Mother and Naked Child vs. Riot Squad


“An indigenous woman holds her child while trying to resist the advance of Amazonas state policemen who were expelling the woman and some 200 other members of the Landless Movement from a privately-owned tract of land on the outskirts of Manaus, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon March 11, 2008. The landless peasants tried in vain to resist the eviction with bows and arrows against police using tear gas and trained dogs. REUTERS/Luiz Vasconcelos-A Critica/AE (BRAZIL)”.

This isn’t my photo. It’s from Reuters’ Luiz Vasconcelos and it is breathtaking. More symbolism than you could shake a club at. A woman with a naked child confronting a squad of faceless riot police. What more could you ask for?

But what really got me thinking were the comments about the photo on the Reuters blog, which you can see by clicking here.

The first comment that got me thinking said: “Serves her right she should not be there anyway!!!”

Pretty harsh, was my first thought. Then more comments expressed concern for the child, asking why this mother would endanger her naked child in an act of protest? Other comments called for more context, saying the photograph didn’t provide them enough information to judge the situation.

Now I’m not going to defend, oppose, or even try to explain the Landless Movement to you in this short blog post. But this photograph and the resulting comments demonstrate that without background information and a clear understanding of the situation, even great photojournalism (which this photo is) can create confusion as viewers attach their own feelings on society, authority, and culture to someone else’s experiences.

More than a few referred to the photograph as nothing but propaganda. And I’m sure I’ll see it on display at Revolution Books the next time I’m in Berkeley. But regardless of how organizations use the photograph, it’s a powerful moment. And that’s no matter who was wrong, be it the police, the mother, the Landless Movement, or even me.

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