Photographer Dmitry Markov explains how he made the photo of a masked policeman that became an instant classic during recent protests in Russia.
On February 2, photographer Dmitry Markov, widely considered one of the greatest chroniclers of modern Russia, joined a protest against the arrest of anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny in Moscow.
Markov told the North Desk of RFE/RL’s Russian Service that he disagrees with Navalny’s positions on many things.
But he also says, “Damn, when there are 20 politicians like Navalny, you can choose: this one or that one. But now there’s only one like him. So yes, I support him, despite some disagreements.”
As Markov milled around the courthouse in Moscow where Navalny was being held on February 2, he says a group of riot policemen “broke away from the cordon — I must say, everything was done politely — then came up and said, ‘Let’s go.’ They just pulled me out of the crowd and led me toward the police van.”
Markov says he overheard a policeman say to another that “three people should have been taken, not one!”
The photographer says that when a policeman ordered, “Stop, stop, do we have foreigners or journalists here?” he remained quiet despite knowing he probably could have been let off.
“I understood that, in principle, it was possible to leave, but I felt that it was important for me to go through this whole story as an ordinary person, like the majority of people there.”
Markov says it was so packed inside the police vehicle that it reminded him of taking cheap public transport in the 2000s.
Once inside a police station and sitting alongside dozens of other young protesters, he was confronted with the striking image of the masked policeman seated under the portrait of Putin. Markov says the policeman “is shy, afraid to show his face, he is sitting in a balaclava indoors, the room is hot.”
“It was very representative,” he says. “Navalny talked a lot about fear, and this is one of the illustrations of this.”
Markov shot the photo discreetly with his iPhone, then immediately posted it to his social-media accounts. The photographer has nearly 1 million followers across Instagram and Facebook.
“Forty minutes later, I could see the cops were staring at their phones, showing each other and laughing, and the other protesters also started looking at their phones, then looking at me.
“The riot policeman came running in very angrily. He didn’t understand who had shot the photo. He turned to the part of the hall from where I had taken the image and as he realized he said, ‘Here, you sneaks! This is very bad!’ And he hurried away. He was very offended. I thought that he was almost crying.”
“Of course, it would have been great to tell him at this moment: ‘Dude, I’m sorry, it’s nothing personal. I’m just doing my job!'”