British Prime Minister Theresa May has signed the letter that officially triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty; the delivery of which, later today, to Donald Tusk (Current president of the EU) marks the first steps towards Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. Those that know me, will know my personal views on the UK leaving the EU, but what has fascinated me about this early coverage of the formal signing of that letter has been the difference between the visual representation of such a momentous document for the UK and the UK's place in any wider European project, and the images we have become used to, over the last couple of months, of Donald Trump signing of numerous presidential executive orders.
The images of Theresa May's signatory moment is solitary, still, subdued. The images that have been released are photographs - static images, ostensibly capturing the moment of the signing. The prime minister sits alone, the folder containing the letter open and he hand poised, as if in the act of completing her signature, with the pen resting on the page. Empty chairs are on either side of her. The only other person present in the shot is Robert Warpole, considered to be Britain's first prime minister, his painted image above her head. To her left is the flag of the Union. Directly behind her is a fireplace, a clock on its ledge indicating the time of the signing; this almost resonates with an image of someone held to ransom who might hold a copy of a daily paper to indicate they are still alive on a particular date. Empty candlesticks on either side of the apparently empty fire adding to a coldness to the atmosphere of the shot. Theresa May's head is bowed, her eyes cast down, in an act of signing that contains echoes of sorrow and submission. There are no suggestions of strength in the image, of the exertion of power or dominion, no hints of solidarity, of an action with mass support.
Contrast that image with those with which we are becoming familiar, Donald Trump's signing of various presidential executive orders. His recent signing of such an order associated with the removal of a number of climate protection measures proposed by former presidential incumbent Barack Obama sees Donald Trump with a document folder similar in design to that of Theresa May's, in a posture that is also similar to hers. However, Donald Trump is surrounded by figures. Those figures are live, not painted, and look on approvingly and supportively. Though the posture is similar to the prime minister's, the impression is very different. This is not a hostage situation, but a demonstration of solidarity. There is no clock in shot, making the moment timeless. The back of people's heads appears in the foreground, slightly out of focus, to suggest an even greater group participanting in this event. There is a flag in shot - but unlike the former image where the flag of the Union towers above the writers shoulder, draped melancholically, this flag sits of the lapel of the signatory. The flag is dominated by the person signing, not watching over them. It is there, up-right and proud, not left to hang in a somewhat distorted version of its visage. This presidential signing feels like a stage spectacle - a stage show to enthuse the folks back home.
Trumps fanfare politics seems to retain its loud fanfare, whilst the bravado of the UK referendum seems very muted. Both image will have been staged, choreographed; events for a viewing public. It is interesting to reflect on what they show us about the current state of evental politics both in the UK and the US.