Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 27, 2014

On those Viral Photos of African Migrants atop the Melilla Golf Course Fence

One thing we hardly talk about here are the often subtle differences between two versions of the same scene.

If you follow the news stream, chances are that you saw this picture last week. By definition, enclaves like the one in Melilla, Spain keep the haves in and the have-nots out – including out of the background. If the golf course happens to be situated on the Morocco-Spain border, however, what’s so shocking is actually witnessing a breach in the typically ironclad partition between the well heeled and the migrant. Adding to the impact is the sense (playing on different levels of prejudice) that the black men on the fence look more like birds. Of course, the fact they’re actually climbing down (one has a ladder) is enough to cause the upper crust folk to bar the doors and hide away their sons and daughters.

In this version of the photo, however, there is one element that makes quite a difference. It’s that the golfer on the left seems to notice the men scaling the fence. Why is this significant? Well, if he was as oblivious as the other golfer, the collision of these two worlds would be something only we were privy to while the migrants would still be invisible as far as the haves were concerned. Such is the story in this version of the photo:

In the first shot, however, the fact that the golfer is aware of the interlopers makes all the difference in the world. Yes, the photos went viral because they show two worlds colliding. The first photo is that much more powerful though for the deniability we imagine shattering inside the golfer’s head.

(photo 1: José Palazón—Reuters caption: A golfer swings as African migrants sit atop a fence during an attempt to cross from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Oct. 22, 2014. photo 2: EFE.)

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