Thursday, 30 October 2008

On Photography - Paul Hewson’s Polaroid portraits of Robert Muldoon

In light of New Zealand’s current election campaign, I profile some political art in this week's post.

The Gallery only holds a few portraits of local politicians. Two of the most powerful are also amongst our smallest works – both measure 79 mm square and both have the same title: Muldoon T.V. 2

During 1975, I believe Paul Hewson attended the National Party’s election meeting in Auckland’s Town Hall where he photographed Robert Muldoon. Mr Muldoon was then the leader of the National Party and would soon become New Zealand’s Prime Minister, a position he held until 1984. I cannot find any records of Hewson’s photographs taken at this party political meeting being held in any public collection.

Mr Muldoon (1921 – 1992) brilliantly understood the ability of television to deliver political messages and he was renowned for his forceful political presence during television interviews.
An infamous example of his media style occurred when Simon Walker for TV1 interviewing him during 1976. Here is a link to archival footage of the interview.

Mr Muldoon tells Walker:

‘You are not going to set the rules my friend, this is an important matter and we are going to get to the truth of it’.


During 1976, Paul Hewson used his Polaroid SX70 camera to record these colour photographs from his television set’s black and white monitor while Mr Muldoon appeared in TV2’s live studio interview. The resulting images are digital portraits and result from Hewson's documentation of the television broadcast. The instantaneous results are two miniature portraits that have a visual wallop. Muldoon’s eyes look as if they are closed, an effect due to the camera’s slow exposure time. The Prime Minister seems utterly determined. These are portraits of a politician certain of his opinions, which is unsurprising, as the Prime Minister was known for his incisive thinking.


We see a similarly potent confidence in Tony Fomison’s political paintings from the 1970s, such as Jack in the Box 1978, where a Muldoon-like face intimidates a tiny person. This small work (419 x 333mm) came to the Gallery from the late Denis Cohn’s personal art collection.


Paul Hewson’s Muldoon T.V.2 reveals a Prime Minister who is assertive, powerful and authoritative. Fomison similarly understood that the physical scale of a portrait does not limit an artwork’s expressive potential.

Click here to read more On Photography by Ron Brownson


Credits (top to bottom)

Paul Hewson
Muldoon T.V.2 1977
colour SX70 polaroid print
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Paul Hewson
Muldoon T.V.2 1977
colour SX70 polaroid print
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

Tony Fomison
Jack in the Box 1978
oil on linen
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

1 comment:

artandmylife said...

I love polaroids and these are wonderful. Thank you for this post. Now I wish I hadn't given away my polaroid camera yesterday!