Mike Pence and That Shiny Black Car

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Mike Pence doesn’t look particularly happy in this picture, does he? One first wonders whether he wants to be in the car or not — is the agent on the right keeping him in, or others out?

Then there’s the nearly split-tone colors, all blue and gold, like New York City is under an Instagram filter or a cinematic color grade. It it were at a wider aspect ratio, it could easily be a movie still:

Trump Tower is as ultra-luxury as it gets, and the high-gloss black SUVs are no different—hold a patent leather opera pump up to the siding, and it would blend right in. And for a president-elect so obsessed with himself that he has a room full of magazines with his face on the cover, is it much of a surprise that he would want reflections to be everywhere?

The mirror is a classic metaphor in media theory and in popular culture, but there’s something sinister about the way reflections have been played off this election. They aren’t just used for cool angles or “gotcha” images. Instead, mirrors are revealed as mechanisms to twist, distort, and manufacture new reality. And not only are the photographed surfaces reflective, the images themselves are self-reflective of their own position as complicit in the shaping of reality.

Olivier Douliery; Samuel Hodgson for The New York Times; Mark Peterson for MSNBC

The White House in the funhouse mirror of a landing helicopter’s window; Bernie Sanders idealized and hippy-fied in a supporter’s sunglasses (and from a supporter’s point of view); an anti-Trump protestor trapped within a photographer’s apparatus.

There’s not much subtlety to these visual metaphors, and that seems to be the norm this year. When “straight” images show a reality TV show of a president-elect, how can photographers show truth? By forcing the viewer to recognize the fakery in their own images.

But back to Pence. He’s stuck inside a reflective, shiny car, caught mid-thought, perhaps reflecting himself on just how he wound up at that place in that moment. Or maybe it’s the just-polished glass of an aquarium, and he’s Trump’s (gold)fish.