William Mebane publishes a 64-page tabloid of a Trump rally in 2017, designed by Area of Practice
Coinciding with the inauguration of Joe Biden, the photographer thought it timely to address what he saw at one of Trump's rallies three years ago.
- Ayla Angelos
- 19 January 2021
America is currently preparing for Donald Trump’s final day in office. The end of an era and a period in time that we can gratefully wave goodbye to. The future years now glisten with a sprinkle of hope as we finally have some good news – that being Joe Biden’s inauguration (despite the fact that Trump’s domino effect is continuing to raise concerns).
Trump’s presidency began in 2017 and the years proceeding it were something of a whirlwind – to be polite. Rally after rally, soon the world would realise how great an impact this ex-business man was to have on his followers, followers who’d attend in great numbers and reel support of the new president’s dangerous ideologies. On the afternoon of December 8 that year, photographer William Mebane drove from Fair Hope, Alabama to document a Trump rally in Pensacola, Florida. “Earlier that week, I’d been on assignment to photograph a political rally for Roy Moore,” he tells It’s Nice That, noting how he was running in a special election against the Democrat Doug Jones, to fill the Senate seat that was vacated by then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “I was not on assignment when I went to the rally. I decided to go because I wanted to see it for myself, and to photograph what happened at these gatherings; to hear what the president had to say, and to see who showed up to support him.”
William was shocked to experience the reality of one of Trump’s rallies, a place in which the term ‘fake news’ is rife like a flame ferociously lit on democracy. “While we now take this president’s attack on the free press, his disdain for our constitution and the rule of law as a given, during the first year of his presidency it was difficult to separate the signal from the noise,” he says. “That December, I didn’t expect to be demonised by the president, to fear for my personal safety, or to hear the most powerful man in the world describe our free press as ‘enemies of the people’. He spoke of the love in the room, but I didn’t see love. I saw a man stoking fear of the other. Hatred of the less fortunate, and a willingness to act as if he were above the law.”
This was over three years ago, and much has evolved since then. But now with the historical double impeachment and a new democratic president taking the reins, William felt like now is the right time to properly address what he saw back then. William wanted to take some time away from the work to give it space – for time has the power of enabling one to see things more clearly. In this case, he found the entire experience unsettling, “a bit terrifying”, and he became concerned that this “anger and disappointment” had made him incapable of assessing the work. “I’ve always strived to be fair in my work and sought to avoid being mean-spirited,” he says. “With some time, I felt comfortable, and felt a responsibility to share what I had seen. I didn’t want to look back on the Trump era and feel like, by not sharing this work, I’d been complicit in his misbehaviour.”
With this in mind, William proceeded to publish the work into a 64-page tabloid titled Pensacola, FL, designed by studio Area of Practice which is constructed to work as both a photo book and collection of posters. Featuring images and quotes from the event plus a short story by the filmmaker Tim Sutton, it’s a compressive time lapse in a moment of upheaval. From a design perspective, the team sought to create a sense of intimacy, “to put the viewer at the rally, in the crowd,” says Kevin Brainard, partner and one half of Area of Practice. This was achieved by combining the imagery, both the macro and micro, and conflicting them against one another. These pictures are then juxtaposed with quotes from Trump’s speech, added in for “unadulterated” and journalistic purposes, a more factual train of thought in order to let the reader make up their own judgements about the content.
Each image featured within the publication can be displayed as a poster, which is Area of Practice’s way of taking advantage of the unbound, oversized tabloid format. “We printed mini-spreads and paced them by hand,” says Cybele Grandjean, the other half of the studio. “We focused on varying the pace of up-close, pulled-back, black-and-white and colour imagery with quotes from Trump’s speech. We intentionally put Trump in the centrefold, preceded by the little girl.” This technique only adds to the intimacy of the book, and the viewer is taken on a surprising reader experience without any editorial embellishments. “The reality was already frightening.”
The typography heightens the starkness of the content, where Prophet by Dinamo was chosen for its blunt and powerful aesthetic – “I know, it’s hard to to make the connection with the name,” says Kevin. It was a long and considered process, where not only did they want a well-executed publication with a typeface to match, but also to avoid the feeling that they were celebrating the language – “and that’s remarkably hard,” he says. “We wanted a font that had visual weight, wasn’t pretty, wasn’t trendy, but felt unique and ownable.” The result of all of this careful analyses has led to an impactful publication, loosely bound, untrimmed and home to a collection of large-format horizontal images printed by Newspaper Club. It’s the kind that will serve as a historical marker for future years to come.
GalleryArea of Practice: Pensacola, FL. Photography by William Mebane. Prophet by Dinamo. (Copyright © Area of Practice, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.