Kanye West has had the run of Western news anchors this past fortnight. But this one picture caught our eye. In the second part of our Deep Focus series, we look closely at a seemingly simple photograph to deduce what’s really happening.
Image Above: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – OCTOBER 12: Kanye West, Kid Rock, and Ray J attend the “The Greatest Lie Ever Sold” Premiere Screening on October 12, 2022, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for DailyWire+)
There’s something funny going on in Titian’s ‘Votive Portrait of the Vendramin Family’ (1547): of the ten figures depicted in the painting (including a small dog), no two pairs of eyes are looking in the same direction. The child with red tights is looking at his brother, the brother is looking at us, and the dog is staring off to the side. Elsewhere, three other boys are gazing at the floor, out into the distance or towards an altar. One old man looks heavenward, another peers out quizzically, not quite at us, but somewhere beyond the painting. Whatever it is that sits at the top of the altar, cropped out of the painting’s frame, it can’t be very interesting: the attention of each member of the Vendramin family – dog included – is pulled in its own private direction.
The same thing is happening in Jason Davis’s photograph of Kanye West and Kid Rock, taken at the Premiere Screening of Candace Owens’ BLM documentary, The Greatest Lie Ever Sold, last Tuesday (12th of October). Like Titian’s ‘Votive Portrait’, each pair of eyes are pulled in a different direction: Kid Rock stares studiously at the ground while puffing on his cigar; behind him, a guy in a black suit turns back his shirt cuff as if to check his watch, but his eyes are really casting a sideways glance towards his neighbour’s tan loafers. Said neighbour, dressed all in blue and holding a drinking glass with a black straw poking out, is looking directly at us, while Kanye, otherwise known as Ye, is gazing up – towards what?
Ye’s glance anchors this photo: not only are his eyes at the centre of the image but they’re also locked in the most intense stare. While everyone else’s gaze is lazy, even bored, Ye’s is alert and raised upward. Is he having an epiphany? Have the scales just fallen from his eyes like Paul on the road to Damascus? Probably not – especially given the week he’s got ahead of him following the snap of this photo. After watching Owens’s documentary, Ye will claim, in a podcast, that George Floyd died from an opioid overdose, not from a knee pressed against his neck for nine minutes. He’ll also get into a spat with Piers Morgan over the anti-semitic comments he recently made on Instagram and Twitter. And then he’ll call Morgan a ‘Karen’.
But none of this has happened yet. Right now, outside the premiere, it’s not an epiphany that Ye is having: something has caught his eye. Of course, we can’t know what it is because it’s out of the frame, but it doesn’t matter, like Titian’s Votive Portrait doesn’t matter. What matters is the fantastically baroque composition of the photo: the four figures brightly lit against a darkening background, the asymmetrical eye lines firing in different directions, and the perfect framing of the poses.
Look at Kid Rock and the man in blue: they almost mirror each other, legs staunchly planted, opposite arms akimbo with a hand hooked into the trouser pocket. These two identikit side figures – one in red and one in blue – frame the central men in black suits, one glancing down, the other peering up. The striking symmetry between the four figures reminds me of another, earlier renaissance painting: Antonio Pollaiuolo’s ‘The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian’.
Ye’s upward glance bears more than a passing resemblance to Pollaiuolo’s wounded St Sebastian. Even his contrapposto pose is evocative of the saint, his weight dropping onto his right leg, body slightly turned, right hand buried in jacket pocket so that his arm echoes the bent shape of Sebastian’s bound limb.
St. Ye the Martyr? Don’t be fooled.