The downfall of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong has taken up a new dimension, namely, it has taken up a visual dimension. This became most apparent on November 10 2012 when Armstrong tweeted a panoramic picture of himself “Back in Austin and just layin’ around”. The edge of the red curtain on the left to the image neatly establishes that this is a carefully choreographed and considered performance. The casual tone of the tweet barely disguises the seriousness of the message of the photograph. Armstrong doesn’t “just” lie around, but rather, he defiantly looks at his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys which are neatly framed on the wall. The framed jerseys are, in the photograph at least, visual evidence that Armstrong won the most gruelling road race in the world on seven occasions. The panoramic framing underlines the magnitude of this achievement. The jerseys are perhaps the visual equivalent of framed degrees, diplomas and certificates one might find in an doctor’s or a lawyer’s office. In essence, the frames lend the jerseys official and historical gravity as recognition of achievement.
In the context of Armstrong’s now disgraced career, the jerseys define who he was and, as such, they turn into quasi-self-potraits. In other words, Armstrong is not merely looking at his achievements, but he is looking at himself. The exercise is deeply narcissistic, indulgent and self-congratulatory. Yet with regards to Armstrong recently being stripped of these titles by the world cycling governing body UCI, the exercise becomes one of defiance and provocation. Armstrong seeks to convey that, in the memory of millions of people who watched him win these titles, the jerseys are still his. By posting this photograph on twitter, Armstrong tells the world that if the UCI or any other governing body wants his jersey, they must come and get it. Until then, they will remain neatly framed and bolted on his wall.
By photographing himself in this fashion, Armstrong seeks to enforce the notion that the Tour de France wins are his, and only his achievements. His team mates, his doctors, his coaches, his supporters, his sponsors, his partner, his ex-wife, his children are, most notably, excluded from the photograph. The couch is big enough for any number of people, yet here he lies by himself resting in awe at his own work. The photograph reinforces a perception still accurate for many of his fans (including nearly 4 million twitter followers) that Armstrong is a sports icon and a hero in the fight against cancer. Armstrong, the world admires your greatness in defiance against critics and cynics who want to take away what belongs to you. Armstrong is represented like a modern god, now resting while he looks back at his seven creations. The mythical message of the photograph, which paints a glorifying and defiant image of the man himself stands in complete contrast to a history of doping, cheating and bullying.
In as much Armstrong uses photography to reinforce a myth which, by all accounts, has now imploded, his twitter photography campaign also reveals a sense of upheaval and recognition that his celebrated career has come to an end. Tweeting from Hawaii where he sought refuge from the media storm about his downfall, Armstrong posted a picture of a sunset on November 2. His sun has set – below is a picturesque landscape that is simply too beautiful to be real.
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