Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I love taking pictures. Thanks to photo sharing social media applications like Instagram, I can take a simple snapshot with my iPhone and instantly upload to Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. One of the coolest uses for this instant photo-gratification is taking pictures of found art and street art – urban art like graffiti, stickers, billboards and the like.
Well, for Montreal artist Jennifer Pawluck, a simple smart phone snapshot of graffiti was not so simple. Jennifer, 20, was arrested a few days after posting an Instagram photo she took that was anti-police in nature. Just to clarify: She only took a photo of a piece of existing graffiti. She was not the maker of the graffiti in the first place and claims she does not know who made the image, which also includes the acronym ACAB which stands for “all cops are bastards.”
Using her Instagram name ‘anarcommie,’ the photo was a depiction of Montreal spokesperson Ian Lafreniere with a bullet hole in his forehead. She tagged the photo numerous times, including with a couple of versions of his name.
Arrested on a warrant for “uttering threats,” Jennifer’s trial date is set for April 17. The ordeal is going viral across Facebook and Twitter, with concerns over the implications of her arrest. Is a photo just a photo, or did Jennifer, as the arrest warrant states, act with intent to harass Ian and cause him to fear his safety?
It is common knowledge for social media users at this point that the government and police use sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to track criminal activity, and, well, sometimes activity in general. Still, getting arrested for merely photographing and posting an already-existing piece of street art seems like a bit of an over-reaction. One theory is that Jennifer’s tagging of the photo is what raised the police’s collective eyebrows. Still, that is a bit of a stretch – some people tend to be a bit tag-crazy but Jennifer was pretty much using descriptions in her tags of the graffiti itself. Ian’s name was clearly written on the artwork – she did not just pull his name out of the air and decide to add it to a picture of a man who has been violently shot.
The Internet is full of violent, sexual and graphic images of all kinds. Websites of news media stations often post gruesome or offensive pictures. A hate crime is currently under investigation in Edmonton where someone spray-painted swastikas and racial slurs all over someone’s home. A Twitter user photographed the offensive images and posted it – the photos appear on a major radio station’s website.
By using the same reasoning, this person could have been seen as an instigator to racial hatred. So why was Jennifer singled out in such a way? Whatever happens next, social media users will be paying close attention. As for me – I’m going to keep shooting away and posting my work. I hope this turn of events does not deter any of my photographer friends either.