Remaking the ”spitting man”: The creation, recreation and archiving of a photomeme

Publikation: KonferencebidragKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskningpeer review


In September 2015 a large number of immigrants and refugees crossed the border from Germany to Denmark. They arrived at Rødby Havn and walked on the E47 motorway in order to reach Sweden, which at that time had not implemented as restrictive immigrations policies as Denmark. Streams of people walking on a motorway attracted attention. Press photographers travelled to document the event, and the images quickly spread. In spring 2016 the photograph of six-year-old Noor Al-Saedi from Iraq playing with a Danish policeman taken in September 2015 by photographer Michael Drost Hansen was appointed News Image of the Year. Much more attention however was given to an image taken at the same time by press photographer Sigrid Nygaard. On a bridge above the motorway she had photographed a man leaning out and spitting on the people walking below. The photograph of the ”spitting man (spyttemanden)” as he was nicknamed was circulated in the Danish press. It was shared and commented on SoMe and by its subject and frequent circulation became an icon. Furthermore and unlike historical iconic images the “spitting man” photograph was quickly not only recycled but also remade by numerous internet-users. The spitting man was later convicted of racist crime, and the image was used as evidence of his aggression. To some it expressed the quintessence of Danish xenophobia, and it became an icon in the conflict between pro and anti immigration groups. At the same time it also became part of humorous remakes, shifting the meaning and relocating the conflict. Combining inspiration from historical avantgarde theory and contemporary meme studies, this paper describes how images of conflict today become iconic not only by repetition of their subject matter (spreadable media), but in a process of constant remaking (emergent memes). It analyses the reworking of the image, the shifts of meanings and context, and in this also interrogates the role of the image during the so-called refugee crisis. Furthermore the paper explores the premises of its own analysis. It describes the advantages of internet research when tracing images of conflict on the move. It also points out a number of challenges to libraries and other institutions, which archive photographs from the internet and for historians in the future reconstructing the flow and significance of images in the meme culture of the past. In order to examine the research questions, there are numerous challenges related to how data is found, secured and referenced as research material for later assess the reliability and provenance as well as retrace and reproduction of research steps. In this study, these challenges will be described and discussed including evaluation of resources from web archives and means to secure materials that are not in a web archive. Furthermore, it will address how to reference such resources. Bürger, Peter: Theory of the Avant-Garde, University of Minnesota Press, 1984 Dawkins R (Performer) and Marshmallow Laser Feast (Director): Just for Hits. Available at:, 2013 Haddow, Douglas: “Meme warfare: how the power of mass replication has poisoned the US election”, The Guardian, Nov 4, 2016 Jenkins H (2009a) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge: The MIT Press. Jurik, B., Zierau, E. 2017. Data management of web archive research data. In Proceedings of the Researchers, practitioners and their use of the archived web Conference (RESAW2), London, Great Britain. doi:10.14296/resaw.0002 Mitchell, W.J.T.: What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images, University of Chicago Press, 2005 Nyvang, C., Kromann, T. H., Zierau, E. 2017. Capturing the web at large: a critique of current web referencing practices. In Proceedings of the Researchers, practitioners and their use of the archived web Conference (RESAW2), London, Great Britain. doi: 10.14296/resaw.0004 Shifman, Limor: Memes in Digital Culture, MIT Press 2014 Wiggins, Bradley E. and Bret Bowers, G.: “Memes as genre: A structurational analysis of the memescape”, New media & society, Vol. 17(11), 2015 Zierau, E. 2018. Precise and Persistent Web Archive References. In Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Preservation of Digital Objects, Boston, USA.
Publikationsdato6 mar. 2019
StatusUdgivet - 6 mar. 2019
BegivenhedDigital Humanities in the Nordic Countries: 4th Conference - University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Danmark
Varighed: 6 mar. 20198 mar. 2019


KonferenceDigital Humanities in the Nordic Countries
LokationUniversity of Copenhagen