« MOA and Stillwater | Main

Protest Photographs Reversing Social Control

Lucaite's article describes how the posted images correspond with the "civil contract of photography", wherein "the citizenship of photography...is animated by the logic of photography...and the ways in which it functions as a mechanism of social interaction (and control)". This contract certainly has many facets and interpretations, but the one point that stood out most strongly to me was that the two pictures (one of the CCTV viewing screens in London and one of protesters photographing riot police) are turning a mirror towards the those that initially sought control: the government.

Not only are they encouraging the government and police to look at themselves, but the photographs are also reversing the structure of social control. In the case of the first photograph, we essentially see a photograph of a video image, making the surveillance operation transparent and viewable by the public. With this direct imagery of a highly controversial government system, the public can scrutinize the reality of camera surveillance, and thus scrutinize the parliament as well. Though I don't follow British national news at all, I have come across a number of online videos bemoaning the advent of video surveillance in England. As soon as the system was announced, British residents took to the internet to make the case to eliminate big-brother-style surveillance. Though it was highly unpopular in many circles, British and international, public surveillance was installed. Still, the UK has a democratic government and the debate surrounding the issue is still far from over. Simple, striking images like this one of shadowy figures against surveillance of spots that most London residents would recognize are a brisk reminder to the public that the issue still stands. In modern political systems with constantly updating internet and telecommunications-based media, hot button issues seem to be a dime a dozen. Large, less-than-transparent governments, democratic or otherwise, are always prone to corruption, questionable legislation, and quickly raised issues coupled with slow resolutions. As the Bush administration so deftly demonstrated, governments can get away with highly unscrupulous deeds and before long, another issue will have covered it up in the eyes of the public. The first Google result for 'Bush scandal list' without quotes is a fine example- the list totals at exactly 400 and given the number of scandals that have been uncovered only after past presidents left office, I'd bet anything there are more. So, it's surprisingly easy to forget about even the scariest of political issues. But a photograph like the aforementioned one, which clearly displays social interaction or control and highlights it by flipping the common perspective, can do a lot to bring an issue back into the public mind.

In the second image, the police seem to have no idea how to react to the young photographers. This image has a twofold effect; causing the police to look inward and rethink their assignment (which could prevent unnecessary violence from erupting due to tension and lack of thought, as occurred at the RNC and countless other protests), and carrying the prospect of publicity, possibly with a few police officers' faces attached. Individually, they probably don't want to be known as the ones who beat peaceful protesters, and they have no idea where those images could eventually be sent, especially with the speed and convenience of the internet. As seen in the picture of Obama's inauguration, where Clarence Thomas was caught sleeping, or in the websites that comb through Google Earth to find everything from black helicopters to unusual advertisements to partially clothed people, the internet is an amazingly powerful force for finding surprising evidence in even the most mundane of photographs. One photograph from the protests could lead to scrutiny for anyone doing something they weren't supposed to. For police, who have tight restrictions on when they're able to use force or make arrests, or for activists, who usually want the image of their group to remain as pristine as possible, one photograph could have a huge impact.

Granted, violence did break out at the G-20 protests, so the simple prospect of being photographed was not nearly enough to stop either side from taking drastic action. But as an idea in relation to photography and political media, the sobering force of possible public scrutiny stands strong. In a political context such as this, a photograph can easily uncover hidden social control, or exercise it on the public itself. Whether by the photographer's skill or just by chance, a photograph released to the public can ring much louder than any text.