Technology

The truth behind the Manchester NYE photo that delighted the world

It was a photograph that so perfectly encapsulated the New Year's Eve experience that it went viral around the world. But not all is as it might seem, as one of the people in the celebrated picture has revealed.

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First, a bit of background. The photo, by freelance photographer Joel Goodman, primarily depicts police tussling with a man amid a busy New Year's scene in the English city of Manchester.

But it was another man, in the background, who captured the world's imagination.

Sprawled across the road in a bright blue suit, belly exposed, the man is seen reaching for his bottle of Desperado beer, seemingly settled in for the night.

As dusty revellers recovered on New Year's Day, the photo was shared widely on social media. 

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A tweet by BBC journalist Roland Hughes, describing the photo as "like a beautiful painting", has now been "liked" and retweeted almost 60,000 times.

The photo was first published by the Manchester Evening News, which has stayed close to the story.

The newspaper even tracked down the woman in the red dress, Hannah Kirby, who set the record straight about the man in the blue suit.

"He wasn't casually chilling and reaching for his beer!" she revealed. "There was a bit of commotion went on and he was knocked over but managed to save his bottle of beer."

Ms Kirby said she knew both the men in the photo.

Of the man seemingly being restrained by police, she told the newspaper, "He didn't get arrested, he was fine in the end." 

Aside from the general debauchery, commentators were quick to point out more minor visual elements that added to the mise-en-scène. The man being restrained lies parallel to the painted yellow lines; Ms Kirby's hand is offered in a "gesture of supplication" that is "a well-known trope of classical art"; and the blue-suited man "clutches valiantly for his fallen sword" (the beer bottle), according to analysis by the Evening News.

The newspaper noted the photograph had been "used by newspapers, websites and broadcasters as far away as Australia".

The photographer said that documenting the night-time economy as it actually is - rather than through staged snaps of socialites at parties - was an important part of covering the life of a city.

"Mostly, a shot like that is just about being in the right place at the right time," he said. "I just happened to be in the right spot."

So forceful was the reaction that the BBC's Hughes, who discovered the picture buried in a NYE photo gallery on the Evening News website, wrote a first-person piece describing what it was like to start a viral trend.

Manchester's police department weighed in, tweeting that the photo showed "just a normal night for cops, captured brilliantly".

And some Twitter users had fun comparing the photo to famous artworks, or using applications such as Waterlogue to transform it into a watercolour painting. 

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