Politics in Perspective

Brian Dailey, America in Color, 2012

Brian Dailey, America in Color, 2012, photo courtesy the artist. Exhibition on view at Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, New York, through November 18, 2012.

Last Wednesday evening as part of Creative Voices DC series at the Phillips’s Center for the Study of Modern Art, Brian Dailey accomplished a considerable feat for election season—he discussed politics without getting political. In his first solo show America in Color, on view at the Stephan Stoyanov Gallery in New York City through November 18, the artist and former Phillips trustee is displaying a group of one-thousand portraits that together present a demographic study of the American electorate. While traveling across the United States, Dailey photographed individuals in front of monochrome backgrounds representing their political affiliations: blue for Democrat, red for Republican, grey for Independent, green for the Green Party, and yellow if they don’t vote or participate in the political process. Dailey and his team employed a vigorously consistent lighting pattern and various editing techniques to keep the backgrounds uniform and photographed subjects in full-length, to capture each individual’s mannerisms and behavioral quirks. Using such a systematic approach across various locations allowed Dailey to reveal a narrative not only about democracy and political diversity, but about what he refers to as the “uncelebrated American life.”

I embraced this concept and think our audience appreciated it as well. With the final presidential debate two nights prior, the third-party debate the night before, and Election Day countdown beginning, heightened animosity and contention between political parties seems to be polarizing the nation, affecting us all. This being my first presidential election as an official voter, the animosity feels especially intense, and within my own social circles I have watched people either stay quiet or loudly declare political allegiance. But Brian Dailey keeps politics in perspective. In his talk, he did not mention Senate leaders, party representatives, or presidential candidates. For Dailey these figures do not define American politics—all Americans do. And although our political affiliations may be summed up by red, grey, green, blue, or yellow, our political identity is not a color. Instead it is a stance, a uniform, a costume, or an expression—some part of a person’s presence, which represents all the ideas, characteristics, and beliefs an affiliation cannot. Sometimes this identity seems to match our stereotypes about the color behind it, but Dailey showed us that often it doesn’t. And while political affiliations may at times divide Americans, our more complex, less popularized, “uncelebrated” political identities bring us together.

Madeline Bouton, Center for the Study of Modern Art Intern