October 4, 2013

On the Beautiful Instagram of the DC Car Chase, the Killing of the Runaway Dental Hygienist and the Hoepker 9/11 Photo

There all kinds of things to say about this picture of the calamity in Washington yesterday morning, the latest citizen’s photo and corporate media magnet engendering a real-time permission mini-stampede. It’s interesting how, for the first time I’ve seen, regular Joe’s and Jane’s weighed in about this exercise. Below is an edited sampling from beba_black_pepper’s Instagram thread, the mockery interspersed with the media requests and personal “press-agentry.” I’ve italicized the snark:

[ @ ] jennabbeyy Hi – this is Jennifer with ABC News in New York. Did you take this photo? Can we reuse this photo with credit on all platforms/partners? Stay safe! 18h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper #cnnireport 18h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @jennabbeyy yes I did take this photo from the rooftop of 101 Constitution, you can definitely reuse with photo credit! 18h
[ @ ] jennabbeyy Thank you – who should we credit? 18h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @jennabbeyy Adriana Biberaj of Lincoln Property Company 18h
[ @ ] thematthewkeys Don’t give your photo away for free — news organizations will pay you to run your photo! 18h
[ @ ] stephlauren Hello, this is Stephanie from NBC News. We’d love to use this image online and on broadcast with credit. Please let me know if we can! 18h
[ @ ] bradcundiff Great picture. Capitol almost looks like a blue screen shot there. 18h
[ @ ] relaxxin_ Nice shot. Hope everyone is safe. 18h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @stephlauren yes you can! 18h
[ @ ] alexsembra That’s an incredible photo. 18h
[ @ ] stephlauren Thank you! It’s an incredible image. Glad you’re OK. 18h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @stephlauren Thank you! 18h
[ @ ] barlowjon Hey, we’re a lazy news organization that doesn’t ever stand up to defend the rights of citizen journalists. Can we use your photo with credit and then later in a court case totally stiff you and not stand up for you? 18h
[ @ ] abuasloob @stephlauren Can I rebroadcast one of NBC News’ broadcasts for free? It was really good, I’ll totally give you credit. 18h
[ @ ] kaaamj That’s the White House? I thought it was nicer looking then that.. 18h
[ @ ] ronozer Cool shot, some filter? 17h
[ @ ] margotlily Hi, I work for the Independent newspaper in the UK. Would we be able to use this picture for the paper? And who should we credit it to, please? Thanks 17h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @margotlily yes you can! Credit Adriana Biberaj please, this Instagram account. 16h
[ @ ] margotlily @beba_black_pepper thank you very much 16h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @margotlily You’re welcome! Please send me a link if you do use it:) thanks! 16h
[ @ ] margotlily @beba_black_pepper sure, as soon as it goes online I will send over the link 16h
[ @ ] paulmcerlane Hope you get paid! Never mind a credit/byline. Nice picture. 16h
[ @ ] margotlily @beba_black_pepper here you go, it’s online now http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/capitol-hill-lockdown-shots-fired-at-vehicle-that-refused-to-stop-close-to-treasury-building-8857285.html – it also made the print edition in case you wanted to know 🙂 16h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @margotlily thank you so much!! 16h
[ @ ] margotlily @beba_black_pepper no problem. It was a good picture. 16h
[ @ ] dbgrimsley @washingtonpost 15h
[ @ ] foush On Buzzfeed! 15h
[ @ ] beba_black_pepper @foush no way send me link! 15h
[ @ ] jared543 Just saw this on MSNBC 13h

Coming on the heels of the rampage at the Naval Yard a couple weeks ago – an incident that didn’t get nearly the attention that the Tarantino–like images from the Nairobi mall attack a few days later, this Instagram photo the media was instantly buzz-feeding over reminded me of the Thomas Hoepker photo from 9/11. Hang with me for a minute if you’re not seeing the connection (keeping in mind how the chase yesterday unfolded against the backdrop of the internecine budget/healthcare Russian Roulette playing out on Capitol Hill that has shut down the government).

Simply: there in the distant background is the iconic American edifice on fire while, in the foreground, we see the too-casual figures of the white leisure class. And then, the filter makes the whole scene uber-stylish further amplifying the disconnect between us, the disenfranchised citizen–victims of the shutdown and the dental hygienist who got taken out below. There are differences for sure. The Capitol is not on fire; instead, the cataclysm playing out on the Avenue stands in for the legislative mayhem. Here, the white business/government class are more active gawkers. And the photo finish is almost strangely inverse. (Hoepker himself, referring to the combination of meaning and photo-processing in his Williamsburg shot, described it as “fuzzy and ambiguous in all its sun-drenched sharpness.”) Still, the tensions resonate as our screens serve as windows to the violence of the American spectacle.

The other layer here involves the incongruity of a city and its civil defense establishment so fortified for terror attack beset over recent weeks by incidents of random citizens going postal. (As an unavoidable subtext as this image get vacuumed up into the media stream, it’s hard to see how denying people access to the new healthcare networks is going to relieve that pressure any.)  Still, like we have two Americas, we have two Washingtons consisting of the elevated professional class snapping it up while the invisible “others” unravel below.

(photo 1: Adriana Biberaj/Instagram. photo 2: Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photo)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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