Official Portraits

Official Portraits is a book published by Berlin Press in 2004.

In 2004, a team of Berlin Press contributors, led by David Brown sent an open letter fax to the embassies of all 191 member states of the United Nations General Assembly, requesting they provide an official portrait of their nation's Head of State. Most obliged, and Official Portraits is thus a gallery of the received entries. The portraits vary greatly in quality, photography style, and size, but Brown says there is no noticeable correlation between the quality of the portrait and any variable of the country that provided it. Some countries did not provide a suitable portrait (for example, merely emailing a low-resolution JPEG), these are included in a small index in the back of the book.

In Brown's letter he specifically asks the embassies for pictures of their "effective head of state... who actually runs the country." In practice, a more formal term may be "head of government" and indeed, most of the portraits are of heads of government (Prime Ministers) and thus not heads of state per se. Some countries did not understand the request, apparently, and emailed portraits of figurehead or otherwise symbolic officials who cannot be said to "run the country" in any meaningful sense. These include:

  • St. Lucia - portrait submitted of Governor General Pearlette Louisy
  • Grenada - portrait submitted of Governor General Daniel Charles Williams
  • Greece - portrait submitted of President Kostis Stephanopoulos
  • Monaco - portrait submitted of Prince Rainier III

It may also be interesting to political scientists to note the photographs submitted by countries whose exact office of heads of state or government are unclear:

  • North Korea - Kim Jong Il, described as "Chairman of the National Defense Commission"
  • Iran - President Mohammad Khatami (not Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei)
  • Libya - Muammar Gaddafi, described as "Leader of the Great Al Fatah Revolution"

Famous quotes containing the words portraits and/or official:

    It is not merely the likeness which is precious ... but the association and the sense of nearness involved in the thing ... the fact of the very shadow of the person lying there fixed forever! It is the very sanctification of portraits I think—and it is not at all monstrous in me to say ... that I would rather have such a memorial of one I dearly loved, than the noblest Artist’s work ever produced.
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

    We were that generation called “silent,” but we were silent neither, as some thought, because we shared the period’s official optimism nor, as others thought, because we feared its official repression. We were silent because the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, of masking for a while that dread of the meaningless which was man’s fate.
    Joan Didion (b. 1935)