October 11, 2014

Benedicte Kurzen's Complex and Mysterious Photo from Ebola-Stricken Monrovia

(click for larger size)

This is one of the richest, most curious and most suggestive editorial photos I’ve seen in a while. Because — like so many news photos these days — it’s presented in a gallery with just a brief introduction and caption, it invites us to not only feel the emotional atmosphere but to somehow make decipher the elements, the tension, the behavior and the curiosities in our own minds.

The photo is the last one to appear in a post about the Ebola crisis, featuring the photographs of Noor photographer, Benedicte Kurzen, published by Le Monde this week. The Google translation from French isn’t great but the introductory paragraph talks about the changed atmosphere in Monrovia. It refers to the sense of mistrust in the air from the city’s privileged areas to the alleys of West Point. If I read it right, life is looking more normal on the surface after a period of weeks where markets and clubs virtually shut down over the crisis. At this point, the sick tend to be hidden and denial is more the order of the day.  As for the caption, it reads:

Street scene in West Point, one of the worst hit area in Monrovia. In the area people live normally and markets have been reoppened, West Point, Monrovia, Liberia, 6th of September 2014.

It’s astonishing how much story there is in one picture:

There is the cistern of some kind with the can and the bucket. (Someone, far left, is also carrying a small tub.)

There is the mystery of those green things on the ground, plastic gloves maybe?

There is a tense argument going on, or maybe two. The girl in the blue seems to be lashing out at the boys.

Things go from curious to fully strange as the boy in the red striped shirt seems to twist to look at the figure drawn in the dirt. (The ignorant westerner that I am, my instant association was: “Jesus.” Still ignorant, I was next wondering — beyond how familiar or unique the visage on the ground — whether or how much these Liberians are superstitious.)

Beyond the girl wearing the cammo top (any worthwhile associations to authority or control there?), the element that’s also odd is the blurry hand in the foreground. Surely it came from my own fear of death and the unnerving figure on the ground but it took me multiple passes to realize that the object in that hand might be something other than a remote.

Given the (visual and editorial) mystery, I’m wondering what’s suggestive to you — and also, where the photo is either illuminating or frustrating to you, especially cross-culturally.

(photo: Benedicte Kurzen/NOOR)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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