[OBSCURA] On the Burhan Ozbilici photo of Mevlut Mert Altintas
I was not the only person on my Facebook friends list stunned by the above photo, taken in Ankara by Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici in the seconds after the assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov. Ozbilici’s photo–he took multiple photos, but this is the most famous one–of the killer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, caught in his delivery of his manifesto with gun raised, is striking. It might even be iconic.
One early reaction of the media, as seen at Slate and Petapixel and Mashable, was to congratulate Ozbilici on his nerve, on his ability to take these photos while he was justified in fearing for his life. The Los Angeles Times carried an interview with interview with Ozbilici, explaining what he was thinking at the moment he took this and the other photographs.
I was, of course, fearful and knew of the danger if the gunman turned toward me. But I advanced a little and photographed the man as he hectored his desperate, captive audience.
This is what I was thinking: “I’m here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I’m a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos…. But I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later ask me: ‘Why didn’t you take pictures?’ ”
I even thought about friends and colleagues who have died while taking photographs in conflict zones over the years.
As my mind raced, I saw that the man was agitated — and yet, he was, strangely, in control of himself. He shouted at everyone to stand back. Security guards ordered us to vacate the hall and we left.
I myself am impressed by his skill. Ozbilici deserves something.
I was also wondering what Susan Sontag, writer and commentator on all things including philosophy, would think of this. As noted at Brainpickings, Sontag’s writing was astonishingly prescient, noting the ability of the photograph to fix an audience’s understanding of what happened with an event. What would she have thought about this photo, memorializing this moment and this event for all time, shared instantaneously across the Internet?
I was also reminded of an article I read in 2012, by sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, noting how images of atrocity can be fixed and preserved and used to actively maintain memory and a desire for vengeance for far longer than we think. What will this photo be taken to signify in the longer haul, I wonder and fear?