little Yanela

Above: Yanela Sanchez at the US Border, 2018. Credit: John Moore.

Yanela Sanchez Photo

At least 2,500 children-of-tender-age have recently been separated from adult parents as they crossed into the US via the border with Mexico--the consequence of a recent zero-tolerance-policy being enforced by US Homeland Security. One photo in particular was used by many of the most reliable news sources on the Web (Wash Post, The Guardian, etc.) to highlight the story. The photo--a picture of two-year-old Yanela Sanchez crying--became iconic for this news story. The photo was said to be of a child in the moment of being separated from her mother at the border. Within days it became clear that, in fact, in this particular case, the mother and child were not separated--the mother was searched and then picked up her child within two minutes. Some might argue that authenticity is not important here: the girl could easily have been separated (it was just chance that she was not). Others can argue that use of the photo was manipulative and dishonest in that it does not actually depict an instance of the sickening policy.

To the photo-theorist-and-historian what the photo definitely does illustrate and demonstrate is the Law of Indeterminacy that rules all images on the Web. That is to say, as Baudrillard, and Virilio both made clear long ago: a photo encountered on the Internet may depict what it claims to depict, or it might not; it is impossible to say for sure; it is uncertain.

(23 June 2018)