Individual to Symbol: "This is the work of God. I am a vessel!"
“This is a legendary picture. It will be in history and art books from this time.”
On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling was shot by the police after reports of a man threatening people with a gun outside a shop. A post-mortem examination showed the victim, Alton Sterling, 37, died of gunshot wounds to the chest and back.
The confrontation of the first image occurred when a round of demonstrations demanded justice after the shootings of black men by cops in the summer of 2016. The image, taken by Jonathan Bachman for Reuters, shows Iesha L Evans, standing in a long dress in the face of a line of Louisiana state troopers dressed in riot gear outside of police headquarters.
“Look at her posture. She is balanced, powerful, upright and well-grounded with both feet firmly planted on the earth. Look at the line made from the crown of her head to the heels of her feet. She is only protected by the force of her own personal power,” wrote Facebook user Jami West.
Bachman, a New Orleans-based freelancer, told the BBC:
“I was on the side of the road photographing protesters arguing with police,” he said. “I looked over my right shoulder and saw the woman step onto the road. She was making her stand. She said nothing and was not moving. It was clear that the police were going to have to detain her.”
Evans is a nurse in New York with a five-year-old child. She was one of 102 protesters arrested in Baton Rouge, whom were protesting in response to the police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana. After the arrest she wrote on a Facebook page that appeared to belong to her:
“I just need you people to know. I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God. I am a vessel! Glory to the most high! I’m glad I’m alive and safe. And that there were no casualties that I have witnessed first hand.”
On May 28th, Ceyda Sungur became the "Lady in Red" — an unwitting symbol of Turkey’s anti-government protests, and the disproportionate force used to quell them.
"For me, it's the contrast between the aggressive posture, gear, and action by the policeman, and the young woman in a red dress, looking like she would be on her way to a celebratory event or something," Hansen said in an email to The Verge. "A little bit of Beauty and the Beast, to put it in Disney terms." - Paul Hansen, photojournalist
This photo itself refutes the idea that protesters were "extremists" and "looters.". Sungur's red dress became a symbol for flags, signs and imagery for anti-government protests.
Let's take a step into art history for a moment.
The Execution of Lady Jane Grey is an oil painting by Paul Delaroche, completed in 1833. The painting portrays the moments preceding the death of Lady Jane Grey, who on 10 July 1553 was proclaimed Queen of England, only to be deposed nine days later and executed in 1554. Overthrown, she is erased from history by the powers that be.
In another example, in the 60s the tensions of the Vietnam War and its devastating destruction, protests rose in the US along with other social justice issues. This iconic image is from March on the Pentagon on October 21st 1967. The rally was envisioned with one adamant purpose: to shut down the war effort, if only for a day — and on that October morning the crowd of some 100,000 confronted 2,500 rifle-wielding soldiers for just that.
The meaning is clear and keeps reoccurring in every age. First, reality and expectation are misaligned - often protesters, especially those in #BlackLivesMatter, are portrayed as violent, troublemakers who threaten the public at large.
In Lady Grey's image, she was seen as a problem in the way of succession politically. But how the artists conveyed these subjects add the human element back. The tenderness in Lady Grey's execution is emotive, striking, unfair and in someways it shows that Grey has no agency as she's being guided to her own death.
Iesha's image shows a strong, enduring force that keeps asking for peace, the community that keeps being told otherwise when they respond to grief. In some ways, it shows the ridiculousness of how much a threat #BlackLivesMatters are to the status quo.
The Flower Child shows the gap between how each side is armed - one to the teeth, the other with flowers and words. A pacifist asking the war machine to stop, but being met with aggression by the same country that serves to protect them.
The Woman in Red solidifies how ridiculously armed the police force are in comparison to the citizens taking to the streets. We understand this story of good versus evil on the most basic human level seeing someone with no arms being blasted by pepper spray.
My last post had the Migrant Mother who did not benefit, did not enjoy her status as a symbol. Iesha says she's a vessel. That statement is powerful - we have a fully conscious and accepting subject unlike the Migrant Mother.
The abstraction of the individual is the birth of the symbol.
(More soon guys!)