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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Picture of Last Week: Trayvon Martin's Team

Picture by Evan Vucci

This picture by Evan Vucci jumped off the page when I saw it in The Guardian last week. It shows Tracy Martin, centre, and Sybrina Fulton, the parents of Trayvon Martin, as they talk to family lawyer Benjamin Crump, left, and Al Sharpton, centre. They are watching a news conference in which charges are announced against George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon and had never been arrested.

It looks like a team of operators circling the parents, the sharp-dressed man in the top left, the reverend and the lawyer; the sharp-dressed man seems a bit too sharply dressed for the occasion and doesn't seem to serve any picture, Sharpton seems to be visibly moved and expressing condolences and sympathy, and the lawyer is saying whatever it is lawyers say on occasions such as these.

Then in the middle there are the parents. From the picture, the father is just devastated, a broken and haunted man, wondering at what kind of a world he lives in where his son can be shot and the perpetrator go unpunished. It is quite different to his disposition in video clips, where he seems to be functioning well, where it seems almost as though his son's death hasn't hit him. In this photograph, he is shattered, there is both despair and disappointment on his face, but also a touch of fatalism, the sense that this happens all the time, somewhere to somebody; that it's a kind of reverse lottery and the chances of winning are just multiplied a hundred times if you are black. Perhaps he is also thinking of the legal system and the media circus surrounding it - he just wants everything to be over, to go back in time, to retrace his son's steps and keep him away from Florida's gated communities. Sharpton is talking to him and perhaps that's why the words are those of some form of condolence or consolation.

The mother, in contrast, is mad. She is filled with contempt and anger. Video clips show she is a religious and forgiving woman and you know she wants to be good, to do the right thing, to tread in the footsteps of Jesus and use Trayvon's death to make the world a better, more understanding place. But here she is a mother first.  She knows exactly what is happening and that is why the lawyer is talking to. She's the business end of things, a woman who wants justice but who knows, that whatever happens, it will not come. Her son is dead and there is no justice that can recompense her that loss. But still, she is ready to fight.

 and I must confess I am painfully ignorant of the lives of the people featured in the photograph but that's what the picture says to me. There's a short clip of  video from which this came, which says something different, as do clips of Trayvon's parents speaking at rallies like the Million Hoodie March but still, it's the picture that will stick with me; a picture of a broken father and an angry mother. And perhaps that is still the power of photography, that it can isolate a moment among the chaotic flow of everyday life and create a narrative that, while it might not always be real or true, is still the right message for the right time.


Stan B. said...

Three great posts, Colin! Easter vacation seems to agree with ya. Maybe I'll try it next year-don't have to be religious I take it?

colin pantall said...

Thanks Stan - Roger Ballen in Manchester was great, but this is the picture that really got to me - and the events that preceded it really are quite incomprehensible to me - whilst also being so very easy to understand. Are they having any kind of deep-seated effect in the US or is it too early to tell. It seems like one of those epiphanous (??) events.

Stan B. said...

Yeah, pretty big repercussions here- hell, the guy wouldn't be in jail right now if it wasn't for such strong grass roots movements throughout the country protesting this! And the "stand your ground" abomination of a law which the cops used as an excuse for not charging the shooter is now itself under fire. One of its main proponents, a large, well financed (and did I mention evil) Conservative lobbying group known under the acronym ALEC is now finally getting a lotta heat.

This has indeed stirred things up- and the trial is a long way from getting started...

Barrie said...

What a wonderful post. I agree with Stan the last three posts were really great. I might try easter vacation too, i am not religious though. If it helps, why not.

Thank you for having this blog and sharing your thoughts with us.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Barrie and Stan - I don't know who Alec are. Seems to me like America has some of its own enemies engrained in its way of thinking - just off the top of my head, in the last 11 years, would it be true to say that more Americans have been killed on only one gated housing estate in Florida by a wannabe vigilante than in the whole of the United States by Islamist terrorists. I might be wrong on that one - do let me know if I am.

Stan B. said...

Few Americans have even heard of ALEC (which is exactly as they want it).


As for terrorism, I'm afraid there's plenty in America- if I may...


timd said...

top left is: Rev. Jamal Bryant
With regard to how he's dressed, you might be making the same "informality is good" mistake Gordon Brown made when he hand wrote his apology note; though I don't claim to know how the Rev.'s yellow tie plays in the US or with African-Americans.

You are definitely over interpreting the image, Tracy Martin, the father, is looking at a TV:

There are other images the photographer took that show mother and father with the same expression:

The image you are referring to looks like it was taken just at the end of the TV broadcast, so if you look at the link above you'll see that rather than circling they had just broken from a formal group arrangement; with Sharpton, Bryant, and Richardson stood behind father, mother and brother.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Tim D. I've seen the other images and the room they were shot in - maybe I am overinterpreting them? There's formal and there's what the reverend has on which is something else - but I think that's a fashion prejudice that kind of ties in with a pessimistic view that I have of most religious leaders. One shouldn't look too well-scrubbed. The other pictures in the set help shape what's going on, but somehow I prefer to stick with the isolated image - it's the good one, by far the best, the one that stands out - and so the one that should be looked at and over-analysed and misread.

timd said...

Hi Colin
I think share your negative views about the pervasive nature of religion in the US, my wife if from Tennessee, I've spent a little time over there.
But religious figures have played a very positive role in the US civil rights movement. And I suspect that such figures still nucleate positive action. Its a shame that they aren't able to focus more attention onto death penalty cases, where African-American defendants receive a raw deal.

I googled Rev. Jamal Bryant to make sure I was talking about the right person, and judging by what I found, the yellow tie may be sombre attire for him.

I also agree with you that a bit of dirt is a sign of truth.

And you are right the image is the best one taken; at the point where they have just broken from their formal poses.
But I don't think we necessarily glean from it the essential natures of the people or the relationships between them.

Best wishes, Tim

colin pantall said...

Absolutely TimD, there's no absolute truth, we choose what to see and what to believe and all that. But at the same time, this is the picture that stands out, and this is what I choose to believe - even though my fabrications might be way off the mark. But I choose to believe things everyday of my life - so why not do the same with pictures. At the same time (see the previous post- http://colinpantall.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/you-dont-look-like-victim.html ) we can be way off the mark. So, so, so...

I know what you mean about the Civil Rights comments - religion, all religions, can be a force for good when they focus on the social and economic injustices that were at the forefront of their original teachings.