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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 12:06 GMT
Keeping out of the picture

Photomontage, obviously.
There's only one thing worse than being photographed, and that's being photographed in an unflattering way. How do the media-savvy make sure the snappers only capture their good side?

Being photographed beside a naked man, who viciously murdered his own wife and children, is enough to make any politician seeking re-election shudder.

PM Tony Blair at the National Gallery of Scotland
"I think you'll find it's his finger, prime minister"
Tony Blair avoided just such a fate, when his aides warned an official snapper not to picture the prime minister beneath Annibale Carracci's painting, Hercules at the Crossroads.

Having taken a tape measure to the canvas - on show at the Royal Academy - it was judged that any photograph would show the PM's head scandalously close to the Greco-Roman hero's groin, according to the BBC's political editor Andrew Marr.

Hoping to spice up a political story, newspaper picture editors and caption writers might give their eye teeth for such a shot, never mind the satirists of Private Eye or Have I Got News For You.

With this in mind, many people in the public eye are wary of even seemingly innocent photo opportunities, says seasoned Fleet Street photographer John Cobb.

"Everyone's becoming more PR orientated. People have had their fingers burned in the past, and they now realise how they look in photos really matters."

Tory leader William Hague
"Got's gat you said, Gilliam? A gottle of geer?
As political image making has become a Westminster obsession, the desire to see our leaders caught off guard seems also to have increased - creating a cat-and-mouse game between snappers and spinners.

"They now know how to play the game. As a result it's getting harder to work freely with politicians."

Image consultants can eliminate some potential problems, preventing a photographic ambush, says Maria Sadler of Colour Me Beautiful - a firm used by the Labour Party.

President Bush and his boil
"All photographers stand to my left, please"
"By wearing the right colours and styles, politicians can make sure they look their best from all angles, whatever the light."

For women, choosing the wrong attire can see them lampooned in the press or worse. The shot of glimpsed underwear as a women exits a car has become a Fleet Street favourite.

"Remember that famous picture of the young Princess Diana with the see-through skirt. She didn't have anyone around then telling her never to stand against the light dressed like that."

However, even at the most stage-managed of events, a momentary gesture or play of light can produce photographic gold.

When a gesticulating Tony Blair spoke at a meeting flanked by Mo Mowlam, how could he know he was casting a sinister, clawing shadow over his embattled cabinet colleague?

EU Commissioner Neil Kinnock
Hello, halo.
"You couldn't anticipate a picture like that when you arrive at an event," says Mr Cobb. "It's a combination of luck and experience - experience can show you the way to a potential picture."

Seemingly anodyne stage backdrops can become a photographic minefield, shot from the right angle. Ask Neil Kinnock (above).

Sometimes just capturing a political sneeze, grimace or yawn is enough to keep newspaper readers chuckling through their coffee break.

There are, of course, politicians who seem hell bent on helping out the photographers. Who could have dreamed a press conference on water quality with the environment minister could have made the front pages? Anyone who knew John Prescott.

John Prescott and Peter the crab
"Cheap scuba face masks, I hate them"
The no-nonsense deputy prime minister was more than happy to hold a jarred crab in front of his face. Nor did he require prompting to liken the crustacean to his honourable friend, Peter Mandelson.

Such images helped win Mr Prescott the newspaper moniker "The Clown Prince". But if you're hoping to get noticed, brave the cameras you must.

"It's an old cliché, but any publicity is better than no publicity," says Mr Cobb.

"It depends on who you are. If you're a David Beckham, you can be very selective about the photo opportunities you do. If you're B-list, you're effectively desperate for publicity."

Tony Blair and David Blunkett
"Er... scissors cut paper, David. You lose"
Sans naked Hercules, the Tony Blair photos from the Royal Academy exhibition were clearly deemed too dull to be printed in this week's paper.

However, his reported refusal to pose has piqued journalistic interest. A case of a non-picture being worth more than a thousand words.

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Downing Street prevented pictures of the prime minister being taken next to a scantily clad Hercules painting, it emerges.Nude Labour?
Tony Blair's run in with fine art
See also:

30 Sep 99 | UK Politics
Two Jags does it again
13 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Cover blown on 'Project Hague'
27 Jul 99 | UK Politics
Media chief's impossible task
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