At the opening of Tate Britain’s latest exhibition 'Rude Britannia', which takes a retrospective view on British Comic Art, Peter Kennard's classic image ‘Photo-Op’ takes pride of place.
Time for our own look back at an artwork that will prove a defining piece of British history…
Peter Kennard (born 17 February 1949) is widely considered to be the leading exponent of photomontage. Seeking to reflect his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, he turned from his earlier love of painting to photomontage to better address his political views.
He is best known for the images he created for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the 1970s-80s and subsequent politically-infused art culminating in Photo-Op as arguably his best known piece to date. His work is displayed as part of Tate Britain's permanent collection.
What is Photo-Op: It shows Tony Blair, in shirt and tie, grinning hard, as he takes his own photo. But behind him the scene is entirely filled with the smoke and fire of a massive explosion, blowing the desert apart. Its detonation seems to be simultaneous with Blair's snap. The figure of a self-snapping Blair was extracted from a news photo (originally, what he had behind him was a group of children and naval cadets).
The picture is a great coup. It catches Blair at his most Blairite – the casually contemporary guy, the publicity narcissist, in full grimace. And the whole scene is very nearly believable.
It delivers a brilliant insult, in the way that it manages to condense a lot of suspicions about Blair's character and priorities. And it plays a neat pictorial practical joke (which even a viewer who didn't share those suspicions might enjoy). In all ‘Photo-Op’ has to be the best and most adept critique of a prime minister and conflict, all rolled into one, that we have come across in the post 9/11 years.
Our selection of Peter Kennard’s artwork and his collaborations with Cat Picton-Phillipps are becoming increasingly rare. There are still some signed Photo-Op limited editions remaining however. Enquire with the gallery for more information.