I have more than a few colleagues who wonder why I keep writing about photos of gun massacres (including Sandy Hook, Newtown, Aurora, Arapahoe, Umpqua College, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Virginia Tech, etc.) That’s because these horrors have become mind-numbingly redundant. The photos of the attack on a country western concert in Las Vegas, however, actually feel different. That is because, after the newest “worst shooting rampage in American history,” the politics are now baked in. As much as the photos are about terror, they are also about stasis. However horrifying they are, we already know they will have no political effect.
Take the photo above. At an earlier time, it would have had more to do with losing one’s boots in the mad escape from the concert grounds. At this point, however, the nationalist and regional symbolism carries the day. The flight notwithstanding, it’s as much about how America and the western mindset privileges the Second Amendment over any check on firearms, including automatic weapons.
When you count the policemen and you count the high-powered rifles, it’s clear there is one for each. Even still, in an open carry state like Nevada, it is pathetically easy to imagine that the weapon between the citizen and the cop might belong to the citizen.
In some ways, the massacre reminded me of 9/11. There was the scale, of course, each event taking an unimaginable toll. More, though, it’s the diabolical innovation. Whereas 9/11 involved an attack on a skyscraper, the twisted genius here involved a thoroughly unexpected attack from a skyscraper. It was so unexpected, the victims and most first responders had no idea where the attack was coming from. Like a graphic, irregular pattern in an otherwise golden grid (and yes, like the iconic twin towers), the two blown out windows in the Mandalay Bay hotel are going to haunt us, and be instantly recognizable, for a long time.
The whole premise of Las Vegas is a fantasy. So, when the bubble breaks, the result couldn’t be more glaring. In the foreground, we see Tropicana hotel guests locked down at a convention center after the attack. What a contrast to the walls in the background choreographed to the jazzy, boozy bent of Sin City. With so many deaths and casualties from the rampage, those sheets are chilling too.
Media-wise, there was one thing different from previous massacres that stood out to me. It had to do with the grisly image above. In the past, a photo like this would have been hidden behind a graphic warning. In many cases, including a prominent article at The New York Times, though, it simply wasn’t. In our hyper-violent society, not offsetting this scene in a way we supposedly aren’t able to handle seemed a lot more honest.
This shot of a policewoman during the assault also circulated widely. God knows what she was pointing at. I was struck by the cinematic quality. And how wrong, for an instant, it made our diet of violence feel.
Often, what makes a photo powerful is a politically incorrect subtext. It would be blasphemous to see this photo as anything other than the brave act by a man — a boyfriend or husband, perhaps — protecting the woman beneath him from the bullets. At the same time, the photo plays off the pleasures of the Harvest Country Music Festival on any other day. As politics and carnage drive an even deeper wedge through the heart of America, how far we’ve come from: “make love, not war.”
— Michael Shaw
Photo:Las vegas, Nevada. Photo 2: Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images Caption: Police officers stop a man who drove down Tropicana Ave. near Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Ave, which had been closed after a mass shooting at a country music festival that left at least 2 people dead nearby on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The man was released. Photo 3: AP Photo/John Locher Caption: Drapes billow out of broken windows at the Mandalay Bay resort and casino Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, on the Las Vegas Strip following a deadly shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas. A gunman was found dead inside a hotel room. Photo 4: Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP Caption: Photo 5: David Becker/Getty Images Caption: A person lies on the ground covered with blood at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo 6: John Locher/Associated Press Caption: A police officer taking cover near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Photo 7: David Becker/Getty Images Caption: A man lays on top of a woman as others flee the Route 91 Harvest country music festival grounds after a active shooter was reported on October 1, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada.