Certainly one thing a state doesn’t want to do — if it’s trending totalitarian and suddenly incites a mass public pushback — is to be distinguished by the world for some riot tactic that is so visibly distinctive (and sadistic) that it’s suddenly (and perhaps even perpetually) identified with it.
From the Cairo uprising to the spraying at U.C. Davis (and in city parks across the U.S. cities where Occupy encampments were forcibly broken up), tear gas has become an increasingly visible staple of domestic control. Here though, the physical and spatial quality of these Turkish gassings seem to rise to a new level — at least, for widely-distributed public protest images.
Widely published on social nets, I couldn’t trace it’s source but this photo might have surfaced via turkulivestream. It’s a remarkable contrast in power, gender and the canister as equivalent to whatever is in the holster. Though lacking the impact or significance of picture at the bottom of the post, this also has a powerful documentary quality of state forces “standing behind” their work.
Visibility and invisibility has catalyzed this violence and now prominently defines it. Ignited over the removal of a few trees, this act not only crystallized the government’s intention to appropriate Instanbul’s famous public square for commercial use, but made visible, on the surface, the heavy hand. How understandable then that the pictures so testify to the violent and painful incapacitating of the citizen’s ability to see.
What the images also convey is the use of so much gas that these familiar streets and landmarks actually do disappear as if under a blanket, or dare I say, behind a curtain, where the government aspires to enforce its will. And the second quality — which could almost be seen as a psychological effect when the camera comes into play — is the sense that the landscape, which so intimately binds and expresses the identity of a people, can seem so ephemeral as to almost disappear.
And, a few words about the widely distributed image above. Besides capturing how the police have graduated from spray cans, and the fact that the Turkish riot cops would be that brazen about gassing that this looks like a media demonstration, the sign/sound bite — as was the staple of the Occupy movement — is simple brilliant. In pronouncing the Prime Minister “Chemical Tayyip” (echoing the moniker given to Iraq’s “Chemical Ali”), the nature and significance of the photo, simply, shifts from information to evidence.
(photo 1 & 4: Murad Sezer/Reuters caption 1: A demonstrator throws back a tear gas canister to riot police during an anti-government protest in central Istanbul May 31, 2013.photo 2: Osman Orsal/Reuters caption: Riot police use tear gas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protest at Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013. photo 3: unattributed. caption 4: A Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas as a demonstrator holds a banner which reads, “Chemical Tayyip”, referring to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, during a protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013.)