May 15, 2015

Burundi in Crisis, Love the Headdress

Interspersed with spectacular pictures of the violence in Burundi, I was struck by these portraits by photographers for Reuters, AP and AFP/Getty, respectively.  Along with their existing captions is a second one I’ve volunteered to think about how these photos — functioning like illustrations more than stories — are actually consumed.

Original caption:

Burundi unrest: A protester wears grass around his face to obscure his identity during a protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, in Bujumbura, Burundi. East African leaders will hold a summit in Tanzania on May 13 aimed at breaking the political deadlock in Burundi and ensuring the country holds peaceful elections, Tanzania’s presidency says. (From 25 photo Independent slideshow, “In pictures: Burundi unrest.”)


Informed by the jungle and the narrowing gap between news and fashion photography, a protester in Burundi, formerly part of the Belgian colonial empire, demonstrates how much Africans in trouble zones actually realize the significance of the camera, the international media, the human gaze and even those same stereotypes.

Original caption:

Burundi, a country in the Great Lakes region of Africa, is experiencing its worst political crisis since 1993 after its Constitutional court validated President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term. Violent protests in the capital, Bujumbura, have left dozens injured, with the Associated Press reporting that at least three people were killed on Monday, May 4, 2015. In this photograph, by Jerome Delay (@jeromedelay) of Associated Press, a demonstrator faces police in the Musaga district of Bujumbura, Burundi, on Tuesday. (Via TIME Instagram.)


Burundi, a country in the far right, lower-middle of Africa, surrounded by such perpetually chaotic countries as Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, is showing signs of violent upheaval again. (You’ve heard of the Hutu and the Tutsi.) In this Instagram photograph, the context limited to whatever you glean from this caption, we see a demonstrator who was facing police now facing an accomplished western photojournalist. Wearing a soccer shirt prominently displaying an Emirates Air logo, it’s a knock-out photo because, despite being set in the capital, the gender-ambigous figure conveys a profound sense of helplessness in the wild.

Original caption:

A protester wears a mask made from a leaf in the Cibitoke neighbourhood of Bujumbura. Protesters in Burundi dismissed a constitutional court ruling that cleared President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a controversial third term, as the government offered to release activists if deadly demonstrations stopped.


A protester in the African country of Burundi poses for a western news photographer. Accentuating the sense of primitivism in this chaotic and, at times, hyper-violent country, the cabbage-like mask also conjures up voodoo.

(photo 1: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters. photo 2: Jerome Delay/Associated Press. photo 3: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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