Compositionally there is nothing remarkable about this photograph. In the context of escalating violence in the region, the content is pretty mild, too: pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk hurling eggs at supporters of Ukrainian presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko. If you’re going to have stuff thrown at you, eggs are preferable to rocks. But there are a lot of eggs. The phrase “hail of bullets” is almost a cliché; this is the first time I’ve ever had cause to write about a hail of eggs. Some have already hit and lie, like shell casings, on the ground; some are in the process of exploding in a Pollock-splatter of yellow gore; three are mid-trajectory; more are about to come. They look like rather good eggs—plentiful, richly yellow yolks—but we will have to await the report from forensics to ascertain whether they’re factory-farmed or free-range (which, in turn, might yield evidence of a subtler, ideological nature). It would also be useful to know more about the contents of the male victim’s shopping bag. I have a hunch, as detectives say, that by some hideous circumstantial irony, there might be half-a-dozen eggs in there. I also note—that is, it’s impossible not to be struck by—the way this fellow’s hair is cut in a version of the pudding bowl or egg cup. Frankly, his face and head fit inside that hair in a way that could hardly be more egg-like. The expression “egghead” refers to scientists or boffins, but the victim, far from looking like any kind of intellectual, is big and burly.
Circumstantially the picture joins a procession of shameful images: Robert Capa’s 1944 shot from Chartres of a female collaborator, head shaved by the mob, clutching a baby fathered by a German soldier; numerous photos of the Little Rock Nine pursued by louts when they attempted to integrate the Central High School in 1957. In each instance, the victims’ quietly placid expressions make their humiliation more horrible. History always reverses this: It’s the horrible faces of the mob that end up suffering the deepest humiliation. These faces tend to be contorted by hatred (never a pretty sight), but in this picture a lot of them are grinning as if it’s all an idiotic lark. The men are doing the throwing but there are plenty of laughing women, egging them on. Needless to say, a couple of morons are taking pictures with their phones—and they, as we shall see, are not alone. Nor, for that matter, is the couple at the center of the yolk storm. Look closely and you’ll notice a fifth leg; hidden almost entirely from view is a third victim. You can see this older man clearly in another photograph from the sequence, which shows the heavy-set guy lashing out at one of his tormentors—with the shopping bag. This comes as a surprise; that the extra picture reveals other press photographers, all doing their level best to eliminate each other from view, should not.