Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

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Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” moderate a town hall with Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in Charleston, South Carolina on February 17, 2016.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signs copies of her book “Hard Choices” at Book Hampton in East Hampton, NY on August 16, 2014.

On Instagram, Mark Peterson describes his photographs as “Politics in Black and White,” and they might be too disturbing if they were in color. His portraits of politicians at rallies and on the campaign trail—and their enraptured throngs of audience members—are somehow both unforgiving and empathetic.

Political Theatre is the photojournalist’s bizarre, unnerving, and iconic chronicle of the last two years of American history. It began at a tea party rally in 2013 shortly before the government shutdown and it wraps up just as this election reaches its climax.

The photographs in this book will be looked at by upcoming generations from the safety of the future. They’ll know who won the 2016 election and what followed, but for us, right now, Political Theatre is less of a text book than it is a suspense story, and it ends with the biggest cliffhanger of all.

Included in the book is a line attributed to George Orwell: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed.”

Indeed, these are decidedly not the portraits the campaign managers would have liked. In conversation with TIME, Peterson admitted that some people think his images are “very mean,” but passing them off as caricatures does disservice to the work. The public figures and unknown voters who have been caught in Peterson’s lens are unpolished and unmasked, but they’re also a lot more relatable and human.

Political Theatre’s essay is penned by the great political journalist John Heilemann, but a quick glance through Peterson’s Instagram account is a testament to the popular appeal of the images. You don’t need to be an expert to be in on the joke… or to be seriously afraid.

Like the photos themselves, comments on posts are visceral and to-the-point. Among the most-liked photos of all time are pictures of Hillary Clinton beaming at an adoring public. One photograph of Donald Trump received only two comments, by different people but the same letter-for-letter: “Ugh..”

In the end, Peterson reminds us of our complicity in political wrongdoings, but he also pardons us with his good will and humor. In that way and so many others, Political Theatre is the work of a true patriot.

Find Political Theatre here.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held a “Make America’s Military Great Again” rally hosted by Veterans for a Strong America aboard the USS Iowa battleship in Los Angeles, Calif., September 15, 2015.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

A video game for training people how to shoot things at the NRA National Convention in Louisville, KT, May 21, 2016.


Donald Trump at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Maryland, Feb. 2016


Second Amendment Activists, Fort Hunt National Park, April 19, 2010.


The CPAC convention in National Harbor, Maryland, Feb. 2016

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Hillary Clinton held a town hall event with students at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire on February 6, 2016.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Lowell, MA, January 4, 2016.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attends the ceremony for the opening of the 206 bypass in Hillsborough, New Jersey on October 28, 2013.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

KKK on the steps on the South Carolina state capitol steps.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Ben Carson before the CNN Republican Debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., September 16, 2015.

Political Theatre

A pledge allegiance sign near Newark airport in Newark, NJ on July 14, 2009.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Sen Ted Cruz at the Family Foundation gala in Richmond VA, October 5, 2013.

All images © Mark Peterson / Redux Pictures