Pinochet: one photograph from 1973 December 14, 2006Posted by WorldbyStorm in Art, Chile, Culture, US Politics.
A remarkable photograph of Pinochet in the Guardian last Monday. It’s from nine days after the coup and he’s surrounded by his military staff. Perhaps it’s me, but there’s something about almost Renaissance like about this photograph (unfortunately I don’t have an attribution for it), a hint of Caravaggio (look at The Calling of St. Matthew) or a bit more than a hint, in the gestures, the poses, the sense of raw power that emanates from it.
To the right of Pinochet appears to be Navy Admiral José Toribio Merino, to his immediate left Air Force General Gustavo Leigh (there is no detailed caption with the image, these identifications are made from other photos online). These were two of the original members of the ruling junta (the third I think is hidden behind the figures to the left – he was the head of the Police). Leigh was initially seen as the most hard line, and was the one who gave the order personally to bomb the Presidential Palace with Allende inside it. Later in 1978, and perhaps ironically, he was the first junta member to call for the restoration of democracy, which saw him removed from both the Air Force and the junta. Merino was more successful in holding onto power, retaining his influence with Pinochet and later presiding over the Joint Legislative Commission which ultimately saw the transfer back to civilian power in 1990.
There’s something disturbingly compelling about the image, perhaps it’s the banality of the fixtures and fittings when contrasted with the Ruritanian pomp around them. The wireframe in-tray pushed into the space to the right of Pinochet looks like it comes from my desk this afternoon. The microphone, the silver ashtrays (a cigarette smouldering in the one closest to Pinochet!) and documents scattered across the table top are just window dressing, probably there to suggest that these people take their role of running the country seriously, but I don’t know, I keep thinking of the Chicago School waiting in the wings. And in the background there is a gilt framed painting , most likely from the pose and uniform depicting Bernardo O’Higgins, who wrested Chile’s freedom from the Spanish in the early part of the 19th century. But the way the photograph is taken the great Chilean patriot is headless in a room dominated by these latter day adventurers…
Then there’s the flunkies, almost entirely blank faced as they stand on either side of the table. It’s as if only Leigh, Merino and Pinochet are accorded the power to express emotion, which is perhaps why Leigh wears a slightly amused expression and Merino a tad bemused. While we’re looking at them, is that a priest sitting in side profile to us on the right of the image?
And it’s Pinochet who the eye returns to again and again, he’s the man in command here, that hand literally a blur of activity, the focal point of authority, with even his nominal equals in the junta leaning very slightly towards him.
Okay, so I’m retrofitting history in a way, or maybe not, but that implacable dogged face seems to tell everything one needs to know about how a man who had not weeks before expressed his personal loyalty to Allende could come to betray both him and Chilean democracy with seemingly no great thought at all.