Visually Similar Images
I don’t much follow the news, but sometimes it follows me. This morning an unsettling picture showed up on my Facebook news feed. You never know what’s going to turn up there. In this case, it was a picture of the police having just captured a long-sought escaped convict. The fugitive was bagged in Upstate New York near the Canadian border. He was taken down with two shots in the back. He did not die. Somebody with a camera shot the picture.
In it you see four men in the middle of a green field with green woods in the background. It looks like a place where, on other days, a picnic might be enjoyed. But on this day it’s no picnic. Instead, the authorities are standing over a wounded man. He looks like he’s in bad shape. Standing over him are a couple of police officers. They look as if they might be posing for Field & Stream. A third officer looks like he’s none too happy about having his picture taken. He is keen to have a word or two with the photographer. Since the photographer is now out of the picture, that leaves us.
For some reason, this picture makes me feel sad. I don’t know why. It’s not an exceptional photograph by any means. I do not anticipate the Pulitzer committee having interest in it. At a press conference concerning the capture, the governor—who from the start took firm and visible charge of the manhunt—declared: “The long nightmare is over.” A few in the audience cheered. The people who report the news took every opportunity along the way to assure us that this man is a cold-blooded murderer, a “cop killer”, a desperate man. I have no reason to doubt it. Every indication is he is a “bad guy.” I’m glad he was caught. Still, this picture makes me feel sad.
I do a Google search on this image. I don’t why. Maybe I want to find out more about the circumstances. Maybe I want to find another picture—not a mug shot, but one where I can look into this man’s eyes. Maybe that will help me figure things out. Google comes back with links to various sizes of the same image of the wounded man and his captors—small, medium, large. Google also directs me to some “visually similar images.” I take a look.
Few of these visually similar images have anything to do with the manhunt. One image captures a little boy pushing a lawnmower through a green savanna. In another, four happy Chinese farmers are working in a field. But most of the visually similar images are of people playing with their pets. One of these pictures is captioned: “Healthy smiling middle aged woman walking border collie dog on bluebell wood path in English woodland countryside.” I click on it and gaze for a while. Then I go back the wounded man and his captors, and gaze at that for a while. Then again to the woman and her collie. It goes on for some time, this dithering between visually similar images.
After a while I wake up to what I’m doing, and stop.