Above: Two men identified as "Alexander Petrov" and "Ruslan Boshirov" are suspects wanted for questioning by detectives investigating the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, in Salisbury, England, on 4 March 2018. Credit: Wiltshire Police.
This photo-snap looks unremarkable (it's not exactly a portrait). It seems to depict two very average guys--you might see them down the boozer, or you might pass-by them on a station concourse, and you would hardly notice them. Just two very ordinary men involved in the super-banal necessity of consulting the departure board at a provincial British Rail station. Other than that task-at-hand, they seem insouciant, and pretty much carefree. They are dressed quite alike, but then a lot of blokes do wear jeans, trainers, beanies, and down-jackets--nothing really unusual there at all.
The Barthesian punctum--or wound--of this picture, is in the scrutinizer's realization, via textual information given, or gleaned, that, actually, nothing in the photo is as banal as it might seem prima facie (at first glance).
The two men depicted, it is so believed by the British Security Services, are not at all two ordinary working men: their appearance only subterfuge--the similar sets of clothes were very likely not bought but rather issued to them. For they are, it is said, two professional assassins, two hitmen, on a mission from Russian Military Intelligence (GRU). Their mission: to subject their target to an intentionally slow-and-cruel death; one of their own who turned double-agent (unforgivable, and the victim must have known that). The above is a CCTV-still capturing the assassins on their recon, on the day before the job.
The punctum-effect in this photo--the sting--is a function of the information delivered by the photo-caption. Words of explanation that tend to produce a chilling re-collection in the viewer-reader: photos are so limited, they always capture nothing but external appearance--and appearances can be so misleading, and are so open to manipulation.
Coda: The mission was not a success: the intended victim survived the attack, and an unfortunate and innocent member of the public was killed accidentally. Not all assassins are brilliant assassins.
(9 September 2018)