April 15, 2015

Visual Politics of Profile Photos: Walter Scott and Michael Slager Side-by-Side

photos: South Carolina Police Department/family photo via ABC.  caption: North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager and Walter Scott are pictured in undated handout photos released after Scott was shot and killed on April 4, 2015 in North Charleston, S.C. Title: Shooting Drew Together Ordinary Lives of Driver, Officer. from video and story supplied by AP.

What we have here are juxtapositions of Michael Slager and Walter Scott that appeared in ranking news stories. The examples are interesting in illustrating how, through distributed or pick-up photography, the visual media will visually represent and often stereotype by role, circumstance and manner as well as ethnicity and race. The photo of “Slager in “the other uniform” comes from his booking photo.  As for Scott, some might argue that the photos in the forth and fifth examples are fairly ambiguous. Others will feel differently given expression, pose, clothing or even the image quality.

I’ve supplied the article titles, links, image captions and credits. Most significantly, I encourage you to compare and appreciate sensitive drawing from Colorlines, from an ongoing series by artist Erin Zipper humanizing victims of police violence. One thing that’s noteworthy from Zipper’s drawing is the placement of Walter Scott first (although I did see it both ways in other news stories).  Another thing the drawing seems to do is encourage us to actually relate to two people.

photos: South Carolina Police Department/family photo. caption: This composite photo shows South Carolina police officer Michael T. Slager, 33, (left) who has been charged with the murder of Walter Scott, 50, seen to the right. Title: Photos: White South Carolina police officer charged with murder in black man’s death. From MyDayton.com.

photos: uncredited at Baynews9 (the Tampa cable news site) via AP. title of the article: “SC officer who shot man had prior excessive force complaint.” caption: “Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager (left) has been charged in the shooting death of Walter Lamer Scott. Video shows Slager dropping his stun gun, pulling out his handgun and firing multiple shots.”

photos: NCPD/Facebook. caption: The 33-year-old Slager (left) initially said that Scott, 50, (right) took his Taser. Title (from the NYDailyNews): Video of South Carolina cop shooting Walter Scott is ‘going to cost’ police dearly: NYPD counter terrorism chief.

photos: Reuters, SCMP Pictures. (If most of the photos of Scott came from Facebook, I can’t tell from the credit where this one came from. It could also be a Facebook photo, perhaps a cropped version..) Title: ‘I thought about erasing the video’, says bystander who filmed Charleston cop shooting at black man” from: South Morning Postcaption: North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shoots Walter Scott, who had four children.

The illustration of Scott is understandingly mournful. From the Colorlines article:

The back of Scott on the run really doesn’t show us the father of four, the husband-to-be, the Coast Guard veteran or the forklift driver proud of the used Benz he had just bought. Walter Scott is just a suspect on the police radio: “Black male. Green shirt. Blue pants.”


That’s why Colorlines asked artist Richard Péan to draw a portrait of this man the way his family and community might want to remember him—calm, with a smile.

As for Slager, the photo clearly modeled after the mug shot, does it seem like Zipper has added more sense of turning inward … and also, regret?

I’m interested in your thoughts on how any and all of these pairs speak to each other.

— Michael Shaw

(illustration: Erin Zipper)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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