Tinker Tailor President Photographer
In hundreds of thousands of photographs taken of politicians and of the political theatre, one may be hard-pressed to find a single photo showing a politician wielding a camera, let alone a photo taken by a politician. Perhaps because photography is considered expensive, elitist and intrusive, it remains an unusually rare hobby among world leaders. Stalin, one of the most heartless of dictators, spent his free time sketching and drawing human body but never once directed his artistic talents towards photography. Hitler used photographs to aid his quite unremarkable drawing, but he delegated the responsibility of documenting the Fuhrer family to other hagiographers. Some of lesser strongmen, such as Tito and Ceausesu, were ‘photographers’ in the inflated doublespeak of their Orwellian lands, where the leader is the capable dilettante of almost any trade, but left behind only amateurish family albums.
In today’s politicians, there is Patrick Leahy, an American Senator from Vermont, who is quite accomplished and who has tremendous access. But perhaps the most famous politician-cum-photographer working today is the current president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev. In January 2010, his photograph above was sold at a charity auction for 51 million rubles ($1.75 million), making it one of the most expensive ever sold, and propelling the quirky Russian president into record books.
Being a camera-toting politician comes with its own complications. Last week, Medvedev caused a diplomatic incident during his visit to some islands disputed between Russia and Japan. If his visit — the first by either Russian or Soviet leader since the-then USSR seized the islands in the last days of the WWII — were not bad enough, Mr. Medvedev took some pictures of the island with his trusty DSLR and posted them on his Twitter, with the caption, “How many beautiful places there are in Russia!” The Japanese were outraged, and temporarily recalled their ambassador to Moscow. Even before his photographic jaunt, Mr. Medvedev got into a different photography-related kerfluffle when he and the Italian Prime Minister posed in front of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. For several minutes, the cameras flashed, despite the fact that the Milanese Church which housed the photosensitive mural clearly prohibited flash photography.