Photo of the week: the riot police photo op

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My first day in Amsterdam, and I had just stepped off the tram with my bag in Leidseplein, a popular square lined with restaurants and bars. I had no idea what Leidseplein was like – but I didn’t expect to see a line of policemen on horses, in riot gear.

Obviously, something was happening this day. Or more accurately, about to happen, since the police seemed to be waiting for some kind of mayhem to ensue – a demonstration, an insurrection, a street battle, maybe. Still, this was Amsterdam, so the whole thing seemed a bit more laid-back than you might expect.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when a young boy decided this was a great place for a photo op. Up he stepped, to get his picture taken in front of the riot squad and their horses — and to give me one of the quirkiest shots I’ve taken in a while. His smile and his jaunty thumbs-up gesture seem to paint a crazy happy face on what should have been a sombre scene. The red shoes add the final jarring touch – though they do go nicely with the horses’ yellow ankle straps.

It’s a photo that says, boys will be boys. But it’s also a sign of the times we live in. Since everyone now has a digital camera or a cellphone camera in their pocket, every event is now a photo op. Everywhere I travel, I see people taking selfies — in front of palaces, monuments, great works of art … Whatever you’ve come to see, you can now have a photo of yourself in front of it, even if you’re alone. And if an insurrection happens, why not do the same? At least this young fellow had his mom along to take the shot.

It looks like this trend is here to stay. But here’s a word of advice: be careful when you choose the event to have your photo op with. Choose the wrong one and you might end up being part of the story. Luckily, the Dutch riot police didn’t seem to mind being the backdrop for this kid’s holiday snap. Oh, and the dramatic event they were waiting for? The end of a big soccer match – boy, these people take their sports seriously.

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Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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