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I just keep coming back to Edmund Clark‘s work. And his book isn’t even out yet. It doesn’t help when venerable folk like Jim Casper and Colin Pantall are spending time and energy on his efforts – most recently from Guantanamo.

(BTW, Pantall has been posing some really good questions and posting some really good photography these past few weeks.)

Anyway, upon returning to Pantall’s site I picked up this quote by Clark:

“There is a lot of long lens imagery of Guantanamo showing the prisoners in their orange boiler suits, but I don’t know what that’s telling me.”

It seems to touch upon many of my frustrations with photography from Guantanamo. Many inventive photographers will find manouveurs to draw out a novel image at Camps Delta, X-Ray, Iguana and others. Of course it is worth remembering that the majority of photos coming out of Gitmo will be consumed by the masses through media served by newswire coverage relying on long lens images of faceless orange boiler suits.

Clark has widened the scope of Guantanamo imagery by following the detainees to their homes and picking up on the underwhelming details of their “free” lives. The sterility and parallels between incarceration and home are sometimes frightening.

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With Pantall’s permission I reissue Clark’s words here. Pantall interviewed Clark for the British Journal of Photography. (Underlining for emphasis is mine)

My last book was called Still Life/Killing Time and was about a prison in Britain. I’m interested in the themes of confinement and entrapment. Guantanamo Bay stands out as a symbol of confinement and my imagery is about the symbolism of that confinement. The starting point was going out with detainees who had been released and seeing how they were surviving. These people had been in prison for years, had never been charged but still had this massive label of being the worst of the worst stuck on them. I was interested in what their personal spaces said about them and if they were any traces of what they had experienced in Guantanamo.

Access was very difficult but started with their lawyers and slowly progressed to the point where I could photograph their homes. Once this was done, the second part was getting into Guantanamo itself. I applied to the Pentagon and made it clear I wanted to photograph both the American Naval Base side and the prison side. It took me 6 months to get clearance and then it was another 2 months before I went. Once I was there I was fortunate enough to get paired up with Carol Rosenberg, a journalist from the Miami Herald who had been reporting on Guantanamo since it opened as a prison. She knew how to deal with the Guantanamo media team (who were new in their jobs) and how to get past their obstruction.

I spent 8 days there in total, including 4 days on the naval base. It was like so many expatriate places, more American than America itself. It was interesting to look at the schools, the shops, the restaurants. It was like a little bit of America in Cuba, with reflections both of America and of entrapment; models of old refugee camps, a shrine to the Virgin Mary where she almost seems to be imprisoned, A Ronald MacDonald statue surrounded by fencing and wire. It looks like he’s banged up.

I don’t have any images of the detainees except for one – which shows a guard reflected in the cell window. But that’s not what my work is about. There is a lot of long lens imagery of Guantanamo showing the prisoners in their orange boiler suits, but I don’t know what that’s telling me. My work is about the spaces and what they evoke and how they relate to the spaces people live in once they have been released.

The work is about memory and control and dragging the work out of Guantanamo into where people are living now. I’m doing that through the edit of the 3 different spaces I photographed: the homes, the American Naval Base and the prison. When I got back, I started to edit the pictures in sequence as a narrative, but then I began to mix them up so you’re never quite sure where you are. I juxtaposed images, put one things together so one image sets off ideas that enriches the idea of what it is both to have been in Guantanamo, but also to have that experience inside you.

There are also strange details that I’m not sure off, such as the picture of the Duress button. We were told this was in an exercise room but we think it was one of the interrogation rooms and this was a panic button for the guards. Another picture shows a row of Ensure jars with a plastic tube next to it. Ensure is an energy drink they used to force feed hunger striking prisoners and the Americans had it on display to show their ‘duty of care’.

The detainees brought home and kept the strangest of things, a red cross calendar with the days ticked off. Only the best behaved prisoners would get this because there was a strategy of total disorientation. When prisoners first arrived they had no idea of where they were, what day it was or what time it was.

Then I looked at other bits of people’s homes, especially windows because in Guantanamo they have no windows with a view. There are no views. Being released and being able to choose what to look at, to have a view, is quite a thing. Sometimes people chose not to have a view.

I’m working with Omar Deghayes on an edit of all the letters he received at Guantanamo. When people received letters, they didn’t get the original, they got photocopies or scans of every page, even blank pages, including the front and back of the envelope, each page bearing a document number and a Guantanamo stamp.

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All Images © Edmund Clark

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