Framing Kian

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The late art critic John Berger said that photography always flirts with death because it stops the flow of life. And in Raffy Lerma’s photograph of Kian Lloyd Delos Santos lying in a coffin with a chick pecking at its glass pane, this flirtation becomes interminable, a constant play of sound and death. The chick’s pecking is unceasing, long, and acute. This Filipino custom is meant to shame the killers of the deceased, so the chick “pecks” at their conscience. On one hand, a feeling of indignation is evoked but as the number of killings rise, and the photographs become all too familiar, our senses are dulled. Kian’s death may have sparked a nation-wide condemnation of Duterte’s war on drugs, as this happened during a bloody week of police operations and extrajudicial killings from August 14 to 18, 2017. At least 81 people were killed nationwide. However, at the same time, these reports and photographs were also being used by the state to justify their drive to clean up, to make the streets safe of drug users and pushers, telling us that the likes of Kian are the enemies, the real menace, the ones that have to be eradicated. At first such news can be shocking but soon, we accept and rationalize this state-sponsored violence.