Photographer Tyler Shields' Rips in to America's Biggest Tension- Race
The news today is filled with stories of victims of race based aggression and violence. Black pride and civil rights fight against white supremacy and oppression. These tensions have lead to horrible injustice that mirrors the monstrosities that occurred before and during the last civil rights movement; tension between African Americans and the police are at an all time high as police brutality has risen. Photographer Tyler Shields recognized the racial conflict that is permeating this country and decided to put on a show inspired by these tensions and responding to the violence reflected in the news with two photographs. In these photos shows a role reversal in two racially supercharged situations based on crimes that permeate today’s society. The first photograph portrays a lynching. There is one key change to this photo than those of the ones in history books, however. In it, a nude black man holds the rope to a noose that is wrapped around the neck of a hanging, hooded KKK member. The body is extended a few feet above a small body of water surrounded by nature. Whether the black man is the savior or the perpetrator is unknown. Members of the KKK and other white supremacist groups are more than well understood to be the perpetrators in the vast majority of black lynchings and yet there are no accounts of one of the members ever being hanged. This picture forces the audience to confront the emotions behind a huge historical role reversal. Were it not for the lynching that is occurring in the photograph, the calm waters and natural setting would be almost ethereal. But that is not the purpose of this photograph. Instead, Shields forces the viewer to recognize how completely bizarre this fake crime is, and thereby realize the extent of the horror of the actual crimes committed today. This photo takes a fake crime and uses it to raise awareness and disturb the viewer enough that they are again forced to confront the horror of the racist culture and racially based violence and crimes that are taking place today. The second photo portrays a while police officer being forced to the ground by the hands of black men in suits. The officer is visibly alarmed and screaming, the side of his face pushed into asphalt and his weapon cast aside. The picture doesn’t show the perpetrators faces, all we see are their suits. They could be anyone, but it is clear they are in a position superior to that of the officer, and that they are ready to crush him. This photo represents another tension, another role reversal in the racially charged atmosphere of todays culture. One thing that has dominated the news in recent months has been police brutality across the nation, a tension that echoes the tension of pre civil rights movement years. Just within the last few years the deaths of African American youth like Michael Brown, Trayvon Brown and Freddie Gray have caused further strain, even riots. The overarching message that echoes to me from these photographs is this- would they be so shocking if the roles were reversed? These crimes that Shield’s is portraying, would they disturb the viewer as much if the portrayed a black man in the place of the officer or in the place of the hooded man? I think the true disturbance of these photographs is this- no. What Shields exposes in his photography are horrific, terrible crimes. Yet photos like these are shown on social media, the news, everywhere, on a regular basis. There are countless videos of police brutality on the Internet. There is photographic evidence of white supremacist violence against innocent black Americans. But appallingly, those photos are not quite so disturbing as the ones that Shields has created. Society has become numb to the violence that is happening all too often. What is the real crime in Shield’s photos then? Is it the crime being perpetrated, or is it something else? Is the true crime the fact that when the roles are reversed no one blinks an eye? Tyler Shields forces his audience to confront not only the racially supercharged tension that exists today, but confront their own twisted mindset and what society has defined is normal. By reversing the roles, Shields exposes the numbness that has developed to the white on black violence, and compels the viewer to realize the true crime of racist violence that occurs in our society today. The societal commentary that Shields puts forth is impactful. After all, what is the part of these photos that captivates and horrifies each viewer? What would happen if a photo like this actually made it on to the news? And which side would you be on?