Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
June 21, 2015

Dylann Roof and His Point-and-Shoot

If it’s out of the ordinary, I’d like to start off by saying I’m of two minds about posting a photograph of Dylann Roof.

Of course, Bag’s mission is to analyze the leading political images of our times, and incendiary photos of Roof have been flying back-and-forth for days, especially since his manifesto and its accompanying photos were uncovered. Also, the representation of domestic terrorists is nothing we’ve ever shied away from. Jerad and Amanda Miller. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Adam Lanza. James Holmes. Jared Loughner. Wade Michael Page. Nidal Hasan (1, 2). Anders Breivik. We’ve looked at them all, and more. If it’s a pitiful exercise — how we represent these killers, and how they represent themselves — it’s ultimately a reflection and a product of the culture, and something for us to learn from.

That said, if you look at our two posts so far (1, 2) on the massacre at Charleston’s historic A.M.E. church, we have largely managed to avoid naming or representing the visage of this hateful misfit. If there’s a reason, it might be that, like many of you, we are also growing numb from these repeated and media-amplified acts of terror.

…Which brings me to the photo above from Roof’s manifesto — not the one showing him waving a firearm, or a Confederate flag, or posing in all those public places with symbolic numbers or marks on the ground, but simply holding up a camera to a mirror. Now, it would be ridiculous to implicate the device in any of this, even if the camera is the “instrument of authorization” in the string of self-portraits used to justify and glorify his sense of omnipotence and his role as the so-named savior of the white race.

If there is a more chilling and, at the same time, less re-published photo out of those splattered across the media and social media from the kid’s manifesto, however, it’s this one. Wearing his infamous Rhodesia and S. Africa “apartheid jacket” in this antiseptic bathroom, his finger on the shutter, it’s as if Roof (beyond the rapturous self-absorption) is reminding us that he wouldn’t have attained anywhere near the fame and notoriety without the power and ubiquity of current day photography. And that’s just how it is.

(photo: Dylann Roof/lastrhodesian.com. caption via The Telegraph: Police captured the white suspect in a gun massacre at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest deadly assault to feed simmering racial tensions. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead during a bible study meeting.)

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