Friday, March 05, 2010
Tony Blair: The Journey of his face - a review
What does this front cover tell us of Tony Blair's current state of mind and his memoirs The Journey (out September)? Arcatistes will be familiar with my appraisals of books by their cover alone: so let's examine the method and the message of this presentation.
Most striking is the light bleaching. I haven't seen anything quite like it since Beth Ditto's cover pic for Love magazine. Two white lamps are trained on the left-hand side of his face: one flat on, the other just off-central visage, casting shadows at the farthest reaches to our right, with illumination splashes on left cheek and mid-forehead. All this serves two purposes: to flood out most of his wrinkles and to deflect attention from the translucent bronze tanning or powder with shade brown and white contrasts.
Artfully, criss-cross lines are just discernible on the forehead while beard grain is non-existent. This succeeds in expressing a hint of the exigencies of past high office while reassuring us of a preserved boyishness, even at the age of 56, one still capable of being summoned up with discreet bronzing and lighting. To go further would be to risk Americanisation of the face. Uncapped teeth and greying hair are another concession to British ideas of authenticity (or another way of maintaining blue transatlantic water between Blighty grunge and American perfectionism). He's still a Brit even if he, like Thatch, is an honorary Yank.
Black open-necked shirt essays a smart-casual, Paul Smith-ish brand of 21st century cool statesmanship, in keeping with the not-quite smile: a smile or grin would incite public violence. So instead we get a Mona Lisa countenance: one that may suggest a certain conflict of feeling. This is a face sensitive to tone (and Tone). Notice how the corners of his mouth level off against the suggestion of a promised smile from the parted lips: it's the look of someone no longer certain of his reception. He looks you straight in the eye but he's wary. Not to be confused with contrition.
Much planning has gone into this pose of informal authenticity. His book promises much as a result, but will it deliver?