This extremely long and detailed nightmare I’m having in which Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States is getting darker. My very fertile, very thorough imagination has now produced a Time cover—which, given the internal and inexorable logic of the fantasy, features Trump as the 2016 Person of the Year. I am not going to litigate whether or not this choice was appropriate, because everyone involved in the decision is a figment of my overheated brain, but Ben Mathis-Lilley points out that Time has long selected distasteful individuals, including Hitler, Stalin, and Putin, for POY honor. (Not to mention that in election years, the magazine typically opts for the president-elect.)
Anyway, here’s the image.
Creepy, no? On Twitter, Helen Rosner observes that London-based photographer Nadav Kander incorporated aesthetic flourishes from 1940s studio portraiture: a “Kodachrome palette,” “over-the-shoulder physicality,” lots of shadow, and luxurious props.
Maybe the point of these ’40s tropes is to suggest that Trump, as promised by his hat, out of which he talks, will renew the “Greatest Generation.” Maybe it’s to imply the opposite: that the PEOTUS is a Nazi. (Certainly something about the chair and the just-so angle of his head—what one colleague terms his “evil coquette look”—evokes Time’s 1938 Mensch of the Jahr.)
But even if the WWII-era references are accidental, or just intend to communicate solemnity, the coldness and darkness of the image seem notably menacing. Equally scary are four accompanying black-and-white photographs that present Trump’s inner circle—Bannon, Conway, Priebus, and Pence—unsmiling and sunk in gloom.
Over email, Kander declined to answer specific questions about the photo shoot, but he did release the following statement through his publicist:
For this commission, we were inspired by iconic portrait sittings throughout history. Upon arriving at Trump’s residence, I wanted to integrate a detail from his environment into the photograph. I tried a few set ups, but this image of President-Elect Trump in his chair stood out as the cover. The importance of this picture rests on the fact that we are at a crossroad in history.
This is a pretty diplomatic hedge for a creature born from my subconscious. Not so diplomatic? The bright-red devil horns protruding out of the presidential pate.
Is it possible that Time’s editors did this without realizing it?
Slate designer Derreck Johnson expressed skepticism. “The alignment with Trump’s head is just too perfect,” he said. Noting that Time has weaponized its pointy “M” in the past, he added that “this is the first one I’ve seen where it’s not an extreme close-up. It’s a full body thing. So it makes it stand out even more.”
Meanwhile, Trump took umbrage at the least offensive thing about this Time cover, from his perspective: the magazine’s description of him as “President of the Divided States of America.”