Women in Protest Photography, Allegories For Our Discontent

Over the weekend Maxim Shipenkov took a photograph of a woman being arrested at the protests in Moscow. The photograph is striking in composition, its tension and poses almost classical, almost a grotesque recasting of a pietà. 

A series of visual juxtapositions inhabit the tight space of the photographic frame: her flying hair versus the police hard round helmets; her hand clutching her purse versus the hands that grab of her body, wrestling her arms and legs; tan coat next to the authoritarian black vests of the police’s impenetrable riot gear; her pleading, silent expression juxtaposed with bureaucratic calm. The bodies too are visually and materially contradictory—hers limp, the police armored and weaponized; her legs exposed and bent at the knees, the languidness of the classical recline ruptured by the baton police juts out from underneath her calf.

The woman, who was later identified as Olga Lozina, is no radical. She was not in the crowd to protest Vladimir Putin but rather caught up in sweeping arrests of seemingly anyone in eyesight of the police after leaving a McDonald’s. “There was a flower bed and I jumped up to see where the crowd [ended]. Then riot police demanded that we immediately got off the flower bed,” Lozina said in an interview.

Everyone quickly got off but the police grabbed the last person to get down, a young man, and took him to a police van.

My mom was there and asked police, ‘Why are you detaining him?’ Then they grabbed my mom. And then my sister. They took them and I followed them without realizing that they were detaining me as well.

Lozina added that the police handled her gently, which may be true, but Shipenkov’s photograph—an object that exists independently of Lozina’s narrative—resists such interpretation. In the jumble of bodies, the photograph makes a visual appeal to liberty and to justice; to abstract concepts that are often invoked as the bedrocks of modern citizenry. The photograph, which quickly…

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