Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
June 13, 2017

Protest Ballet

It’s not enough for the media to show an illustrative photograph of a protest these days, particularly if it takes place abroad. More often than not, the picture not just features but distinguishes intriguing body language. It would be one thing, of course, if the physical display illuminated the news event. Instead, it often seems like the story serves as pretext for the gymnastics. This is especially true if the photo is published by a news organization in a news gallery or on Instagram.

These three posts all appeared in my Instagram feed on Sunday within a few frames of each other. You could call it protest ballet.

An emotional paradox is always going to be more intriguing. The photo above, from an “anti-sharia law” protest, is theatrical and threatening at the same time.

This is not only graphically compelling but it also packs a punch by channeling one of the most famous protest photos ever made. We might title this: Tank Man goes shopping.

Finally, the photo of the Kashmiri protester throwing the teargas shell looks like he’s doing a magic trick.

It is not like this is a new phenomenon. I’ve written about it many times. At this point, though, it seems worthwhile to remind ourselves so we don’t take the spectacle for granted. There is nothing wrong with artistry. I’m for as much artistry as possible — as long as the impact lends itself to the true tone and meaning of the story. That’s where the real art comes in.

— Michael Shaw

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