Context is everything. Or is it? If all you had was the Getty Images caption provided by the photographer, you would know only that this unnamed woman is arguing with an NYPD officer as she takes part in a protest against President-Elect Donald Trump.
That seems indisputable. We can see that she’s yelling at an NYPD officer. And it’s reasonable to assume that the photographer, who shot this for a reputable, established news-gathering organization, Agence-France Presse, is trustworthy when she says she captured this scene during an anti-trump rally.
So, in this case, if you were trying to select images that told the story of the day-after-the-election protests, this one would be a pretty compelling piece of the overall narrative — emotions were heated, angry people filled the streets. However, while this scene appears to fit that theme, it actually doesn’t, according to Erin Michelle Threlfall, the woman in the photo.
NPR breaks down her side of the story here.
While she sympathizes with the protestors, she was not there because of the protest but because she had just stepped off a bus with her young son. She says she was yelling at the officer because she had just seen police beat a peaceful protestor in front of her.
However, the photographer might not know that without actually speaking to Threlfall. And if you’ve ever photographed a fast-moving scene like this, you know that’s often not possible.
The lesson here is that context and appearances go only so far. The additional layer of details and motivations help tell a much more complete story.