Charles de Gaulle was the first world leader to truly understand the power of television, using regular presidential broadcasts as a way to circumvent French legislators, labor unions and other levers of democratic influence.
Since then, prime ministers and presidents, benevolent monarchs and ruthless dictators have used the televised "address to the nation" as an essential tool of modern leadership — to comfort or intimidate, confront crises, unveil policies, announce coups, launch wars. While each may have a different script, the broadcasts share a familiar choreography and iconography: from my desk to your living room, I will lead you through this collective moment in our nation's history.
The Italian photographer Tommaso Bonaventura, shut off from his field work, was watching the COVID-19 drama unfold on his computer and television screens. With people dying each day by the dozens then hundreds in his native country, he joined with others waiting anxiously for the relatively anonymous and inexperienced Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to appear on the screen before the gathered nation.
It was only the beginning: over the next three weeks, at least 70 national leaders have similarly addressed their respective populaces with messages that mix practical information with some semblance of national unity. But the words were not the point.
Bonaventura understood that the very fact of these televised appointments, taken together, could depict an unprecedented moment for the world — a world under attack. He has joined them in a common visual work, freezing the first moment (within 1 second) that each leader appears before his or her nation.
Address To The Nations becomes a singular document of this chapter of human history, appearing to us like a solemn roll call of geopolitical leadership morphing into a cutaway scene from an alien invasion movie.
This is, of course, not a movie. Our enemy is as real as it is invisible, exposing everyone on the planet to the most basic threat to lives and ways of life that we have all long taken for granted. We will instinctively continue to turn to our leaders, even if there's really nothing they can say to change what is happening. Their faces, captured in time, are a sign of how vulnerable we've become.
Address To The Nations © Tommaso Bonaventura / OneShot / Worldcrunch
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