For my icon analysis I will be using this photo of George Floyd who was a victim of fatal police brutality in 2020. This image as well as his likeness has been used as a figure head for the Black Lives Matter movement to represent blatant racial injustice in America. Before his murder he was a struggling addict, a father of two and is described by his girlfriend as a “mama’s boy” who he cried out for moments before his death.
The photo was originally presented the day before his murder by his girlfriend of three years, Courteney Ross. She describes the photo as being a good embodiment of Floyd and even sentimentally mentions his “dad selfie” like pose, a crippling reminder that he was a father of two that now have to live without him. Though his memory will live on in the hearts of his friends and family, his legacy, the symbol his photo now represents, stands as a calling card for a generation and will live on as a symbol of justice through the ages. A this photo went viral across the internet Artist, editors and designers have taken the iconic selfie of George Floyd and immortalized it with powerful renditions of what his murder means to them.
Laurie Greis’ methodology of iconographic tracking, I feel, is perfect for the image of George Floyd because it, “attends to a thing’s rhetorical becomings by heavily focusing on futurity—the strands of time beyond the initial moment of production when consequences unfold as things circulate ,enter into diverse kinds of relations, and transform across form, genre, and media.” This is especially relevant to the Floyd photo because of the vast gap between its initial purpose and meaning compared to what it has become now. The immense change in meaning not only highlights how quickly something can become an icon but also provides a context for the power/importance that can be infused into an image. You are able to compare empirical circulation data to social feedback and essentially estimate its influence. “An image’s rhetorical meaning is determined by the unpredictable consequences that emerge in its various occasions of use.” The “occasions of use” in different contexts is another source of empirical data to be analyzed. For some this photo represents the initiation of violence or domestic terrorism, for many many more its used as a symbol of responsibility but regardless of who you are, to all it has become a power symbol.
The current nature of vitality through the internet makes it easier to create a timeline of an icon and watch how it transforms and the consequences of such in real time. While social unrest was stirring before his murder, after the video of his tragic death spread rapidly to the public, a slew of protests, violent uprising and microanalysis of our nations justice system boomed as well. Fortunately to my research I was able to be immediately involved and updated on popular trends as a result of his death which can be a good thing and a bad thing. My involvement of living through and being a follower of the BLM movement creates biases on my part which can gear my research toward a specific umbrella of symbolism for the icon but it can also (and absolutely did) help me find key search tags and create an accurate, almost pedigree of the icon with the selfie of Floyd being the paternal origin. The icons marriage with the already pertinent Black Lives Matter movement spawned generation after generation of consequences and meanings so when it came to data mining, I started at the beginning, “George Floyd”. Millions of results. The first photo that popped up was the original selfie released by his girlfriend, which to me meant my starting point was where I wanted it to be and it was time to begin the iconographic deep dive into George Floyd. Mass reproductions of the photos were spread through twitter, instagram and reddit as well as Gettyimages, Imgure and google images. I then specified my searches to themes I saw commonly attached to the images as tags such as “BLM” “art” “memorial” under this generation was tags like “Justice for George Floyd” “Angel Wings” “cover” and “memorial” and through the collection and analyzation of the results and tags and consequences I found main consequences and therefore meanings to each individual creation and the piece to their generations meaning of the Icon and how that translated into the overarching impact.
The first spawns of the image were developed almost simultaneously. Immediately the selfie was used as an unbiased representation of his humanity, as news sources tend to skew public opinion by representing individuals by their nameless mugshots. At the exact same time the black community were able to spread tangible proof, through the video of his death, of the blatant disregard for black life in America. The immediate consequence of this generation was a desperate physical outcry for equality in the form of protests, fires and the demolition of statues of historically racist figures and the media consequence was hundreds of body cam videos, news stories, and images of people of color suffering at the hand of systemic racism as a way to show that this was not an isolated incident that could be written off as an uncommon “one time thing”. The immense disregard for George Floyd’s humanity and life at the hands of the officers perpetuated an indisputable example of black treatment in America which lead to its first meaning, as perfectly articulated by Duane T Loynes Sr, a professor of urban and Africana studies at Rhodes College, “a symbol for America to see what people mean when we talk about Black Lives Matter . . . You have this callous system that really doesn’t care about [black people] flourishing, that really doesn’t care about their life.” This definition was embodied by the first rendition of Floyds photo a 4-meter tall street art painting erected in the square of his murder, “An Icon of Revolution”. This photo proceeded to be just that as it was a template for his memorial painting at the store where he was killed and printed on shirts and posters with the common addition of “Justice for George Floyd” or quotes of some of his final words emphasizing the power imbalance and the common feeling amongst the black community in America, “I Can’t Breathe.” Shortly after there was a boom in popularity of artistic renditions of the Floyd photo in vibrant colors as well as with angel wings making him almost like the patron saint of BLM and exaggerating the meaninglessness of color because regardless of how many colors were used to recreate his image, his importance and what happened didn’t change.