A bathroom inside the Maze Prison, near Lisburn, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday, April. 11, 2006.

Andrew McConnell‘s work The Last Colony from the Western Sahara has gained some traction recently, promoted at DVAFOTO and backed up by TPP.

McConnell is from Northern Ireland so I was not too surprised upon looking through his portfolio to find a series on the Maze prison.

I’ve seen a few projects from Maze Prison – the most well-known being that of Donovan Wylie – and yet a few of McConnell’s images really stood out.

STATEMENT

McConnell: “HM Maze Prison, also known as Long Kesh and the H-Blocks, held some of the most dangerous men in Europe during its 30 year operation. The prison closed in September 2000 after 428 prisoners had been released under the Good Friday Agreement. There are now plans to turn the abandoned site into a national football stadium.”

The bathroom image (above) is admittedly more powerful to me, having seen the bloodied-knuckle washing scenes in Steve McQueen’s powerful debut film Hunger.

Also, admittedly the image of the football (below) is more loaded given the now-defunct plans to convert the site into a national stadium.

In January 2009 plans to build the £300 million multi-purpose stadium were officially axed with politicians saying plans to start the construction of the stadium wouldn’t be reconsidered for another 3 to 4 years. (Source)

An old football lies in the exercise yard of the Maze Prison, July 18, 2006.

I had been under the impression every structure at the Maze had been demolished but apparently not:

Discussion is still ongoing as to the listed status of sections of the old prison. The hospital and part of the H-Blocks are currently listed buildings, and would remain as part of the proposed site redevelopment as a “conflict transformation centre” with support from republicans such as Martin McGuinness and opposition from unionists like Nigel Dodds who are against erecting a memorial to those who died during the hunger strike. (Source)

Which ties nicely back into the crucial question about McConnell’s photographs of the site. Are these photographs of memory, for memory, for memorial? What audience do they serve?

It seems to me that politics and emotions vary so wildly, that when a photographer (so soon after decommission) takes on a contested site such as this, his/her photographs are open to many different interpretations. The Maze and its history are fascinating, discussion-worthy topics, but is it the case here that the images are nothing more than notable ‘urban exploration‘?

Donovan Wylie dodged this suspicion by documenting over a five-year period the slow demolition of The Maze. Wylie has talked about wanting to create an archive of this transitional moment. However, if a photographer’s series is too brief (either within its own boundaries or by comparison to another practitioner’s series) then how is it justified or explained?

I don’t want to be dismissive here, as I think this is a problem many political-documentary photographers face – namely, their work may not adequately reflect or contain the disputed political landscape it references.

Perhaps we should read McConnell’s The Maze as undefinable and undecided, just as the former prison site remains?

The Cages of the Maze Prison, Northern Ireland, July 18, 2006.

Biography

Andrew McConnell was born in Northern Ireland in 1977 and began his career as a press photographer covering the closing stages of the conflict in his homeland and the transition to peace. He later worked in Asia and moved to Africa in 2007 to document the issues and stories of that continent which are widely overlooked by the international media.

His images have appeared appeared internationally in publications such as National Geographic Magazine, Newsweek, Time magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian, FT Magazine, L’Express, Vanity Fair (Italy), the Sunday Times Magazine, and Internazionale.

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