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.