By the time you get around to reading this blog, you’ll have been bombarded by dozens of sets of the best photographs of 2011. You’ve seen them all. You’ve gazed admiringly at the solemnity of Obama as he watched his crack troops storm Bin Laden’s compound and kill America’s nemesis. Later on you read about how the whole picture is certainly faked because the troops carrying out the mission did not have live relay cameras attached to their bodies and the closest cameras were outside the building. The words you read impacted your event awareness more than the picture you saw, not to mention the one you didn’t – Bin Laden’s body being dumped in the sea.
2011 has been the year of crowd scenes. There’s been vast swelling crowds of people on the streets of much of the Arab world. These sudden gatherings were triggered by an event now legendary around the region – the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi (محمد البوعزيزي) was the spark that set North Africa on fire. His self-sacrifice was photographed but that is not our preferred image of a humble fruit seller setting himself ablaze in protest of the confiscation of his wares. We have a far more romantic vision. We see his unknown face everywhere.
The western world fostered its own dress rehearsal for a revolution (here’s my tent – the green one on the left). The usual cast turned out for the performance, which ran for weeks in many of the major cities around the rich countries. Alongside the jobbing characters long familiar in such scenes, one or two fresh faces arrived, eager to be in the right place at the right time. Very much in the theatrical tradition, many of these newly apprenticed rebels wore masks but unfortunately the audience mostly stayed away. It was an appreciative audience but it wasn’t ready to Occupy the stage of its own affairs. Instead it was comforted to imagine itself plotting the revolution from an Ipad in Starbucks.
We’re all familiar with the image of John Pike calmly
spraying the aphids on his rose bushes administering pepper spray into the eyes of people sitting at his feet. His collected manner in dispensing a particularly disproportionate measure of crowd control immediately bounced around the world. Before he had finished his shift that day, he was the most famous lawman on the planet. Doubtless he wasn’t in the mood for a portrait shot after his meal that evening but if he had posed for one, his would be the enigmatic countenance that answered the question of why his boss had chosen him to perform the chore.
Images of big objects like trucks, houses and bits of machinery washed up in places where they weren’t supposed to be were this year’s overwhelming reminder of the power of nature. The critical damage caused by untold radiation leaking out of an earthquake damaged nuclear reactor in Japan did not make for arresting images but yachts belonging to the rich perched in modest residential neighbourhood played strongly. The staff at Fukushima announced that they were prepared to die to prevent nuclear meltdown. People in far away offices and complete safety quit moaning. Twitter was alive with declarations that they would never complain about their jobs again. The image of the genuinely innocent scientist grappling with Mother Nature’s awful interference yet deciding to reassure us all was undoubtedly one of the strongest in of the year. Yet, you never saw it. It was not captured, except by our imagination.
This post has been suddenly interrupted by a crisis call which cannot be photographed or written about – gotta dash – please let me have your unphotographed important moments of 2011 and I’ll return to the subject later: a couple of pointer sentences in the comments form for this post please….