When it comes to portraits, what you get is not always what you think you see. Much has been made of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year photograph of #Donald Trump by Nadav Kander – particularly the perceived pair of horns atop his head that the red letter "M” in the word Time seems to suggest. Jake Romm, a culture writer for Forward, went even further and deconstructed the entire portrait in a story headlined, “Why Time’s Trump Cover is a Work of Political Art.” While making lengthy points that are plainly debatable, he failed to sustain his one irrefutable argument. (More about that in a moment).

Going off on a tangent

Citing the chair that Trump is posed in, Romm referenced seats used in other famous portraits, and called Kander’s choice of furniture “the masterstroke” by virtue of his grasp of Louis XV furnishings.

In his mind, the chair is some “ostentatious” throne-ish thing. He even extended this idea by point out that King Louis was a womanizer, apparently alluding to Trump’s dalliances. Even if you accept his argument that the chair has royal airs, his equating the 18th century style with debauchery is a stretch. What’s more, Trump isn’t seated in anything specifically vintage. Granted, the chair back is upholstered in the manner of period furniture. But missing in this case is the classic cartouche-shaped (rounded ovals) with a crest rail or medallion. So, no, this is not what Romm called a “gaudy symbol of wealth and status.” He also went on and on about some tear he spotted in the upholstery that he concluded ”signifies Trump’s own cracked image...and glittering promises.”

Letting bias get in the way of an otherwise cogent argument

Let’s say Romm is right that there’s a rip in the chair and that it makes a statement about Trump.

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I’ll give him that, although the rip is not readily discernible. But there’s one aspect of this portrait that is irrefutable: the Donald’s pose -- a view from his back -- which Romm correctly characterized as a “subversive play on traditional power-portraits.” Yet, inexplicably, he wanders off to carry on about eye levels and how the Lincoln Memorial puts viewers below, forcing people to look up, and how the Time Magazine image doesn’t do that, and how “the power relation has shifted entirely.” The thing is that picturing the President-elect from the rear is the one obvious tell that there’s something fishy about Trump. Seeing him frontally obscured, turning only his head slightly in our direction, suggests that we’ve caught him off guard doing goodness knows what. Romm sees a “conniving wink.” Maybe that eye action is there and maybe it isn’t. But isn’t the back-end posture in itself enough?. From the way Romm over-thinks this, you imagine he was talking about William Blake’s very unsubtle, painting of Nebuchadnezzar's bout with madness. #Photography