That still photography still has a place in swaying public opinion is masterfully demonstrated in an image I saw today, the photo of Baton Rouge police arresting Ieshia Evans, a nurse from Brooklyn standing placidly in the street, while another dozen or so officers in battle gear are seen in the background, along with distant onlookers. Chillingly Orwellian, today. The image shows the militarized police state against one individual, manifest in the simplicity of the capture, the viewer left wondering at the outcome. My stomach churns just looking at it.
It’s not that Evana is being arrested (perhaps rightfully so, I don’t know)—it’s the juxtaposition: the police are more heavily armored than any SEAL team I’ve ever seen depicted, yet she is of slight build wearing a light summer dress, she carries no weapon, no one would perceive her as a threat, and she is calm and poised—even her mouth is closed.
The unbidden thought: what unpleasant things might happen to a black man (or me?), say in a dark alley, and what would the officers and their superiors say or do to cover up abuse? Are these two officers wicked men, or are they good guys in a bad situation? Is there an officer with integrity in the line in the background who would act if abuse occurred, or would it be the instinctive ample-leeway us-vs-them thing? Would courts and prosecutors care so long as only a reasonable number of bones were broken (so to speak)? Were these two officers ordered to arrest this woman (perhaps against their own instincts or wishes)? What happens outside the bright light of day with onlookers?
Surely dozens of other questions arise, many stemming from the background of the individual viewing the image. How many images carry that kind of power? I suspect that few viewers will feel good about police after looking at an image like that, because it bears no explaining: here we see overwhelming State power pitted against one individual, like a sledgehammer above a fly. It seems symbolic of all police abuse, iconic.
Here I stop, because my purpose is to discuss the power of photography, not the issue it depicts.