Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump

Kate Imbach
10 min readApr 16, 2017

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? Let’s see.

July 1, 2014

In three years, Melania only posted one picture of herself and Trump. He dominates the frame; her face is in shadow and cropped out. It is both a selfie and an erasure, a depiction of her placement within their world.

Three of the five photographs Melania posted of her husband and son together between February 16, 2014 and November 27, 2014.

Melania posted five photographs of Trump with their son. She took each photo from behind the two, sometimes literally from the backseat. Boys in front, girls in the back, the same arrangement we were all so appalled to see on inauguration day, is her norm. She lives in the background.

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, anyway, enough to capture the same view, over and over again, at different times of day and weather, ad nauseam.

Six of the 49 photos Melania posted her view from Trump Tower down 5th Avenue. These were posted between October 29, 2012 and April 14, 2014.

There is a striking passivity to the Trump Tower view photographs. She never changed the composition of these landscapes, she placed no personal mark on them. The time of day changes, she takes a photo, that’s it. There is a calmness, a kind of safety, to this approach. The earth moves around the sun but the photographer is stable, in the exact same position, day after day.

Six of the 25 photos Melania posted her view from Trump Tower down at Central Park. These were posted between October 30, 2012 and May 13, 2015.

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 is shirking the responsibilities of first lady in favor of suing the Daily Mail over the damage they’ve done to her “brand” by claiming she was once an escort, a woman who has the nerve to refuse to leave her home, even though that refusal comes with a $50 million annual government handout 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.

Darker still is that she’s in there today, looking down at the rest of us, from her home in Trump Tower, like a queen.

These photographs pose another question: if a person spends most of her time looking physically down at the rest of humanity, does she come to take her superiority as a matter of fact?

Speaking of looking down, Melania took 67 photos from her private plane. Six of these photographs included Central Park, the same view she has from her home, only, of course, from higher up.

Melania posted 57 photos from inside cars. I first assumed she took the 15 Central Park photos that she posted on foot, from inside the park, meaning that she was going out for a walk among the masses every once in a while.

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.

Six of the 15 photos Melania posted of Central Park from inside a car, 2013–2015.

Did she get out, like, ever? Not really, not as far as she posted. She went to Washington D.C. and Barcelona, but she saw those places from cars, too.

Barcelona and Washington D.C. in 2014, from behind the glass.

She went to Mar-a-Lago a lot, the world’s most deadening vacation hotspot, and to cultural events enjoyed from the safety of box seats and the front row at a very high cost.

The US Open, Elton John and Aerosmith concerts, 2013–2014.
June 21, 2014

This, as a little side note, is a hermit crab, and the only photograph of an animal that she ever posted, aside from the show horses running races at Mar-a-Lago.

A creature which lives inside its own shell. She must relate, no?

We can all picture the gilded monstrosity of the Trump home from publicity photos (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. It looks like what a terrified little girl held captive in a ogre’s fairytale castle might see when she dares to sneak a peek through her fingers.

I think the real reason that these photos are so strangely composed is that she intended them as a status updates to her followers, a way to say that she was enjoying a night at home, but, wary of revealing the details of her home’s interior to the outside world, she chose those odd angles as a manner of obfuscation.

She does the same with photographs of herself.

Selfies, 2014–2015

She rarely posted photos of her whole face. When she did she blew them out, editing them so much that the contours are almost imperceptible. Here her nose is not much more than two nostrils.

Selfies, 2015

In photos where you can see her whole face and she isn’t blown out, she is disguised. Usually in sunglasses, sometimes a hat.

Selfies, 2014–2015

In selfies where she’s not blown out or disguised, she crops herself into disfigurement. What a paradox! She is a former model, a public figure, “an extremely famous and well-known person,” a woman exposed, and she can only bear to share selfies which portray her as a set of disassembled parts.

She hides, in other words, even when she is presenting 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.

Barron, 2012–2014

Melania’s photographs of Barron are almost all composed as they are above. He is centered in the middle of a big horizon, the ocean, baseball or golf field. He always faces elsewhere, away from the camera, looking not just forward but out, ahead, to the future.

Here there is no passivity. Barron is the actor. He is in motion, walking, swinging, looking. He faces 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.

August 15, 2014

Melania only posted one photograph of her and Barron together. It was also the only occasion when she posted a photograph of his whole face, but she disguised him the same way she disguised herself, in the little boy-version of her big sunglasses — ski goggles.

The public reason that Melania gave for staying in New York that she wanted to let Barron finish his school year. She didn’t want to disrupt his life. This is nonsense, an absurdity that she might have considered before supporting her husband’s run for president.

Melania wants Barron’s world to be bigger than her own. He occupies a totally different, bigger, vaster, compositional space than she does. She also wants to protect him, I think, more than anything. To Melania, protection means hiding.

Melania posted her last photo to Twitter on Thursday, June 11, 2015, five days before her husband announced his candidacy for president. It is an old photograph, of a then six-year-old Barron, taken on the beach. He is looking down at the ground ahead and waving goodbye to a professionally built sandcastle in the background.

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.

So, why not move to the White House?

She’s hiding. She needs to hide so badly that she doesn’t care about anything else. Not her country, not how bad she looks, not the money it costs us. She has no shame because, for her, hiding is shameless. It is safe.

She lives behind glass, in cars, in her house, on private planes and private resorts. She doesn’t even get out of the car to see landmarks or walk in the park. She is never among the public, not for a second.

Melania Trump is the woman least fit for public service in the entirety of the United States of America. We should expect nothing from her. She’s living inside a dark fairytale, and in fairytales the women trapped in towers never save anyone but themselves.

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