Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 26, 2015

Poor Kanye: Cell Phones, Martyrdom and Celebrity Culture

I am partly posting Kanye’s shaming of the celebrity-crazed public and his indictment of mobile photography as an example of how much pictures can take on a life of their own. Surely sick of being gawked at, the singer offered himself up for cell phone snaps to all comers at one time at a London eatery so he could then eat his meal in peace. If you want to check it out, the post at Defamer is short and, well, snappy.

Surely, the scene is pathetic. If it didn’t come about out of pure frustration, one might almost think the gesture was designed to solicit empathy for the plight of the culturally over-exposed. What I don’t think Defamer/Gawker really picked up on, however, is how bizarre this second photo is, and how much it carries baggage that Kanye wasn’t thinking about.

If the first photo is more documentary, essentially a recording of the public gratuitously cashing in on the collection of his image, the second photo is much more ambiguous, impressionistic and thus open to interpretation. I’m sure Kanye meant to stand prostrate like that. The way he appears to angle forward, though, might have to do with the presence of the drop ceiling or maybe it’s just the camera angle. No matter. Pitched slightly forward and physically prone, Kanye appears like an effigy. The intention surely incorporates the celebrity as martyr — Kanye’s Boston Market cross to bear. On the other hand, what the photo can’t help referencing, too, is that of a lynching.

(photo: @kanye_the_best/Twitter)

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