Two Getty Photographers Use Instagram to Respond to the Insanity

On the social feeds of Spencer Platt and Scott Olson

by Michael Shaw

Photo: Reuters/Belgian Federal Police. Caption: A young man in a hat caught on CCTV pushing a luggage trolley at Belgium’s Zaventem airport alongside two others who, investigators said, had later blown themselves up in the terminal.

Wire photographers live in the news cycle. If they aren’t shooting a vital story, that doesn’t mean that major events are lost on them. And now that so many working photojournalists are also posting to Instagram, it gives us a chance to think about how they are processing what’s going on. We can certainly see that in the assignment-related outtakes they post. And often, you can still see the news, and their feelings about it, in the personal pictures they post.

Here are two examples.

Following Spencer Platt’s assignment work and his Instagram feed, I know how socially-minded he is. And he stunned me with this dignified, personal photo he took on a train platform in New York.

With all the paranoia in the air about Muslims in the wake of the bombings in Brussels, Spencer’s photo reads as a visual commentary, and rejoinder. Because one of the ISIS attacks occurred in a Brussels train station, Spencer’s shot, with a wonderful view of the tracks in the distance, is an especially welcome dose of normalcy. How conscious or intended it was as a response to the fear-mongering, I can’t tell you, but I’m grateful either way.

This second example is directly related to an assignment. Getty photographer Scott Olson has been covering the Cruz campaign. Again, I don’t know how much the Instagram shot is responding to, or is informed at all by the sexist and juvenile social media wrestling match between Trump and Cruz over their wives. (If you choose to stoop, it has to do with how attractive each wife is, in addition to Heidi Cruz’s past mental health.)

Against that debased backdrop, what a wonder photograph. As we see Heidi Cruz stumping for votes in Milwaukee, the photo showcases a cup in the foreground touting the statement, “Family Farm Fresh.” Olson’s image can’t help but make light of the flying mud. Because photos operate on so many levels, I can’t say if the picture is arguing for a some bit of wholesomeness in this embarrassing GOP campaign or calling out its absence with a slosh of irony. Like there’s anything familial or sweet (see the placemat) in any of this.

Above all though, what both photos do is step back — way back — from the venom of the day. And for that distance and deviation, it helps the rest of us feel a little more sane.

Originally published at Reading The Pictures, the only site dedicated to the daily review of news and documentary photography. Sign up for the Reading The Pictures Week in Re-View email. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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