July 24, 2015

Hyper-Capitalism and the Pictures of our Time


More and more, I’m seeing wealth and power — in specific photo stories, and even more so, in the increasingly random presentation of news photos — as not just a recurrent theme, but as connective tissue. I often talk about the editorial nature of news photographs, as presenting their own commentary — just doing it without words. If hyper-capitalism is becoming the issue of our time, however, I’m tempted also say that more and more images, especially in these random news photo galleries, are presenting a moral counterweight.

I found these photos on random “picture of the day” photo galleries, the last two (1, 2) in the past few days. The first shows Angela Merkel touring a semiconductor plant. With the headlines in Europe overwhelming focused on Greece’s desperate financial spiral and the economic war with the Eurozone, this nominally unrelated photo becomes an unavoidable allusion. What does it mean to see the Chancellor, seemingly staring at us trapped in a box, when powerful Germany, with all its economic advantages, holds all of the cards? Leave it to photojournalism, applying progress and industrialism as alloys, to cast her as the heavy.


This second photo is set near the central train station in Bucharest. It offers a homeless person sleeping in front of a casino, the building wrapped with an adhesive depicting an outsized Manhattan cityscape.

As visceral and dominant as the tint in the Merkel photo, the color, along with the physical overlap of the two scenes, forces us to consider what’s destitute in terms of what’s monolithic and glittering, and vice-versa. What happens with the color, however, (call it “red light district” red) is that it infuses New York with a seediness or garishness that then binds to the blanket and the hat like emotional glue.

There are no shortage of homeless scenes as you look around the newswire. In this case, though, the melding of one situation into the other, and the visceral work of the color, interconnects the situations and the prospects in a way that is all-too-provocative, especially when you also dial-in how much the street accomodation looks like a hospital bed.


Finally, mindful of wealth and the partition of physical space, I put this photo aside weeks ago. It’s from a NYT photo feature called New York City’s Week in Pictures, and the caption reads:

A visitor to the executive rooftop terrace at the Seagram Building, at 375 Park Avenue.

Doesn’t that say it all?

(photo 1: Arno Burgi/Reuters caption: Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, visiting Infineon Technologies in Dresden, part of a tour of the German microelectronics industry. Infineon employs about 2,000 people in its Dresden factory, where it makes semiconductors. photo 2: Vadim Ghirda/AP caption: A homeless person sleeps back dropped by wallpaper of New York city on the windows of a casino near the main railway station during a police raid in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. Police in Romania have searched the capital’s sewers in an anti-drug raid and detained dozens of people, mostly homeless, including the suspected ringleader, for questioning on suspicion of trafficking. photo 3: Damon Winter/The New York Times.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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