Monday, April 14, 2008

The Polk County 8



When I began this blog, I anticipated highlighting (among other things) the type of news photographs that appear in your local paper but have a pictorial resonance and an aesthetic and subtextual complexity that transcends the everyday news image. I felt I was seeing this kind of picture regularly, but no sooner did I start blogging than they seemed few and far between.

Then this Saturday, a number of papers ran a line-up pictures by Scott Wheeler of the eight Florida teenagers accused of savagely beating a classmate in order to film the attack and put it on YouTube. Bullying has been much in the news these days, but this time it seems to have created a tipping point of revulsion and concern.

The pictures of the accused are startling in the banality of the faces. (While the spelling of many of the names – April, Britney, Brittini, Cara, Kayla, Mercades, Stephen, Zachary bring to mind a revived Mouseketeers.) A number of the girls look surprisingly similar, but minus the prison garb, they could just as easily be reacting to a berating for poor schoolwork. The boys, who were posted as lookouts while the girls carried out the beating, look a little more ready for jail.

The pictures are fascinating in the narrow range of emotion they convey, from self-pity to sullenness, but to my mind all stop before genuine contriteness. (I’m reading this in, of course, but I have a hunch I’m right.) Yet there's an all-American look to these kids that can only remind us how narrow the line is between good and evil.

I imagine Andy Warhol would have loved these pictures as would Gerhard Richter. They have similarities to Warhol’s “Most Wanted Men” paintings as well as some of Richter’s early photo-based portraits, and deal with some of the same themes - the connection between crime and media and photography.

Sadly, this is a story and a group of pictures that are truly of this moment. A tale of two Britney's (and their friends) paradoxically too old to have been named after the reigning doyenne of dysfunction.







10 comments:

Horses Think said...

Great expressionistic color but aesthetically speaking they don't feel even remotely natural or real so I wonder what I kind of news photos these are. The colors seem extremely saturated and artificially exaggerated.

Horses Think said...

Okay, well this looks like the true colors....

The Year in Pictures said...

This is how the pictures appeared on the website of the local newspaper for which Scott Wheeler works.

But thank you for your comment and link.

Anonymous said...

God, my mind is stilted after an intense weekend of AIPAD. With that color palette and saturation (and dejection), I could easily envision them at 40"x60", mounted behind plexiglass, sitting under a tracklight, with a $25,000 price tag on each one.

I'm not sure if that's good or not.

robert said...

it is some sort of web compression artifact. what I find interesting is that you can "buy" the picture from the reprints section of the lakeland ledger and a direct link is provided (to all photographs) for you to do so.

24x36 is a modest 65.00....

perhaps you would consider representing the reprints of Scott Wheeler? Unfortunately the lurid tones are not there in the reprints. Ah the original!

Seems they will get their internet fame they sought one way or another...

Delaney said...

I'm glad you noted the lack of contriteness. I think, except for the guys, there's a lack of awareness of the seriousness of what happened.

Like you said - the girls could just as easily have been just scolded for some minor thing as the major thing they're in court for. Great pictures.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would like to point out the word "contrition."

Katharine said...

Frightening, sad photographs. Hard to discuss the aesthetics of color etc when you comprehend the loss of innocence in these children.

Wern said...

The images are fascinating although they didn't remind me of Warhol. Larry Clark instantly comes to mind though.

Also I don't really see on the images what you are describing. Especially the good and evil part but also the interpretation of their feelings. Isn't this all a function of the words - the text you are reading in the paper combined with the picture? What I see on the pictures is a more a picture of young people put in front of a court system and facing their fate and struggling with their emotion and shame.

Everything else is in the text or from the news you heard, no?

(I'm not saying that they are innocent or something. I'm in Germany and I frankley don't know the full story. So I'm just looking purely at the images here and what they are telling me and why they are fascinating. Also the pictures would have been impossible to print here in Germany. Not only the photos are forbidden -its forbidden to even use the real names of underage accused people)

Great Blog by the way!

chica40208 said...

this is a sad world we live in when kids have nothing else to do but beat up each other