suspect obscures face

Above: A man is escorted into custody after four British men were arrested on suspicion of gang-rape in San Antonio, Ibiza, July 2018. Credit: Solarpix.

Face Cover Gesture

One of the most enduring (more than a century) and bemusing human responses to the sight of a photo-journalist's raised camera, is the soon-to-be-photo-subject's act of covering their face--often in a super-improvised way, using anything that can be grabbed with only a moment's notice. The logic behind the grab is this: "I am not going to have my face splashed all over the newspapers for this ... I think I would rather keep my anonymity ... They are not getting photos of me like this." The problem with face-obscuring is that it is not really far from face-burying--burying the face in shame; or hiding the face in shame. As a gesture it is opposed, as a human gesture, by the stoic bare-face. ("Here I stand accused of a crime I did not commit ... God knows I am innocent," etc.) Something of the dramaticism in the gesture is its quality of being un-thought-about and instinctive: it just happens, it is not planned.

Those who bury their faces in such moments might be successful in depriving the snapper (and so the news outlets) of a clear-cut photo of the crime suspect's face, but, unfortunately, the news outlet gets something really even better: a photo-video of a suspect hastily covering their face is spectacular, graphic, demonstrative ... and only one step away from a direct verbal admission of guilt. Through a hundred years at least--early-Weegee photos include some of the most-well-known examples ever made--crime suspects have continued to act-in-the-moment guarding their faces from the camera's lens and so helping to create their own personal version of an image-motif that is entrenched in the visual language of button-hole photography as one that has come to epitomize the human as contemptible and wretched.

(25 July 2018)