The story behind a viral photograph

I am not a fan of the horror film genre and so give a wide berth to those that feature zombies or vampires or otherwise promise gruesome scenes of blood, death, and dismemberment. But I am a fan of comedies and this poses a dilemma for me about whether to watch comedies that are based on the zombie and vampire genre. So far I have seen just three such comedies: Shaun of the Dead, What We Do In The Shadows, and the much older Love at First Bite.

When I first saw this now viral photograph of people, responding to Trump’s instigations, protesting against state governments and demanding that the social distancing rules that have crippled businesses be relaxed, it immediately reminded me of the scene from Shaun of the Dead where people have barricaded themselves inside a pub and the zombies are at the window demanding to be let in. I am not the only one to see such a similarity.

Joshua Bickel, the photojournalist who took the photograph, is surprised at the response this photo has generated but says that his intent was not to make people look like zombies because he is sympathetic to the plight of people hurt by the shutdown.

Bickel tries to stay open-minded about the people he photographs, and understands that the job is to show exactly what is in front of you. That does not necessarily mean being nice, but it does mean being honest:

“They were basically saying like, ‘Being closed is hurting me economically and it’s not necessary’ … I try to stay open-minded. I sympathize with everybody. I understand that everybody’s experience [of this pandemic] is different,” he said.

He believes that is why the image has resonated so much: the glass separation in the photo is unique to this moment, but it also speaks to the metaphorical moment – everyone is going through the same thing, but experiences it in myriad ways.

“People are reacting to it this way because they see [the photo] from my perspective, but they are bringing their experience and their belief system into how they interpret the image, and they are symbolically seeing that divide,” he says.

He is right that we impose our own perspective on the images we see.


  1. Who Cares says

    Certainly not the only one. Might have to click ‘show nested quotes’ on the first message in this link but the person who makes quite a few of the images accompanying Ars Technica articles did a minor modification to that photo because of having that similar feeling.

  2. Sam N says

    Describing them as zombies is simply correct. They are unthinking ghouls, unable to grapple with consequences beyond one step of cause and effect.

  3. polishsalami says

    The only zombie film I have any time for is 28 Days Later. That opening scene where Cillian Murphy wanders for ages in an empty London is amazing.

  4. Marshall says

    Mano, FYI What We Do in the Shadows season 2 just started back up again; it’s on Hulu.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for the tip, Marshall. I have watched the original film only. Is the TV series any good?

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