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Jackboot Ballet

Photography is faulted for creating what it reveals: the aesthetic dimension of social reality. This image is so good it almost looks rehearsed:

The caption at The Guardian tells us that a member of the Palestinian security forces is kicking a protester in Bethlehem, West Bank. That’s the language of professional journalism, and you can see how it misses exactly what is distinctive about the photograph. There can be both athleticism and artistry in violence, and here both art and agility are on display.

The casting is perfect: a beefy adult male pivots on one boot while swinging the other with the full force of experience; the young man leaping nimbly to avoid the kick is lean, graceful, and yet vulnerable. The costumes have been made to character: top-of-the-line clothing and accessories for the well-heeled professional, and basic black jeans and jersey topped off with a dash of red for the young artiste. Behind them the more awkward, uniformed stooge with club in hand reprises the attacker, while the graffiti smeared on the wall backs up the artiste. Against this background of force without style and resistance without clarity, the two actors in the center play out the drama of youth and authority with consummate elegance.

About ten months ago I did a post entitled The Olympics of the Street. Subsequently the Beijing Olympics got more attention, even at this blog, and then the American presidential campaign dominated everything else. Now the news is slowly settling back into some of its old rhythms. If you read my older post, you’ll see that there is no news whatsoever in the photograph above. I try to avoid repeating myself even though the news is repetitive, but today’s image was too good to pass up. More important, however, is the realization that this scene is part of a long running show—one that has gone on much too long.

Photograph by Eliana Aponte/Reuters.

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Jackboot Ballet

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