Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 15, 2011

Nina Berman in Florida: Abortion Patient As Perp

Perp walk or a celeb-dodging papparrazi?  Neither.  The mushroom-like blob exiting a vehicle is an ordinary woman entering an OB/Gyn clinic operated by Planned Parenthood.

This is what women’s healthcare  looks like today. In the face of pro-life protesters and a history of violence against abortion providers, women, whether seeking abortions, morning after pills, pap tests, or HIV screening, are forcibly thrust onto an open stage where an extremely private undertaking becomes a public passion play. As one patient at this Planned Parenthood clinic in Naples, FL said in response to the scene,  “I felt like a criminal.”

What does it mean to do the mushroom walk, like a lowly defendant reduced to what? a black high heel? And then, given the poisonous moral atmosphere and your identity reduced to what’s on your feet, the high heel can even confuse the issue of who is the escort here, and what kind?

On the flip side, how do we perceive these permanent protesters using sadistic signs, symbols and proximity to wreak emotional violence on women at the most vulnerable moment?

Because anti-abortion protesters do operate inside given rules, such as respecting the 50-foot boundary line separating themselves from the entrance of this clinic, it seems we as viewers have similarly ceded the ground as well. Their presence has largely become matter-of-fact, secured as poster-children of the First Amendment.

With both sides hunkered down and no middle ground to give,  the visual choreography of access is one of our most politically-charged landscapes. The only thing bizarre at this point, in fact, is how the daily routine of golf umbrellas vs. red roses, candles, rosary bead and plastic fetuses riding around in live children’s little red wagons has become the new normal. This daily ritual is now so automatic, proscribed and stripped of drama that the only indication of potential derangement is the sign alerting protesters that they are being filmed, a nod to past acts of violence and a not-so-subtle suggestion that a future perp is on the horizon.

— Michael Shaw


About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for Reading The Pictures here.

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