The Baton Rouge protester: ‘A Botticelli nymph attacked by Star Wars baddies’

Jonathan Jones and Nell Frizzell write: A great photograph is a moment liberated from time. If we could see what happened before and after this beautiful stillness and hear the cacophony of yells and arguments that must have filled reality’s soundtrack at a protest in Baton Rouge against the taking of black lives, the heroic stand of Iesha L Evans would just be a fragile glimpse of passing courage. It might even be entirely lost in the rush of images and noise. Instead, Reuters photographer Jonathan Bachman was able to preserve a simple human act of quiet bravery and give it an almost religious power.

It is not just that time has frozen but that, in stopping its stream, the camera has revealed a near-supernatural radiance protecting Evans, as if her goodness were a force field. The heavily armoured police officers inevitably look slightly inhuman. They may have good reason to wear such all-covering protective suits and helmets, so soon after a sniper killed five officers who were policing a protest in Dallas but, in their hi-tech riot gear, they unfortunately resemble futuristic insectoid robots, at once prosthetically dehumanised and squatly, massively, menacingly masculine.

Evans, by contrast, shows her calm, composed face and bold, straight body, protected by nothing more than a dress fluttering in the summer breeze. She is a Botticelli nymph attacked by Star Wars baddies. And yet they seem to stop, to yield, held back by something that radiates from her inner composure, her possession of the truth. In the instant that Bachman has caught for ever, the two officers appear confused, paralysed, even defeated by her decorous protest. Their bodies arch backwards, away from her, recoiling in recognition of her power. The officer nearest to the camera looks truly nonplussed, out of his depth, his meaty white hands flailing. [Continue reading…]

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