Looking at Baltimore – How Photographs Tell Mixed Messages

(If you're reading this via email, please check out the real post which includes embeds not viewable in most email clients.)

UPDATE: Around noon on Tuesday, much of the information in this post became debatable, if not incorrect, thanks to a verified reddit post by the woman in the photograph. Her account offers video footage that is in strict contrast to Soderberg's posts & tweets, and City Paper has issued a mea culpa over here. In the interest of full disclosure, we'll keep this post in its original form, but wanted to be up-front about these new developments. Thanks!
In all of the solidarity, outrage, destruction and hand-wringing over what's been happening in Baltimore, photojournalists have been making startling photographs. Chances are, you've seen much of that great work already. (And if you haven't, this interview with Devin Allen is a good place to start.)

In case you missed it, there was a fascinating incident over the weekend that illuminated how news photographs in times of crisis are read, misread, and often misunderstood. Tom McKay has the details at News.Mic, but I thought I'd paraphrase and expand a bit here, starting with this photo, by Alex Brandon, of AP:


Brandon Soderberg, an editor at City Paper is the man at left in this picture. While this photograph was used by some (like Matt Drudge) to incite readers into believing a "race riot" was breaking out in Baltimore, the truth, according to Soderberg, is much stranger.

In a series of tweets, Soderberg explained how the woman was actually inciting criminals, and that Soderberg wasn't "protecting" her -- he was keeping her from "going at" the protesters.

The photograph was originally captioned:
"A man, right, throws a chair at a business window as another man tries to restrain a woman attempting to stop the damage, after march to City Hall for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015 in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)"

Further, the same woman showed-up in another photograph of mixed-meaning (for which I'm unable to ascertain attribution).


While this picture looks like the man at the right is stealing a woman's bag, the truth is stranger, and more complicated.

While the news media keeps replaying footage of criminals slicing fire-hoses, and gangs of kids throwing bricks at police, it's generally shied away from showing the "best" of what's been happening in Baltimore, like this:

And if you've found yourself stunned and surprised over the imagery and footage coming out of Baltimore, you might appreciate these photographs featuring mayhem and destruction following sports championship celebrations.

Update: Soderberg has written a piece about Saturday's events and the mischaracterization of the photograph, now linked above, as well.

@badgalriri thank you #BALTIMORE #RIPFREDDYGRAY we need prayers and support right. :::: #DVNLLN

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One Response to “Looking at Baltimore – How Photographs Tell Mixed Messages”

  1. Parker Smith Says:

    A fair examination of the details of the “purse snatching” photograph show the truth quite clearly. The man’s hands are in a closed grip, while her arm has bent to prevent her purse from being fully removed, and her left hand is wide open. She is clearly not trying to snatch anything FROM the man, only he from her.

    Add the nice detail of the man carrying a liquor bottle with a pour top and the reality of what is happening becomes perfectly clear. He is a looter and a thief. Goldblatt and Soderberg clearly have an agenda here.

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