Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 5, 2016

On the Mirrors at Standing Rock

photo: Stephanie Keith/Reuters. caption: A protester holds up a mirror during a protest of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Of the most widely circulated photos of the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, this was one of the most interesting. The symbolism of a mirror capturing law enforcement at the top of a ridge seems pretty straightforward, right? As this quote from a Free Thought Project article attests:

(T)he veterans are taking a page out of international protest movements by bringing mirrors to Standing Rock in an effort to make law enforcement officers look at what they have become – nothing more than a militarized security force for billion dollar energy corporations.

A twist, though, is that we cannot see the man holding the mirror. Because he is obscured by it, or it replaces his head, the photo also raises the question, who are these protesters? The answer, by way of the prop, is that they are a reflection of the times, our ethnic, cultural and ecological priorities, and the conscience of the state.

From still another perspective, a larger one, we are also prompted to look back in time. From that perspective, the current action reflects the legacy of America’s undermining of Native Americans. The glass, then, is also about perceiving the present in the past, and observing what is happening now in a historical mirror.

Finally, I would also argue the photo has something to say about the presidential election and a radically different set of political conditions. With the election of Trump, we are going from a president famous for his deliberation to one already famous for impulsivity. That being the case, another element this photo frames is the merit and purpose of reflection itself.

(photo: Stephanie Keith/Reuters. caption: A protester holds up a mirror during a protest of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.)

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