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The One Iconic Photo that Encompasses the Essence of the Standing Rock Protest

Over the past few months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota have successfully managed to temporary halt construction of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline. The subject of much debate and media coverage, one incredibly powerful and emotive photo has emerged from the site, encompassing the ongoing battle.

Ryan Vizzions, an Atlanta-based journalistic photographer, has traveled around the globe, but is currently based at the site where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are positioned. He set up the Standing Rock Rising Facebook page, which has since amassed almost 200,000 "likes." Vizzions has been attempting to spread coverage of the protest by documenting his experience through a series of photos, including pictures that show police water cannons and tear gas on protestors who are stood in freezing waters.

'Defend The Sacred' - photo used with permission from Ryan Vizzions

One photo in particular has garnered widespread media attention. Titled "Defend The Sacred," it depicts a peaceful protestor on horseback, facing a wall of police and their vehicles. The image by Vizzions has even made it into the print edition of Newsweek, and been shared quite literally tens of thousands of times across social media. Commenters have expressed their desire for it to be recognized with a Pulitzer Prize.


See more of Ryan’s Standing Rock documentary images below, or the rest of his work at his official website. Be sure to follow the Standing Rock Rising page on Facebook for more.

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Anonymous's picture

Clearly demonstrates the power of selective photojournalism.

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the insightful feedback Mike and Raquel.

Joshua Tousey's picture

Been there.. Really tense.. I used to be in Law Enforcement and this is just scary.. These People deserve our respect and everyone should think about that what they are really doing there.

John Spraglanetti's picture

Iconic? Pulitzer??

I don't find it to be even moderately compelling. Mediocre composition, static characters with weak tension, cluttered subject, and no dramatic sense that we are witnessing a defining moment in the story. Far from the best image to come out of Standing Rock, and even farther from being Pulitzer material, IMO.

Logan Sorenson's picture

We must be looking at two different photos. This image reeks of tension and foreshadowing. Have you googled "Pulitzer prize photos"? I would argue that the majority of them have "bad" composition, they are not selected because of that, but for context, timing, etc. Haha every time I read a comment "it's no so good" about any photograph I just think "Wow.. Someone is jealous...

This is a pretty powerful image imo. =)

Logan Sorenson's picture

Additional thought. People had the exact same sentiments of the woman standing before the soldiers in the less recent Black Lives Matter protests. The image itself, not amazing, the juxtaposition however was. Just really didn't seem to stick around but it hasn't even been a year. I bet in 5-10+ Years we'll see a few of these images still.

Anonymous's picture

While it's a great shot and says a lot about the situation I don't think it's worthy of a Pulitzer prize. I've seen many others coming out of standing rock that are far stronger images.

Can you say this has the impact of say Kevin Carter's iconic starving child/vulture shot? I don't think it does at all. Not even close.This shot is definitely not a Pulitzer calibre photograph.

Studio 403's picture

I not a fan of this kind of photography. These photos take visual bias that is self evident. Of course, freedom of the press, is not the right to know or being slanted to know. In my view this is not iconic work, but taking a shot, pun intended