The first martyr of the Iranian uprising has emerged. She’s Neda Agha-Soltan, the woman who was shot to death on June 20 on Karegar Avenue in Tehran. Her moment of death was recorded by two cameras, with her fiance kneeling over the body, calling “Neda, stay with me. Neda stay with me!”
The first image was taken by David McNew of Getty Images of a demonstration in Los Angeles yesterday. This protester was picking up on the suggestion, communicated by Twitter feeds from Iran over the weekend, that images of Agha-Soltan’s terrible death will shame the government and inspire the opposition. The YouTube video, which has gone viral, is a direct confrontation to the “modest and averted gaze” idealized by the post-revolutionary Iranian media. The crudity of the protester’s sign underlines the punctum realm of the image, where, in Roland Barthes’ words, the impact of a photograph “shoots out of the image like an arrow and pierces me.”
The second image, created by Flickr user Jamile Vatankhah, is slicker, more allegorical. Agha-Soltan gazes calmly at us, from the dead. The otherworldliness of Iranian culture is on display here. The punctum of the YouTube video has now been reconfigured into a studium, Barthes’s term for the interest which we show in a
photograph, the desire to construct a relationship between whatever meanings we may derive from it and our
own subjectivities. That the image was created on Father’s Day in the US only adds to the poignancy of the woman’s death, as if the impact, the punctum, of the original videos was not enough.
In these images, is Agha-Soltan a martyr or a saint? Has she become Christian, or is she still Muslim?
NB: June 23, 2009: I’ve corrected the victim’s name and the identification of the man kneeling over her in the video.