Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 29, 2008

Outside Heath Ledger's Apartment

(click for larger size)

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Van-Agtmael-Media-2

"For the illusion of credibility, it had to be framed as a tribute to a legacy,

instead of about earning money and ratings."


Deviating a bit from our usual, Peter van Agtmael forwarded these images to The BAG.  (If you remember, Peter offered us photos, two months back, of soldier's graffiti from a U.S. staging facility in Kuwait.)  As Peter relates:


These are pictures I snapped outside Heath Ledger's apartment on the night of his death. By the time I got there, the media hubbub had died down a bit, but I think these still represent the bizarre scene that ensued.

In this first image, with the photographers gathered, I could see this being made to look bigger than it was.  But this memorial of flowers was just a small tribute set up by one person — like something you might see on the roadside for the victim of a car crash.  Because this was not an event of public grieving, the little memorial speaks to that.

Overall, there hasn't been much appreciation for the guy, and there has been little celebration for his work as an actor.  If anything, it seems there has been much more of an interest in his toxicology test.  Its been a pretty negative, if unsurprising reflection on media and humanity.

I think this second photo is the best one I took that night.  Posing for a picture, these two girls are clearly smirking but pretending to cry.

*** ** ***

Part of the reason I decided to go down to photograph the scene was a certain feeling of bitterness.  Last year, I shot a story about the life and death of a friend, a young army medic I met in Baghdad, who died of a drug overdose.  The circumstances of his death were equally ambiguous, but there is no doubt that his life was a mess, with severe PTSD from two tours to iraq coupled with the disintegration of his marriage.

When I heard about Ledger, the two stories seemed to fuse in my mind, saying something about how lives are valued in this country.

>> If you have questions or comments for Peter, he'll be available to respond in the discussion thread. <<

(images: © Peter van Agtmael/Polaris Images.  New York.  January 2008.  Used by permission.)

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