Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Guest Post: Not That 'Neda' - How the Wrong Photo Became an Icon

By Kathy Riordan, Open Salon

When the graphic video of a young girl dying on the streets of Tehran was first uploaded to the Internet last Saturday, there was no name attached to it. All we knew was the face of a young girl struggling for her last breaths after a sniper's bullet exploded in her heart, as others
attempted to save her.

Later we learned her name was 'Neda.'

Hamed R., the Iranian expatriate living in The Netherlands who was first to put the video online and bring it to the attention of the media, told those inquiring he thought her name was possibly 'Neda Soltani.' Not long after that people posted the name online; it was only a few steps from there before someone discovered a photo attached to the name 'Neda Soltani' and started using it in tribute to the young woman who'd died.

The photo erroneously attributed to the young Neda who died in the video. This photo belongs instead to a living woman with the same name.

It was a photo of a young woman in a brightly colored headscarf, said to be a passport photo, and the resemblance was close enough people believed it was the Neda who'd met an untimely death on the streets of Tehran. It was put on posters, used at memorials, and incorporated into online tributes.

Problem is, it wasn't the same Neda.

Dr. Amy Bean, one of the first to see the disturbing images in the video last weekend, was so intrigued to learn the identity of the young girl that she decided to do her own sleuthing. Finding a 'Neda Soltani' online, she sent a message. That Neda responded to Amy, telling her she was not the woman in the video, but when she did, her photo appeared on Amy's Facebook page. Others saw it attached to the name, and without realizing it was the wrong photo, started using it all over the Internet.

The living Neda Soltani was disturbed to suddenly see her image being used everywhere, online, on television and in the press, and solicited Amy's help in alerting the media to get it removed, no easy task. Some people have taken the photo and started using it as their own avatar online, and for many, it has become inseparable with the martyrdom of a young girl.

Because of the confusion, the 'real' Neda Soltani in the photo can no longer use her Facebook page or display her photo, and has fought an uphill battle trying to get individuals and the media to stop using it.

In recent days we've heard from family and friends of the young woman who died in the video, whom we've come to know was Neda Agha-Soltan, and they've supplied several photos for use in the press. Unfortunately, however, many people in both social and mainstream media are continuing to use the photo of another Neda, a living Neda, and making it into an icon of a movement.

Family supplied photo of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who died in the video on the streets of Tehran.

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