Why won’t the first lady show up for her job? Why? I became obsessed with this question and eventually looked to Melania’s Twitter history for answers. I noticed that in the three-year period between June 3, 2012, and June 11, 2015, she tweeted 470 photos which she appeared to have taken herself. I examined these photographs as though they were a body of work.
Everyone has an eye, whether or not we see ourselves as photographers. What we choose to photograph and how we frame subjects always reveals a little about how we perceive the world. For someone like Melania, media-trained, controlled and cloistered, her collection of Twitter photography provides an otherwise unavailable view into the reality of her existence. Nowhere else — certainly not in interviews or public appearances — is her guard so far down.
What is that reality? She is Rapunzel with no prince and no hair, locked in a tower of her own volition, and delighted with the predictability and repetition of her own captivity.
Why not move to the White House? Why stay in New York? Let’s see.
If Melania sees her family from behind, she sees the rest of the world from above. She posted 74 photographs of the view from her home in Trump Tower. She stays at home a lot — or what seems like a lot for someone with a billion dollars and a private jet — enough to capture the same view, over and over again, at different times of day and weather, ad nauseam.
We all have a tendency to repeat the same imagery in our photography. It’s part of having an eye. But knowing what we know now — that these photographs were taken by a woman who has largely shunned the traditional responsibilities of first lady, who has refused to leave her home, despite the $50-million annual government bill for her security costs — these photographs take on a darker edge. They appear to be the documentation of changing seasons by a doomed recluse. Let the world fall down around her — she’s not going anywhere.
These photographs pose another question: how does it change a person to spend so much of her time looking physically down at the rest of humanity?
Nope. When you look closely, you can see that tree branches are blurred with the motion of a car, the raindrops are not falling but stuck to a window, and the sunlight is refracted.
Her idea of a walk in the park is a drive.
This, as a little side note, is a hermit crab. It’s the only photograph of an animal Melania ever posted, aside from show horses at Mar-a-Lago.
We can all picture the gilded trappings of the Trump home (chandeliers, sad boy astride a stuffed lion, golden pillars), but it is a different place through Melania’s eyes. She takes photographs inside her house at weird, skewed angles. It is a strange effect when the half-obscured objects, chairs and ceilings are all so golden — like how a little girl might view in a fairy tale castle, daring to sneak a peek through her fingers.
She does the same with photographs of herself.
Melania’s photographs of her son are the most fascinating of the collection. She always obscures his face, just as she obscures her own, protecting him as she does herself. You’d never know it was him.
Here there is no passivity. Barron is the actor. He is in motion, walking, swinging, looking. Excepting his hidden face, he has none of the restrictions that Melania places on herself. He stands behind no one, no barrier, no glass. Photographically, she composes a world for him that is much bigger than her own.
Melania has said she is staying in New York to let Barron finish his school year. She didn’t want to disrupt his life, even as she supported her husband’s bid for president.
That day Melania knew, of course, that the campaign was coming. In retrospect her choice of a throwback Thursday post reads as prophecy: a goodbye to her golden towers, to the home destined to crumble. To this day she’s still up there, in the golden tower, holding onto it for as long as she can.