Here in the U.S. there’s a new controversy over identity and representation. It involves the picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
In case you don’t recognize him, that’s Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a “selfie,” one of the two accused Boston Marathon bombers (the only one who remains alive). In response to the cover, which has been described as glamorizing a terrorist (and which some stores have refused to sell), Sgt. Sean Murphy, who is a photographer working with the Massachusetts State Police, has now released photos that he took when Tsarnaev was apprehended, while hiding in a covered boat in a driveway.
As quoted by Boston Magazine, which published his photos, Murphy says:
So, contrary to the above soft focus image, whatever that may signify for readers, one of Murphy’s stark images shows the filthy suspect standing in his hiding place, hands raised in surrender, with a sniper’s red laser dot centered on his forehead. Whatever that may signify for readers.
So what do we make of these competing images and the alternate — one might say diametrically opposed or directly competing — identities and the social interests that they make possible? What might this all say about photography as a medium that either inaccurately shapes (as Murphy says of the Rolling Stone cover) or truthfully conveys (as he says of his own) our reality? And what of people’s anger over an article that simply tries to understand a social actor in his context — in fact, what we’re apparently trying to understand is how he become “monster,” as Rolling Stone‘s opening puts it, which is a journalistic project well within how many people would probably characterize his actions that day.
Leaving these weighty questions for others to consider, I’ll close with an interesting comment, by someone named Aaron K. Kraus, that appears on the Boston Magazine site where Sgt. Murphy’s counter-photos are published:
January 20, 2013: update.