Page 72: Ex 3.2
Brief: Find one or two recent photographs within the public domain that you consider to be ‘controversial’ or to transgress social barriers. Write a short entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about why you feel it is controversial.
A controversial image which transgresses social barriers.
From the Mailonline page:
Get ’em off! Armed police order Muslim woman to remove her burkini on packed Nice beach – as mother, 34, wearing Islamic headscarf is threatened with pepper spray and fined in Cannes (Mail online)
The image, which can be found here , has the following text attached to it: “The woman is then ordered to remove the blue garment. Most of the other people on the beach on a sweltering summer’s day were wearing trunks or bikinis.”
The implications are that 1) the woman is challenging the status quo by not wearing what would be natural to wear on such a hot summer’s day; 2. She is not like the rest – her difference made her a target. The ignorance shown by the editorial team on clothes worn in areas where there is little protection from a fierce sun further distances the subject in this image from the viewers.
This image and the text with which it appears transgress social barriers from a western culture because they are perverse: they exude sexism (why couldn’t the state use female police officers to handle the case?), racism (she appears to be the only woman of colour on the beach)and ageism (younger women were not threatened) on the part of the police officers, and the series of which this is just one image, reflects a voyeurism which embodies all the other perversions.
The complicity of the photographer in all the images compounds the attack on the woman.
The complicity of the newspaper editorial pack in all the images on its website compounds the attack on the woman.
The complicity of the press agencies who distribute the images compounds the attack on the woman.
This image reminds me of the images taken by Nazi photographers of the Jews in the concentration camps, analysed extensively in The Cruel Radiance by Suzie Linfield: like this woman, the Jews were helpless in the face of a nationalist ideology which objectified them.
Should this have any place in a society governed by the European Convention of Human Rights which was based on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, in turn and ironically, was based on the Code Napoleon? In the preamble to the UDHR we find the following opening sentence:
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,”
In which way is the woman in these series of images, forced to undress in public, treated with dignity? Her difference sets her apart and she appears therefore, to be a vulnerable target to the state.
If we look at the same image covered by the Guardian here, we find that her face has been obliterated (presumably to restore a modicum of dignity). The text under the Guardian image reads: French agency AFP saw a ticket given to the woman by police, which said she was not ‘wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’. Photograph: Vantagenews.com.
The mission statement of London based Vantage News on its website is: Vantage News is a news/photo agency with a difference. Vantage News aims to provide the best, most professional and honest service to its suppliers and clients.
Is VN flicking off responsibility for providing the image by stating that Agence France Presse saw the ticket being given to the woman and so, by implication, called all the other news agencies to the party?
The same image appears on the front pages of most European national papers. The composition and technical qualities of the image make me think that it is taken by a press photographer who had been primed about the swoop and so could control all his/her honed skills in image making; it was not an example of democratised image making, in my opinion.
This image transgresses the social barriers set up by the European Convention of Human Rights in not affording this woman her human right to dignity. The French law which had permitted this attack to take place has since been revoked and the attack declared illegal. It has not stopped French Police going up to bathers wearing hijab in the water and asking them to leave – again this is transmitted via images taken by photojournalists.
The cynic in me, however, makes me believe that this could be a huge set-up by the French press agencies to stir up public sentiments against Muslims at a time when there are no other catastrophe news to keep photojournalists working. Maybe.