Sunday, November 14, 2010

Student Riots

I watched the recent student riots in the UK with mixed feelings, shocked at the degree of violence, but also encouraged that people still feel strongly enough about social issues to be prepared to demonstrate their view.  What brings people to be a student one day and then throw fire extinguishers from a roof onto the Police many floors below is a mystery, however, what was clearly visible was the involvement of the photographic press.

This image was plastered on many newspapers:

In isolation it looks as if we are in the midst of a violent mob, although the raised camera at the back starts to ask questions.  Panning back the following is visible:

A mob, yes, but a mob of photographers.  The first question this raises in my mind is the classic one of photographic truth.  These two frames were taken almost at the same moment.  It is not what the frame contains in the first image that makes the statement, it is what is left out.  The guy kicking in the window is an idiot, however is he simply a violent idiot or someone grabbing their 15 minutes of fame in front of the massed ranks of the media.  Did the cameras simply record an act or did they actively encourage it to happen.  In our current age of instant pop stars and celebrity for the sake of celebrity, maybe a short term of incarceration is worth the fame this image might convey on the subject.

Can reportage photography or social documentary ever truly be disengaged or does the act of creation of the image foster the activity it records.

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