My husband and I just returned from two weeks in Europe: one in Paris and another in Amsterdam. I am comfortable being an American abroad. It is a role my sister and I grew up playing while our parents represented this country as a Foreign Service couple. I still enjoy being the gracious guest, making an effort in the other language, copying the social norms. The days began with Bonjour! and croissants or Goedemorgen! and Nutella-filled beignets, followed by multiple repetitions of Merci! and Dank u wel!
But it’s not enough. I think being an American abroad may require a stiffer ethical spine these days. Standing up for who we really are has never been more important than under the Trump administration’s callous disregard for the tenets of democracy: the rule of law, freedom of the press, a government by the people, facts. While we were in Paris, Tillerson asserted that “going wobbly on facts” is “going wobbly on America.” A Herald Tribune columnist was more blunt: “America under Trump stands for nothing.”
The 2017 World Press Photo Exhibition currently in Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk brought home the message.(https://www.worldpressphoto.org/exhibitions)
The exhibition’s promotion poster was a photograph of a black man weeping in someone’s arms. It was a compelling picture, an African refugee finally on shore perhaps, and I wanted to see more. I expected to be shocked by pictures of Third World refugees, global war and famine victims, and repressive government violence Asia, the Middle East, South America, and maybe even Europe. I was not disappointed.
What I did not expect was that the first panels in the 2017 World Press Photo exhibit would be of Americans committing violence against Americans.
The black man weeping had just finished speaking at a memorial rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, after the police officer who shot him seven times was acquitted of all charges. The picture, which was awarded second place in the reporting category, was in my hometown.
It was the exhibit’s first panel.
It was followed by a photograph of the car plowing through protesters in Charlottesville.
Next, a collage — “Degrees of Rage” — of target practice by a militia group in Maryland; a neo-Nazi leader in West Virginia; the covered statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville; and a rifle-bearing “patriot” in West Virginia.
And finally, taking first prize in hard news photography, four pictures taken during the killing rampage in Las Vegas.
At least we didn’t win best photo of the year; that went to the picture of a Venezuelan protester. Still, we can take comfort in knowing we were the winners once during the civil rights era and then, four years in a row, during Vietnam.
The World Press Photo exhibition is shown worldwide in 100 cities and 45 countries, reaching a global audience of 4 million people each year. In addition to Amsterdam, the 2017 show is concurrently in Germany, Iran, Italy, Belarus, and Australia. Later this year, it will be in Switzerland, Japan, Belgium, Russia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Peru, Canada, Estonia, Chile, Mexico, the UK, Ecuador, Finland, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, China, Spain, Singapore, and Taiwan.
The 2017 World Press Photo Exhibition will not be displayed in the United States of America.
So, last year we made it into the World Press Photo Exhibition with police violence, racial violence, and gun violence. School shootings may be the American lead in next year’s contest.
On the train back from Versailles, I was seated next to a Chanel-dressed French woman and we got to talking. She said: “We do not understand Americans’ obsession with owning guns.” There had just been another school shooting, leaving ten more children were dead. It was the 22nd of the year. The 23rd would happen while we were in Amsterdam. The BBC reported that more people have died in shootings this year than have died in American military service.
The Parkland shooting and the kids’ March for Our Lives will surely be contenders for 2018 photo of the year, but it’s early yet.
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