Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
July 29, 2009

Why Henry Louis Gates Should Sue

NYT photo of Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his Manhattan apartment.

Given that the now predominant picture of Henry Louis Gates highlights the man agitated and in handcuffs on his Massachusetts front porch, this photo gives a start. It leads a column by “The Ethicist” in the upcoming NYT Magazine.

The photo does not just reconstitute Gates by showing him in a suit rather than a polo shirt, or representing himself to us as a man of stature posing with pride in a cultured space (his racial pride also emphasized, perhaps, by the juxtaposed issue of Ebony). It reverberates more strongly than that for the fact we see and get a sense of him under his own roof, in the sanctity and dignity of his own home. Supplied with this “data,” one necessarily replays the confrontation between Gates and Crowley in a more personal way — if one even imagined the scene (with who know what set design) in the first place.

Adding still another dimension, though, is the fact this is not Gates’s Massachusetts place at all but, according to the photo caption, his New York apartment. (So, the man really does need to keep track of his keys.) Although not automatically a character endorsement, the Manhattan place — quite tony from the look and size of it — opens an even wider perceptual gap between Gates, his porch shot and his widely broadcast mug shot.

The title of the Ethicist column, by the way, is: “Why Henry Louis Gates Should Sue.”

From The BAG‘s point of view, confined to the impact and registration of political pictures, it seems a strong argument is there to be made simply based on the eye-raising discrepancy between the Gates billboard a week ago and the capture above.

(image: Librado Romero/The New York Times)

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