December 2, 2013

Those "Upside Down" Pictures from Kiev: Citizens Cracking the Whip in Ukraine?

Kiev 11 24

Reading too much into a picture will typically lead you astray. Other times, though, it can be prescient. With mass protest and iron fisted crackdowns sadly common newswire fare, there was something curiously different about the images from Kiev’s Independence Square as early as November 24th.

The shot above is the one that first caught my attention. If the government had so much force and firepower at its disposal, what didn’t make sense to me was the customary depiction of pepper spray. Given the exclusivity of this weapon from Istanbul to Athens to New York as the riot cop’s object of control, here was the inkling that the winds, in the Ukrainian uprising, might be blowing a little differently.

Then, the next day, this shot appeared:

Kiev clash

While one picture can mean anything, I was more openly vexed by this shot, the pepper, that ubiquitous pacifier, clearly trending to the underdog. Given the clear “one-sidedness,” however, I was still considering it a visual anomaly, an atypical moment, imagining what the Reuters photographer had captured was an instant of romantic aspiration, imagining the jean-clad citizens as not only having the ability to rise above and repel the state and its robo-force but showcasing the liberating role of the photographer besides.

As a precursor, the photos from over a week ago do make the images that flooded the wires yesterday a little more relatable. That’s not to say, however, that the typical reading of such ominously militarized photos hasn’t been turned on its head.

Kiev tractor G

In this case, you can attend to the traces of what’s contradictory, what’s different from most every related photo you’ve previously seen.  Beyond further investigation of of how big that Square is and how many helmets there are versus how many scarves, sneakers and pairs of jeans, you really do have to seek more context from outside the frame. Because, if you don’t understand that the whole country is up in arms over what’s happening in the building these forces are defending, it just doesn’t make sense that the people wielding some pepper, a tractor and some chains could be owning the day.

Kiev chain

(photo 1: Maks Levin/Reuters caption: Protesters clash with riot police during a rally to support EU integration in central 2: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters caption: Protesters clash with riot police during a rally to support EU integration in central Kiev, November 24, 2013. photo 3: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images caption: The protesters attacked the police. This demonstrator used tear gas and a chain. photo 4: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images caption: A protester with a chain clashes with police during the storming of the Viktor Yanukovych Presidential office in Kiev, on December 1, 2013. The crowd chanted “Revolution!” and “Down with the Gang” as it took control of Kiev’s iconic Independence Square and steered a bulldozer within striking distance of police barricades protecting the nearby presidential adminstration office.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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