Mark Duffy’s latest photobook plays on the ‘interchangeability of career politicians’

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In his self published book Vote No.2, the former UK House of Commons photographer turns to ‘saccharine’ Irish local election posters. After a while, they all start to look strangely similar.


When London-based photographer Mark Duffy returned to his hometown of Galway, Ireland, in the run-up to the 2014 local elections, he was “blown away by the vulgarity of it,” he says. “Election posters litter every lamp post and railing. Fake blue skies and saccharine smiles beam down at you from every surface. I was hit with this scene, as if for the first time.”

His latest photobook, Vote No.2, presents a selection of 50 of these regional politicians’ headshots. We are not told their names, parties or any other distinguishing information – only that they are Irish. The pages are made out of corrugated cardboard and split horizontally, allowing the viewer to remix the faces into myriad combinations. 

At one moment, you are looking at a woman’s bespectacled green eyes above an elderly man’s grimacing, moustachioed mouth. Flip the half-pages a couple of times and a thinning comb over sits atop a toothy grin surrounded by red lippy. Each mashup creates a fresh Frankenstein’s monster, but after a while they start to look strangely similar.

That is the point. While campaign portraits are designed to articulate the differences between candidates, the real-world effect is often the opposite. The posters’ low-resolution and drab lighting smooth each politician down into one, homogenous hopeful. For Duffy, the work sums up his “cynical feelings about the interchangeability of these career politicians”. 

Duffy knows a thing or two about career politicians. Until four years ago, he worked as the official photographer for the House of Commons. Images of Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and John Bercow mingle with restorers, catering staff and cleaners in his Inside Parliament collection. Throughout 2018 and 2019, he held several exhibitions of the work. According to news reports at the time, it led to his eventual sacking for allegedly bringing parliament into disrepute.

Despite its Irish focus, Vote No.2 feels pertinent in the UK too, which has seen five prime ministers in seven years, all from the same party. So what does he make of the current crop in Westminster? “I think it’s all going very well… No, of course not, it’s a shit show,” he says, criticising how British politics has become more rightwing of late. “Having seen behind the curtain it’s hard to feel in any way optimistic about the future of politics in this country.”

Duffy won the Vienna Photobook award in 2015 for the book’s predecessor, Vote No.1, which draws on posters from the same local election campaign. That presents gruesome closeups of the candidates’ faces, disfigured by rips and zip ties holding them to lamp posts. Then, it was about disgust – this time, disdain.

“What’s interesting for me is when you take something intended for one purpose and use it for another,” says Duffy. “Politics isn’t the most fun subject to engage with but to be able to take these identically posed faces with their vaseline smiles and turn them into a sort of kids book on politics – or a criminal identikit – it is fun.”

Vote No.2 is self-published and available now