Palazzo Strozzi

Helicopter Flight from RAF Lyneham to Battersea, 3 April 2003
Bromide print
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London
© Nick Danziger

The "den", 10 Downing Street (Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell), 14 March 2003
Bromide print
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London
© Nick Danziger

Nick Danziger
Installation view, Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina, Firenze
Photo: Valentina Muscedra

This opportunity had arisen thanks to The Saturday Times Magazine, which had launched a project to produce a special report on the occasion of Blair's fiftieth birthday, one based not on official photographs but on a way of perceiving and depicting power from the point of view of everyday life - the interior of private and usually inaccessible places, removed from the conventional and more distinctly representational ones. These were the very days in which Blair was facing one of the most challenging decisions of his mandate: that concerning Great Britain's intervention in the Second Gulf War on the side of the United States.
Danziger was able to document moments and scenes that could otherwise never have been made visible, capturing apparently insignificant moments that actually express all the underlying tensions and dynamics of those crucial days in 2003. On his first day of work, 14 March, Danziger was in Blair's socalled "den" - the Prime Minister's private workroom in Downing Street. While engaged in a telephone call with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Blair is shown in a non-conventional and informal, rather than simply official, pose. A mirror here gives us a glimpse of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's ever-present spin doctor, and the person responsible for his public image. This reflection becomes a sort of picture within the picture, a reminder of the assemblage of Danziger's photographic documents, which are never created by chance or artlessly, but always follow from a conscious decision on the photographer's part.
Danziger seems to be providing an almost intimate depiction of power, one that catches its subjects unawares. Yet it is worth recalling that the Blair government had developed a very careful and well-thought strategy for controlling its own public identity. New Labour's promotion of an image of its Prime Minister as a young man from next door and of its own political class as one close to ordinary people has been a central feature of its political platform - a way of making a break after the long years of Conservatism under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
The power of Danziger's photographs lies in their ability to suggest the moments preceding and following the one portrayed, as illustrated for instance by the pictures of the Prime Minister's transfer by plane, or the conversation held by a group of politicians outside Blair's cabinet as they wait for the imminent war decisions to be made. In these pictures the outside world is always cut off; still, as critic John Berger has noted, the importance of photographs lies precisely in their ability to show things they do not directly portray.
Danziger himself bears witness to this when he writes that "in some of the pictures, from where the Prime Minister is sitting, he could hear people shouting 'stop the war' outside". Power censors what might damage or shed doubt upon the reassuring appearance of a politician, and always seeks to portray itself in a manner useful for its own preservation.

NICK DANZIGER (United Kingdom, 1958)

The work of photojournalist Nick Danziger features videos and photographs in a documentary style, which often accompany the diaries he writes during his many trips around the world - from Bosnia to Afghanistan, Great Britain to Brazil, and so on. Between March and April 2003, Danziger and journalist Peter Stothard spent thirty days in close contact with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his entourage.

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