Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 3, 2015

A First Place Photo in Light of the Damning Justice Report on Ferguson

If Philip Montgomery’s First Place “Picture of the Year, International” Feature photo was good before, it’s even better today in light of the newly released DOJ report. That’s the one that found the Ferguson police throughly compromised by the practice of racial discrimination. Or, as state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal says in this WAPO story, “Ray Charles could see the institutional racism that’s going on here….”

Back to the photo, the black-and-white image plays two contrasting chords. One, expressed in unison by the Chatman family, involves a largely uniform and quite concerned scan “out there.” (The photo takes place on their porch in Ferguson the day after Officer Wilson was acquitted, and the protest spiked.) The second element, so evident in its contrast, involves Valerie Hopkins pursing her lips while looking, it seems, straight at the camera.

If Valerie’s expression remains ambiguous, it’s a powerful piece of rhetoric that she would remain that oblivious, as if the singular impulse is to engage us. As for the expression, who knows? She might have just broken out a fresh pack of gum. Still, the self-occupied mouth and the familiar look in her eyes is such a deviation, you want to believe that Valerie has a reason, a knowing one, for preserving the most vivid, yet dispassionate face.

Today, the feel of the look — with it’s sense of abstention and its requirement we seek what’s there, too — is like it anticipated this report coming.

— Michael Shaw

(photo: Philip Montgomery. caption: “THE DAY AFTER.” Valerie Hopkins, Nija Chatman, Lana Chatman, Shirley Chatman, Jessica Chatman, and Lashanda Chatman (right to left) look out their front door as a police car passes by their Ferguson, Missouri home the day after riots broke out throughout the St. Louis area following the announcement that a St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. As news spread through the community, grief-stricken residents and angry protesters filled the streets. Protests once again escalated to violent clashes with police and the widespread destruction and looting of property.)

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