What image will define the 2018 election?

Every election has its iconic images. Or does it?

There are standout images from previous campaigns. Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster, with all its homages and parodies, is a classic example.

A supporter holds the poster of Barack Obama by Shepard Fairey, in Wisconsin, Nov. 5, 2012. Shutterstock, Juli Hansen
George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner dogged him through his 2004 campaign and beyond.

The image that haunted George W. Bush’s re-election efforts. Boston Globe screenshot
Michael Dukakis’ ill-advised 1998 photo in a tank was widely seen as “a huge mistake.”

This shot of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis damaged his candidacy. Politico screenshot
But this campaign season seems to work on different principles. As someone who’s worked in news design and graphics and now teaches these subjects, I’ve spent a good bit of attention on news visuals. To me, it seems like in 2018, images just don’t seem to stick in the same way as they used to.

As the midterm campaigns got underway, images appeared that were used to characterize the politics of one side or the other. One June image that circulated widely showed a crying Honduran child allegedly separated from her parents at the border. Later we learned she and her mother were detained together.

Screenshot from The New York Times of photo taken by Getty photographer John Moore. New York Times screenshot
Also widely seen were photos of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, from Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.