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Patricia Briggs: Documenting the Political Divide: The Photos of Ann Marsden

November 4, 2008

Patricia Briggs

Partisanship and division have characterized the American body politic during the long years of the Bush presidency. This electoral season Twin Cities photographer Ann Marsden has focused her camera’s lens on candidates, crowds, and media personalities as each play their part in rallies, conventions, and campaign events that make up the current election season in and around Minneapolis/Saint Paul, where the Republican National Convention was held.

Marsden began documenting candidate appearances and protests out of her interest in recording, examining, and “witnessing” the stand-off between the polarized polity which America became in the wake of the contested Bush election in 2000, the xenophobic fear ignited by the attacks of 9/11, and the disgust incited by the American military invasion of Iraq. Her project aims to catalogue the physiognomy of the mobilized, who are caught in what seems to be, a battle between good an evil, with evil being whichever side is the other side.

From her vantage point as a credentialed press photographer, Marsden’s camera cuts in close to the principle political players just as the familiar media images shown on television and printed in newspapers do; yet her photographs offer unfamiliar views of the candidates. We see Michelle Obama speaking a Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, her face and arm movements caught oddly in between gestures. Marsden shoots Barak Obama, surrounded by a small army of sunglasses-clad security agents, while shaking hands with the people attending a rally in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Marsden shows John McCain both energized and seemingly exhausted at he speaks to the crowd at a town hall meeting in Lakeville, Minnesota.

Marsden lingers over the peripherals surrounding the main speakers: volunteers, behind the scenes shots of media personalities, political hangers on, and in the case of her coverage of the Republican National Convention, we see the militarized crowd controllers. Most powerful are Marsden’s shots of the faces in the crowds where we are as likely to see angelic faces of youth, as we are to see the brittle tired faces of die-hard partisans.

The following are from Ann Marsden’s Photo Blog

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Patricia Briggs is Associate Professor at Minneapolis College of Art and Design where she teaches art history and art criticism. Her article “Matisse’s Odalisque and the Photographic Académie” was recently published in History of Photography. A critic and independent curator, her writing appears in Artforum International, Art Papers, Public Art Review, Senses and Society, and mnartists.org. She has organized exhibitions at the Weisman Art Museum and The Soap Factory in Minnesota and the Plain Art Museum in North Dakota.

Ann Mardsen is a professional photographer based in the Twin Cities. Her area of expertise is the arts, and her portraits of musicians, actors, and writers appear in a range of national venues including Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. See more images on her blog.

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