Fillip 18 — Spring 2013

Some Uses of Disenchantment: Vladimir Putin’s Staged Photography
Martha Langford

The fairy-tale hero proceeds for a time in isolation, as the modern child often feels isolated. The hero is helped by being in touch with primitive things—a tree, an animal, nature—as the child feels more in touch with those things than most adults do. The fate of these heroes convinces the child that, like them, he may feel outcast and abandoned in the world, groping in the dark, but, like them, in the course of his life he will be guided step by step, and given help when it is needed. Today, even more than in past times, the child needs the reassurance offered by the image of the isolated man who nevertheless is capable of achieving meaningful and rewarding relations with the world around him. —Bruno Bettelheim1

Revolutions, even velvet ones, rarely meet the expectations that they raise. Disenchantment and pessimism creep in. This is when we realize that the old regime, whose death knell we have so clearly sounded, is still very much alive. The euphoric sense that everything has changed is followed by the numbing suspicion that nothing has changed.

—Zhelyu Zhelev2

Joseph Beuys was completely right when he claimed that everybody should be an artist—or, rather, that everybody must be understood as being an artist. This requirement is not part of a utopian vision, as was often assumed. Rather it is a correct description of the facts as they already are. The status of the artist as a result becomes unclear and uncertain everywhere—even if this situation is not analyzed to the extent to which it should be.

—Boris Groys3

Of course it was a set up.

—Vladimir Putin4

Once upon a time—it was the height of the Cold War—American historian Daniel J. Boorstin conjured up The Image: a trenchant and unabashedly elitist critique of what he saw as the increasing phoniness of American public life.5 This was not Holden Caulfield’s disgust with “phonies,” as J. D. Salinger’s fictional character classed most of the people he knew,6 but the stranger-than-fiction performances mounted by politicians, corporations, and their public relations teams in the form of “pseudo-events.” It was in these terms, for example, that readers of the New Yorker were tutored to evaluate US President John F. Kennedy’s speech at the Berlin Wall, by attending above all to the ways that the press corps, and by extension their readers, viewers, and listeners, were being led around Europe in the spring of 1963. New Yorker correspondent Richard H. Rovere called the presidential tour a super-pseudo-event. It was planned, as nearly all travelling by the movers and shakers of earth is planned, in order that it might be written about, talked about, photographed, and televised—and witnessed by great crowds, which will, in turn, be written about, talked about, etc. Rovere nevertheless saw the flip between events and pseudo-events in moments of “raw political” or unscripted “emotion,” as when Kennedy responded to his first sighting of the Berlin Wall: The wall resembles its pictures, of which he must have studied hundreds, but the real thing evidently affected him more deeply than he had expected it to, and led him to ad-lib angry and—in terms of recently proclaimed American policy—discordant lines in his speech at the Rathausplatz. Kennedy’s hypocrisy was on full display as he vented his righteous indignation, almost as a “foreign agitator.” On the domestic front he was urging American civil rights demonstrators off the streets and into the courts to seek legislative solutions to inequality; abroad he was virtually inciting riot. Such moments were fleeting, however, for the real purpose of this outing was popularity—to be seen to be popular elsewhere—which was political coin in the president’s coffers. This shiny coin was spinning. As Rovere concluded, “Events are affected by pseudo-events, as reality is affected by illusion.”7

In the media turn of the 1960s, theory kept pace with propaganda and advertising as a generator of catchy phrases—Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” and dizzying aphorisms such as Guy Debord’s ninth provocation: “In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.”8 In keeping with the Cold War ethos of information and disinformation, cultural theorists, some with terminal degrees in Jesuit relativism, imagined a cloistered and like-minded readership. There are striking affinities here with the avant-garde art movements of the twentieth century that cultivated and sustained a community of insiders, their own institutions. An apposite example can be found in Russia. Historian of Soviet-era dissident art Boris Groys contextualizes Moscow conceptualism as a phenomenon placed before a “micropublic...programmatically separated from the larger public.”9 This was the Catch-22 of intense art experience: a spinning coin of repression endured and secrecy savoured. In the 1960s and 1970s, Groys writes, Moscow conceptualism not only made a spectacle of Soviet life but also saved its memory for a future that became different from that of the Communist vision. It is a memory of shabbiness and austerity of the Soviet everyday life but also of the utopian energy of the Soviet culture. History—the narrative of a society harnessed to the task of looking forward—became form in the work of the Moscow conceptualists when the dull, repetitive present materialized as “shaming and shameful” spectacle.10 These histories do not intersect or layer upon one another in cause and effect—I am not making that claim—and even if there were instances of meetings, borrowings, messengers moving between avant-garde cloisters, they are of less import, I want to suggest, than the overarching influence of the Cold War, whose refinement of psychological warfare was so pervasive and thrilling that cultural theory and commerce could only mimic its formations. This was the world that Vladimir Putin and I—we are contemporaries—grew up in. His staged photographs are less than footnotes in the global histories of visual culture; against the backdrop of Russian struggle against widespread corruption and violence, who cares? What interests me here is that these petty photographic fantasies occupy even the tiniest space in the collective imaginary: images circulate, ink is spilt. This article could be indicted as still more about so little: for this I plead guilty, with an explanation.

The Corpus

Separation of event, or pseudo-event, and image is tricky at the best of times. An added complication with this corpus is the utilization of both still and video cameras to record Vladimir Putin’s heroic exploits, performances that range from tranquilizing animals in the wild to being examined shirtless by a Russian general practitioner. Images proliferate from these pseudo-events: one indecisive moment is as good as another; the name of the photographer is not retained. The images escape, in other words, a qualifying characteristic of iconic images by their lack of singularity (and authorship): no Dorothea Lange (Migrant Mother, 1936); Joe Rosenthal (Raising the Flag on Mount Suribachi, 1945); Alfred Eisenstaedt (Times Square Kiss, 1945); John Filo (Kent State University Massacre, 1970); or Nick Ut (Accidental Napalm, 1972). Robert Hariman and John Lucaitis, whose list of American iconic images this is, would be unlikely to admit the scattershot products of Putin’s performances to their carefully selected group.11 His are what we might call water-cooler icons, as good in the telling as in the seeing (plastic-ekphrastic), therefore spectacularly failing to register in cultural memory as auratic visual images, though well rehearsed and therefore imprinted in collective memory as imagistic tales. Hariman and Lucaitis ask many questions of iconic photographs; their analysis draws out their dualities and unpredictable outcomes in terms that can also be applied to Putin’s corpus. Are they “sacred images for a secular society...[or] accessible, undemanding images suited to mass-mediated collective memory”? Is this photojournalism as an ideological practice, operating at the knife-edge between “objects as they are in the world” and “arbitrary, asymmetrical relations of power,” or is iconic production both the materialization and seedbed of “idealism essential for democratic continuity”?12 If the latter seems laughable in the context of Putin’s Russia, it behooves us to step outside the green zone of American liberal democracy and consider what decommunization has wrought in the collective imaginary both in terms of resistance to authority and attraction/repulsion to the siren songs of the West.

As a head of state, Vladimir Putin evinces great comfort with the technologies of liberal democracy, to the point, some might say, of exhibitionism, if such a psychological disorder could ever be ascribed to a politician. Not since 1965, when the American president Lyndon Baines Johnston flashed his gall bladder scar for the press corps, has such attention been paid to the bare torso of a world leader. Putin clothed is reasonably photogenic, so much so that he can afford to flaunt W. C. Fields’s prime directive: “Never work with animals or children.” He has been photographed kissing dogs and horses, stroking tigers, nuzzling dolphins, scratching cows, cradling a fish, gazing into the eyes of a gosling, embracing a goat as his comrade. Though not a tall man, he gets down with the animals, crouching, kneeling, mugging at their level. Scale is generally considered an expression of power in an image; the most important figure should dominate the image.13 Posing, composition, vantage point, and cropping work to these ends when nature needs a little help. Putin belligerently flaunts these conventions in many of his intra-species photographic encounters. He is not afraid to appear ridiculous; on the contrary, he exudes confidence that he is dominating the image, however appealing or impressive the furry, feathered, or scaly co-presence in the frame.

But is Putin himself fully present? Hiding in plain view is well-known spycraft. In Gender Advertisements, sociologist Erving Goffman’s flawed yet fascinating study of performances of maleness and femaleness in photographs, posing with animals is classed under his category of “Licensed Withdrawal.” The animal functions here as a participation can, in effect, partake of the events but not be exposed to scrutiny or address...when one’s participation is thus shielded, simultaneous maintenance of dissociated side involvements would seem to be facilitated, since these could hardly intrude between oneself and one’s availability to the others in the situation—one not being available at all.14 One needs to be cautious when deploying Goffman’s essentialist formulas, but this particular case study of attention-grabbing masculinity seems to invite them. It is intriguing to consider a head of state simultaneously presenting and shielding his hyperbolic ego through face-to-face interaction with animals, birds, and fish (I don’t mean the dolphin). The images are staged to suggest interaction, even communion, that man and beast are basking in each other’s charisma. At the same time, sharing the spotlight deflects attention from the human actor. The eyes of the world are upon Putin, but only part of him. His “dissociated side involvements” are facilitated, which is one among many reasons even his dalliances with puppies and tiger cubs so deeply offend and embarrass his Russian critics. He lies, they cry. Who could doubt it?

Vladimir Putin’s most flamboyant pseudo-events are set on the global stage of environmental activism as examples of what one man can do to save the planet. These photo opportunities involve wild animals at risk of extinction. In August 2008, Prime Minister/President-Elect Putin was photographed examining the condition of a five-year-old Siberian tigress that he had purportedly brought down with a tranquilizer gun on the Ussuri reserve, allowing conservation researchers to place a tracking device around the animal’s neck before returning it to its natural habitat. Serga, as the tigress was named, later gave birth to three cubs, another event widely reported in the press. Doubts about this story were circulated by environmentalist Dmitri Molodtsov, whose ability to read the stripes revealed that the photographed tiger was a stand-in, brought in from the zoo. Activists later claimed that Aralia, the zoo tiger, had died from an overdose of sedatives. Unabashed or uninformed, Putin subsequently participated in polar bear conservation by fitting a sedated animal with a tracking collar and frolicked with Mongol, a snow leopard, whose fate is yet unknown.15 It appears to be dangerous for a wild animal to get involved with Putin, every bit as dangerous as being the dog of an American presidential aspirant (Republican) or a former president (Democrat).16

Laying off the animals for a while, Putin plunged into history and archaeology, and this is where his image-crafters found themselves out of their depth. On August 11, 2011, then–Prime Minister Putin, a novice scuba diver, conducted an underwater inspection of an archaeological site at Phanagoria, on the northern coast of the Black Sea. In the clear water, only two metres below the surface, he discovered two sixth-century amphoras and brought them to the surface. This was efficiently recorded by cameras that were presciently waiting near the vases for Putin to swim into view. There are also still images of him breaking the surface, clinging to the boat. Back on the beach, tricked out in figure-flattering neoprene and carrying a large piece of broken pottery in each hand, Putin was scrummed by reporters, whose presence in this remote location and comeliness in light summer clothes became part of the video record: this was pure pseudo-event. Putin, at centre stage, soberly explained the historic importance of the ancient Greek settlement, mentioning in passing its implications for tourism—a good public relations day. Various facets of the man were put on display in a single pseudo-event: the strong man, the successful man, and the concerned man, urging the population to consider the national heritage of a unified Russia. The miraculous find of the amphoras was obviously a complete sham that would hardly convince a child, except that children (and the electorate) are not reached by issues of credibility, but led by example, as Bettelheim suggests: The child identifies with the good hero not because of his goodness, but because the hero’s condition makes a deep positive appeal to him. The question for the child is not “Do I want to be good?” but “Who do I want to be like?” The child decides this on the basis of projecting himself wholeheartedly into one character. If this fairy-tale figure is a very good person, then the child decides that he wants to be good too.17

Or if the hero can fly. In September 2012, Putin’s role-playing for the cameras reached new heights, as he (accompanied by an experienced pilot) mounted a motorized hang-glider to lead a flock of disoriented Siberian cranes to their winter habitat. The photographs were dramatic, with Putin at the front of the craft wearing a brilliant white suit and grateful cranes waiting for take-off or flying obediently alongside. This was also Putin’s Icarus moment. Claire Bigg, reporting for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, disclosed that two chicks had been killed and others injured during preparations for the photo op.18 News also reached Putin’s people that opposition journalist Masha Gessen had been fired from her job as editor of a travel magazine for refusing to send a reporter to cover the crane “rescue.”

The Outcry

In September 2012, Gessen’s unauthorized biography of Vladimir Putin, Man without a Face, was just on the point of release. In it she bitterly complained that Putin’s 2011 “campaign for popularity” had involved “thuggish one-liners” and “topless” vacation pictures, as well as the Black Sea dive.19 All of this was a cheat, according to Gessen, who cited Putin’s own press secretary, Dmitri S. Peskov, in support of her allegations. In October 2011, Peskov had admitted to a group of journalists gathered by Doshd TV that the Black Sea discoveries had been staged. This pseudo-event (news about news) had been widely reported. In the New York Times, the story was lightly editorialized by a headline: “A Changed Russia Arches an Eyebrow at Putin’s Staged Antics” (news about the production and digestion of news). According to Peskov, Muscovite elites’ constant chatter about Putin’s public persona was drowning out achievements that were properly recognized by the electorate outside Moscow’s Garden Circle: Was there a banking panic? There was not....Was there a default? There was not. Did we pass our strategic industries over to the ownership of foreign capitals? We did not. And did we lose our sovereignty, even a little? We did not.20

Getting the boss elected by raising his approval ratings could be seen as an act of patriotism, or so it was spun. And so it was business as usual when Putin took to the air in September 2012 and the rumour mill began to grind, the only anomaly (or perhaps not, in former KGB double-think) being the choice of Gessen as Putin’s public confessor. As the feathers flew, Putin contacted Gessen directly and invited her to the Kremlin for an exclusive interview during which he admitted to staging photographs, proudly explained his moral agenda, expressed regret over her firing, and offered to intervene with her boss toward her reinstatement. This Gessen declined.

There are practically no accusations, rationalizations, or correlations that have not been hurled at Vladimir Putin’s staged photographs, and none of these responses are particularly illuminating. Grumpiness dressed up as irony is rarely an intellectual adventure, and most of the comments that can be harvested from the Web fall into this category. Putin’s narcissism is a recurrent theme. So are his breasts. The persistence of Cold War–era propaganda on both sides of a ghostly iron curtain is frequently cited. The gullibility of the public—its susceptibility to “image”—is bemoaned. Reaction inside Russia, as reported by English-language media, generally falls under the heading of “what’s it to you?” The most defensive Russian comments point back at preposterous images or outright fakes generated elsewhere (e.g., the US and China). More rarefied observations connect Putin’s performances to Soviet-era pop culture, taking the opportunity to mock the ignorance of dumb foreigners who cannot read the signs. Russian specialists or citizens of the former Soviet bloc thereby supplement the main protagonist’s verbal shrug, “Of course it was a set up” (emphasis added), which is the official translation of Putin’s confession to Gessen. Plenty of buzz, in other words, and what more could Putin and his handlers have hoped for? The best outcome of Putin’s media strategy might have been to convince the Russian electorate of his sincerity, statesmanship, and superhuman powers. Discourse without substance or effect—pure distraction—is surely a strong second. And the man himself has taken creative credit for the images; he is not only the leader of Russia, but its leading art director.

For a former KGB officer, his appetite to see himself being seen is rather striking. Here, for example, is Putin’s account of his performance during a fire that started in the banya, or sauna, of his just-completed country home and ultimately destroyed it: Then I suddenly remembered there was a briefcase in our room with cash in it—all our savings. What would we do without that money? I went back and started looking, feeling around with my hand. And I thought, well, I’ve got a few more seconds of this and then I won’t be able to....I stopped looking for the stash. I ran out to the balcony. Flames were shooting upward. I clambered over the railing, grabbing the sheets, and began to lower myself down. And here’s an interesting detail: I was stark naked from the banya. So you can just imagine the scene: the house is burning, there’s a naked man wrapped in a sheet, crawling down from the balcony, and the wind is blowing the sheet out like a sail. A crowd had gathered on the hill, and they were watching with enormous interest.21

What occurs over the course of this brief telling is a smooth shift between field and observer memories. The field memory recaptures the perspective of the rememberer from within his or her set of sense perceptions. Putin is not seeing anything in his smoke-filled bedroom, but perceiving through touch, seeking his treasure, giving up, and running to make his escape. He steps out onto the balcony (he steps out onto the stage), and suddenly his recollection becomes that of a transfixed audience, watching him climb down, the billowing sheet revealing him in his nakedness.

Sigmund Freud’s attention to observer memories is adumbrated in his study of childhood recollection, “Screen Memories” (1899), in which he writes: Whenever in a memory the subject himself appears in this way as an object among other objects this contrast between the acting and the recollecting ego may be taken as evidence that the original impression has been worked over. It looks as though a memory-trace from childhood had here been translated back into a plastic and visual form at a later date—the date of memory’s arousal. But no reproduction of the original impression has ever entered the subject’s consciousness.22

Studies conducted by cognitive psychologists Georgia Nigro and Ulric Neisser and reported by Daniel Schacter develop the field/observer distinction, field memories carrying emotion and observer memories those reconstructed memories “focusing on objective circumstances.”23 Experiments involve asking people to adopt first one, then the second perspective in two tellings. Participants report diminished emotion as they move from the centre of their tales to outside observers of their lives. Putin unprompted makes this kind of leap, from feverish search to dispassionate reporting of “an interesting can just imagine the scene,” as he has imagined it in the minds of onlookers, as it stokes his own imagination of this catastrophic loss and heroic rebirth. It was summer 1996; Putin’s meteoric rise to the presidency would begin in August. This mental image shines bright as the first in his corpus. He rose from his smouldering dacha as a phoenix: lustrous and illustrious, without benefit of lustration. By this I mean the image, not the man.

Fairy Tales of Democracy

In 1996, the International Social Justice Project (ISJP) conducted a study of Eastern European and Russian societies that were experiencing decommunization. This was the project’s second survey. The first, conducted in 1991, had been designed in the late 1980s as a comparison between communist and capitalist states in terms of fairness, opportunity, incentive, and political and social structures. This project had been overtaken by the collapse of the communist system and reoriented to monitor the change, though the basic comparative structure remained, bringing out aspirational similarities as well as some subtle differences between East and West, notably that “many Eastern Europeans actually define democracy in economic terms, so that when the economy is not doing so well, it is assumed that democracy must also be a problem.”24 Perhaps that’s not so different after all; the Tea Party makes the same assumptions. In the event, the study’s internal comparisons between nations emerging from the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc are instructive, teasing out certain features of Putin’s opportunities, photographic or otherwise, as surveyed in 1996 and considered in light of subsequent events.

Shining this light on the Putin corpus, the first misconception set aside is that his photographic acts are examples of dirty tricks, somehow connected to his life as an officer for the KGB. Not that we in the West are fooled, but that others (Russian voters) are: that the images capitalize on the electorate’s inexperience with fair elections, and that this use of photography is immoral. Such condescension will get us nowhere; indeed, it has almost no purchase on Russian reality. Compared with Western cultural theory’s learned hand-wringing, popular responses to a Russian politician’s photographic theatre are more hardened by cynicism. Where there is no trust, there is little scope for betrayal. As Molodtsov said to the reporter from the Associated Press, “I want to live in a country where a politician will know that he can improve his declining ratings only with real deeds.”25 This is the expression of hopefulness, not disappointment. Many of us would like to live in such a country, but there is little hope of it at the moment, for reasons specific to the ailments of host societies. Putin’s shenanigans represent deeply rooted tendencies, carry-overs from the Cold War colliding with capitalism. In Russia and other democratizing nations, the ISJP unearthed evidence of a collective “split consciousness”: cooperant beliefs in egalitarian and inegalitarian norms. Particular to Russia in the year of Putin’s fiery rebirth was a slight diminishing of negative stereotypes about the rich: their dishonesty, their connections, their unfair advantages. Many blamed the weak for their weaknesses. At the same time, there was a rise in fatalism about individual status, which, as Svetlana Stephenson and Ludmila Khakhulina explain, erodes political opposition, encouraging “wider support for authoritarian leaders,” but is also deleterious to a capitalist country’s economic growth. The necessary “ethos of individual responsibility and effort” is stultified.26 At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, held in September 2012 in Vladivostok, Putin stressed the leadership aspects of his flight with the cranes. It was true that not all the cranes had followed him at once: “only weak cranes did not follow me.”27

Kiku Adatto urges us to treat the products of photo ops as “palimpsests. We have to dig for the layers of meaning just as archaeologists dig beneath the surface to discover the layers of cities and structures buried below.”28 Diving to the bottom of the sea, communing with Siberian tigers, leading cranes in flight, the Putin corpus deserves the same treatment: to be seen for its formal and ideational lineage as fairy tale. His storied images have thus been created and consumed. As Russia’s leading art director, Putin has repeatedly and with variety made himself into a hero—the embodiment of Russian decommunization. His corpus conforms to J. R. R. Tolkien’s four facets of the fairy tale, which are fantasy, recovery, escape, and consolation, and to the additional element added by Bettelheim, which is threat.29 Putin embodies threat—he is also the action man, the former KGB operative, the authoritarian defender of Russian sovereignty, the selective saviour of a planet at risk. When he communes with puppies and tiger cubs, we are reminded of their teeth and claws. When he dives to the bottom of the sea, he comes up with Russian history—a piece in each fist. When he flies in his shimmering white suit, the survivors of his aerial stunt are the fittest cranes. His pictures tell the truth, in other words, though they are pathetic in their generation of discourse among those, myself included, who should have better things to do. Pseudo-events have survived the gamesmanship of the Cold War—tools of manipulation, of population control through spectacle, they still charm the disenchanted. Viral in their silliness, they contaminate their target populations. But if infantilization were a crime against humanity, most politicians, many cultural theorists, and Steven Spielberg would wind up in The Hague.

  1. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), 11.
  2. Zhelyu Zhelev, “Is Communism Returning?” Journal of Democracy 7, no. 3 (July 1996), 4­–5. Cited by David S. Mason and James R. Kluegel, Marketing Democracy: Changing Opinion about Inequality and Politics in East Central Europe (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 13.
  3. Boris Groys, introduction to History Becomes Form: Moscow Conceptualism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), 14.
  4. Vladimir Putin, in interview with Masha Gessen, reported by Josh Voorhees, “Putin Explains the Rationale behind His Absurd Photo-Ops,” The Slatest, September 14, 2012,
  5. Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1964).
  6. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (Boston: Little, Brown, 1945).
  7. Richard H. Rovere, “Our Far-flung Correspondents: Journal of a Pseudo-Event,” New Yorker, July 15, 1963, 78 and 88.
  8. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. David Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1994), 14.
  9. Groys, “Communist Conceptual Art,” in History Becomes Form, 85.
  10. Groys, introduction to History Becomes Form, 2–3.
  11. Robert Hariman and John Lucaitis, No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
  12. Hariman and Lucaitis, No Caption Needed, 2–3.
  13. The classic example of deliberately flaunting this rule is the portrait of General MacArthur towering over Emperor Hirohito, taken by MacArthur’s personal photographer, Gaetano Faillace, on September 27, 1945, and triumphantly circulated by the US as symbolic of the submission of Japan.
  14. Erving Goffman, Gender Advertisements (London: MacMillan, 1979), 70­–72. First published in the United States by the Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication, 1976.
  15. Anastasia Kirilenko and Daisy Sindelar, “Sleeping Tiger, Hidden Agenda,” Transmission (blog), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 15, 2012, See also Dmitri Molodtsov’s post “Russian Version: It Was before the Amphoras: Putin and the Tigress,” Big Cats Forums, March 16, 2012,
  16. The experience of Seamus, Mitt Romney’s dog, who in 1982 travelled twelve hours on the roof of the family car in a carrier customized with a windshield, was much bruited about during the governor’s failed campaign for the presidency as an indication of his heartlessness. Former president Clinton’s dog Buddy was hit by a car in September 2002 after escaping from the Clinton mansion in Chappaqua, New York, where he was being guarded by the Secret Service. His demise was eerily similar to that of Zeke, the Clintons’ cocker spaniel, who lived in and around the governor’s mansion at Little Rock, Arkansas, until he was hit by a car. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell: “To lose one dog, Mr. Clinton, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.” Clinton replaced Buddy with a dog he named Seamus.
  17. Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment, 10.
  18. Claire Bigg, “Rare Birds ‘Died’ in Russia Leader’s Latest Wildlife Mishap,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 7, 2012,
  19. Masha Gessen, The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012), 265.
  20. Ellen Barry, “A Changed Russia Arches an Eyebrow at Putin’s Staged Antics,” New York Times, October 5, 2011,
  21. Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (New York: Public Affairs, 2000), 120.
  22. Sigmund Freud, “Screen Memories,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume III, 1893–99, ed. and trans. J. Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1973), 321.
  23. Daniel Schacter, Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 21.
  24. Mason and Kluegel, Marketing Democracy, 15.
  25. Nataliya Vasilyeva, “Putin’s Famous Encounter with Tigress Questioned,”, March 16, 2012,
  26. Svetlana Stephenson and Ludmila Khakhulina, “Russia: Changing Perceptions of Social Justice,” in Mason and Kluegel, Marketing Democracy, 97.
  27. Scott Simon, “Putin Turns Photo Ops into Soviet-Style Agitprop,” NPR News, September 15, 2012,
  28. Kiku Adatto, Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 246.
  29. Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment, 143.
About the Author

Martha Langford is Research Chair and Director of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art and Professor of Art History at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the author of numerous articles and catalogue essays on photography and contemporary art. Her books include Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory in Photographic Albums (2001); Scissors, Paper, Stone: Expressions of Memory in Contemporary Photographic Art (2007); A Cold War Tourist and His Camera, co-written with John Langford (2011); and an edited collection, Image & Imagination (2005)—all from McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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