Will Smith striking Chris Rock at Sunday’s Academy Awards will go down as one of the most shocking moments in Oscars history. And Brian Snyder was there to document it.
The Reuters photojournalist was one of the photographers who captured the moment Sunday and his photo — which captured Smith slapping Rock at the moment of contact — would soon be everywhere, immediately going viral.
So what was it like documenting the so-called “slap heard around the world”?
“Immediately afterwards my reaction was ‘did that just happen?’,” Snyder told CNN Business on Monday. “Initially, the other photographers and I were unsure if it was a planned part of the show or something else. Once Will Smith was back at his seat and yelling back to the stage, we figured it was not part of the script. And then I started looking through my camera for reactions.”
Snyder was among a pool of photographers from various news outlets who were covering the show from the projection booth in the back of the Dolby Theatre. He said that he had two long lenses (200-400mm and a 600mm) and his responsibility for Reuters was to cover the show — onstage and the audience.
“It’s a case of reacting — you see something happening and react,” he said. “Frame and focus, and then take the photo. Photographing in the theater, the exposure for the stage and the audience were very different, so there are a lot of technical settings to juggle.”
While presenting the award for best documentary during Sunday night’s broadcast, Rock joked about Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, saying, “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it.”
Pinkett Smith — who has been open about her struggle with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that leads to hair loss — rolled her eyes as she sat next to Smith after the joke. But Smith walked up to Rock on stage, struck him across the face and then twice screamed, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth!”
Smith issued an apology to Rock and the Academy on Monday night following the altercation.
As for Snyder’s photo, it popped up in news stories, social media and was even turned into a meme.
“There’s nothing in my Oscars experience to compare to this,” said Snyder, who has covered the Oscars before, but not the show itself.
The craziest part is that Snyder himself didn’t see his photo — or its cultural impact — until after the show had ended.
Snyder explained that his cameras were networked, so “all of my photographs were immediately sent to the editors at the same time as I made them.”
“Of course, this happened in the midst of the show, so there was a lot of work to do right afterwards,” he said. “Up in the booth, I really didn’t know the extent of the impact of the moment or of my photos.”