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Presidential photographer says Trump mug shot will be 'most published photograph ever'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

First, this week's big moment for the Republican front-runner, former President Donald Trump. If you go on Etsy today, you can find T-shirts, coffee mugs, even mouse pads featuring an image of him that did not exist until last night - his mug shot. Beyond being historic, the photograph is a powerful symbol that can be used in different ways. The image was the first thing Trump posted when he returned to the social media platform X last night. David Hume Kennerly is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who has photographed 10 U.S. presidents, including Trump. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DAVID HUME KENNERLY: Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: Before I asked about the context or impact of this mug shot, will you just offer an assessment of it as an image? When you first look at it, what do you see?

HUME KENNERLY: Well, it's stark. It's a guy trying to look tough. If I'd taken that picture for Time magazine, I would have been fired, probably (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Why do you say that?

HUME KENNERLY: Well, I mean, the lighting, everything about it. A police mug shot is not trying to flatter the subject, and this definitely was the case here.

SHAPIRO: You photographed the former president in an extremely different context. And so will you contextualize this image in light of that personal experience that you had?

HUME KENNERLY: I was shooting, for CNN, the 2016 campaign. And three weeks after he won, we got a session with him in Trump Tower. And during the whole time he was president, he did very few sit-down portraits. And I don't think he really likes doing that. But I made it work, and it was, like, three minutes. And at one point, he said, I want to look in the back of the camera, if you don't mind, and see what you're doing. And he looked at it. He goes, wow, I look better there than I do in real life. And the thing is working with him on the photo session - it started off with him smiling, and it just - it didn't look natural. And I said, how about giving me the you're-fired look from "The Apprentice"? And he gave me that kind of a scowl - very similar to this picture that we've seen from Fulton County.

SHAPIRO: This is the first-ever mug shot of a former president, and that alone makes it a powerful historical artifact. But do you think there is also something about the image itself that adds to its impact?

HUME KENNERLY: Oh, yeah. The circumstances are everything here. And he obviously is trying to show tough guy. Yeah, I think he was in a really uncomfortable place there, but he knew what he wanted to do. And he has a real sense of how he looks, how he comes across. And what's interesting to me about it - like, anybody who doesn't like him will look at it and say, wow - makes him look like a really bad guy. And then all the people who really like him are going to say, this is a tough person. And it's - photos are like that. It's all in how you perceive them.

SHAPIRO: There is a whole history of famous mug shots. It's a genre unto itself. We've all seen historic booking photos of celebrities or politicians accused of crimes. How do you think this stacks up in that category?

HUME KENNERLY: Number - it's No. 1. The guy's a former president of the United States. I mean, how shocking is that? And it's not shocking that they're putting it on coffee mugs and T-shirts and all of that because that's just how they roll. But this is not a great day in American history, although it's a really important photo.

SHAPIRO: All right. I hesitate to ask this question, but I'm going to do it anyway. Is it art?

HUME KENNERLY: Not at all, no. But, again, isn't art in the eye of the beholder? And so - but, no, I wouldn't look at it as art. But it's infamous. It's an infamous photo. And it will be the most published photograph ever taken, no doubt.

SHAPIRO: Photographer of presidents David Hume Kennerly. Thank you very much.

HUME KENNERLY: Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.