In 2005, the Berkeley-based collective Retort published Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War, an extended tract that examined the ways that, in a political culture increasingly dominated by images, the way to fight one spectacle is with another. The collective provocatively conclude that the terrorists of September 11 succeeded in temporarily dismantling image culture, substituting the image of the burning towers for what was an image of triumphant capitalism.
The events of recent months have proven how select images – such as the Girl in the Blue Bra – can take on their own lives, in some ways overtaking the historical and political narratives in which they were born.
The past week, Russian protests have raged, but using adapted techniques, more attuned to the impact of social media. (In other words, the provocation is more one of the “city strollers,” who dare police to try to arrest them, digital cameras and Twitter streams at the ready.) This type of non-spectacular protest has been difficult for the mainstream media to describe. One image, however, has been put forth as a defining image for these days was taken off the cuff by writer Julia Ioffe. She describes the process in a recent New Yorker blog, beginning:
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been asked many times, by people from around the world, how I came to take a photo of the boy on a bike with training wheels, facing a row of Russian riot police. That story is simple: it was a complete accident. What is harder to explain is how the image fits into the larger picture of what has been happening in Russia in the past few days.
What Ioffe goes on to describe hardly fits the peaceful, “Occupy” strategies of the current protests, but it is definitely worth a read.
As we continue to watch the events unfold in Moscow, we are very grateful to Ioffe and her colleagues for their continued, balanced views on what is happening.