The photo of New Year’s debauchery that’s being compared to Renaissance art

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There was “The School of Athens,” “The Wedding at Cana,” and now, ”The Creation of Manchester.”

A photographer’s capture of New Year’s debauchery on the streets of northern England is being compared to a Renaissance painting, with its classical composition, vivid color, and cast of dramatic characters.

And the Internet loves it.

The photo was taken by Joel Goodman, a Manchester-based freelance photographer with an ongoing documentary interest in what he calls the “night time economy.” He was out with his camera New Year’s Eve when he chanced upon the scene on Well Street.

“This moment came together, random happenstance—the man on the ground, the girl trying to help him,” said Goodman. “It fell together as a frame at that moment.”

Goodman knew right away that he liked the shot. He had no inkling of its viral future.

“I’m a news photographer. I do a story, I edit pictures, I file them. I do that two or three times a day. It was one picture in a set that I was pleased with,” he said.

The photograph ended up being one of several chosen by the Manchester Evening News for an online slideshow of New Year’s debauchery. The next day, BBC producer Roland Hughes was at his desk scrolling through the images when his eyes fell on Goodman’s picture.

By Monday, Hughes’s tweet of the photograph had been retweeted more than 28,000 times. It inspired artistic tributes…

and Photoshopped memes.

For his part, Goodman has been stunned by the attention. A photograph he took during the 2011 London riots of people serving tea on an upturned riot shield was reprinted widely, but nothing like this.

What’s pleased him most is that the image has got people talking about the artistic value of news photography, a field often looked at derisively in the UK by those who lump serious photojournalists in with the crassest paparazzi.

“The fact that people are looking at it with that ideal is delightful. It’s great that people are looking at [photojournalism] as a creative endeavor, as a pursuit that has value and can tell a story and isn’t just destructive,” he said. “That’s a great thing.”

Incidentally, the Manchester Evening News tracked down the Man in Blue, who appears to be losing his pants while heroically reaching for his beer. He has declined to speak. Like the Mona Lisa, some subjects are best left shrouded in mystery.