A Letter from London: London’s Burning - The Image of the Riots


A Letter from London


A woman silhouetted in black and framed by an inferno of orange leaps from a second story window towards the arms of waiting riot police. As I write, this image adorns the pages of our British press. In print and on screen, this soon to be iconic image -like the scene it depicts- is burning itself into our collective memory. (more)

How to recognise a symbolic image before its future is decided by the writing of history? To begin with, this image has all the typical attributes of traditional pictorial interest: apprehension, action, heroism and distilled form. Each aspect individually is arresting in its own right, however when combined these characteristics begin to assemble and form an iconic image, an image that will stand to embody (at least in memory) that particular instance in time.

It has needed little appropriation from the press- the context is the London riots, and this is the reality of the populace trapped in the middle. The blank silhouette of the woman has provided an ideal canvas for individual relation to the image. The absence of a human face allows for self-reflection; ‘That could have been me’ ‘That could have been X Y Z’. This image works as much nationally as it does individually, and therein lies a key aspect of its use as the face of the riots.

It’s brutality of form -it is almost entirely constructed of just two colours- means that this image is quickly and easily digestible, no writing is needed to frame this image. It can be brought from memory very quickly for instant reflection of a time of confused unrest.

This image tells us nothing of the reason for the riots, nor does it show us what happened to the woman. However, because of its simplistic form and key pictorial features it is set become an image of historical relevance, an image that will be brought from the archives time and again; it is destined to become a recurring image of national significance.

~Christopher Thomas (cmlthomas88@yahoo.co.uk)