems to condemn Trump in this creative collage, in which the digital and the real collide. The emoji, positioned above the marquee in this instance, seems to be sliding slowly up the tower, headed for the top.
Trump fades into the background as the beauty of this subject takes center stage. The strong angles of her right-hand bird amplify the intensity of her gaze.
This photographer chose to approach the assignment sideways, dressing the subject in a jacket that is, itself, a middle finger to Trumpism. The effect is mostly successful, but I wish the subject could have stepped forward one stride, so the photographer might fit his (or her?) fingertips more pleasingly in the frame; those hands, hanging by the subject’s side, send a message of imminent defiance that we want to see more clearly.
Where can the critic buy one of these jackets? Ah, here.
Here’s another Mexico-themed bird-flipper, framed with particular care. The bottom third of the image, with the barrier between the subject and the street visually overlaying an area of sidewalk that seems to be covered in something like a red carpet, gestures to the ostentatious-yet-fake luxury of Trumpism. The top section of the image plays in interesting ways with the rectangular windows of the building, and the subject is slightly offset from center, following the rule of the golden ratio; this photographer was paying attention.
At first, this critic discounted this entry for its blurry confusion; the middle finger is almost lost at the bottom of the frame. But wait—look again—the man passing by, in the hat and glasses, seemingly unrelated to our subject, is joining in on the action. This image is a valuable reflection of animus shared across generations, and a little gem of street photography.
The subject’s manicure adds a point of focus here, as does the choice to cut the word “Tower” from the frame, so that it’s the man, not the building, that’s condemned. I did wish for a slightly better look at those nails, and a few more notches of intentionality in the framing.
The curl of the thumb is almost jaunty, casual, echoing the informality of the blurry background and the acronymic caption. This subject seems to have made the image without shame, but on the run, according the sentiment perhaps the exact amount of mind space it deserves.
Unfortunately this one seems to have mistaken the assignment altogether. Better luck next time.
Read more Trumpstagram here.