Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
July 13, 2016

Baton Rouge: Channeling the Fire with Amazing Grace

June has taken up the responsibility of helping to feed the small gathering that congregates in front of the Triple S Food Mart to pay their respects and grieve over the death of Alton Sterling. Baton Rouge, La. photo: Ruddy Roye for TIME via Instagram.

At its heart, the photo illustrates what the President said in Dallas about the decency of the American people. As photographer Ruddy Roye explains, a man named June is cooking for people stopping to pay their respects at the Baton Rouge market where Alton Sterling was killed.

Mindful of the smoldering racial and political atmosphere in the country right now, the symbolism reaches beyond a single instance of goodwill and community, however. To understand the power of the photo, consider how much it repurposes the idiom: “pouring gasoline on the fire.” If the killings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas surely inflame, the gesture above, in the face of the pain and raw feelings that have followed, channels the flame with amazing grace.

Consider also the protest phrase, “I CAN’T BREATH, prevalent since Eric Garner died from an officer’s chokehold. Here, air, like goodwill, is also at the ready.

At the same time, there is no tamping down the basic element. I’m talking about how June’s shirt, presenting two images of Sterling and the bloodied aspect of an American flag, relates to the underlying rage. If the purpose of this fire is to feed and console, it’s only because Sterling was consumed by the other kind.

#Repost @time via Instagram.

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From Ruddy Roye (@ruddyroye), photographing in Baton Rouge, La.: “Yes Sir, June like the month,” he said with a half smile. June has taken up the responsibility of helping to feed the small gathering that congregates in front of the Triple S Food Mart to pay their respects and grieve over the death of Alton Sterling. “I am here for everyone. Whoever comes here and need food I got them,” he said.

Photo and text by @ruddyroye #onassignment for @time.

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UPDATE 5/1/2017: Officers Won’t Be Charged in Black Man’s Shooting Death in Louisiana (NYT).

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