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Brennan Linsley

AP Photographer, Brennan Linsley has visited Guantanamo twelve times in the past four years. Why? “My goal is to come back from each trip with a couple of shots that will allow me to paint more of a picture of this place'” says Linsley.

A journalist’s visit to Guantanamo is a frustrating experience – newsmen have a constant escort on a preplanned itinerary and must read and follow the fifteen pages of ground rules provided by the US military.

To offset these limitations Linsley chose repeated visits as a a tactic. In an attempt to humanise the detainees, he has weaved a photo-essay in-spite of Guantanamo’s milieu which is counter to all notions of free speech, experience and objective fact-gathering.

The British Journal of Photography has a brief but interesting interview with Linsley about his project.

This sequence of interactions between a Chinese detainee and photographers (described by Linsley) exemplifies the minutiae with which the US military must control the flow of information out of Guantanamo.

In late May, in Camp Iguana, there was a Chinese detainee, one of the guys that no one would take. He heard that there were journalists coming that day, and so wrote down on a pad the words “Let there be justice” and “We need to freedom.” The public affairs people didn’t know what hit them. You can’t communicate with the detainees, but there was nothing in the rules that dealt with detainees showing placards. Our work was held in limbo for 24 hours, while the Obama administration was informed and that they wouldn’t be taken by surprise by the images’ release.

Just to get the juices flowing, Linsley closes the interview with this position, “The Golden Age of photography has been over for a long time. It died somewhere between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.”



BJP’s interview coincides with Linsley’s work showing at the 2009 Visa pour l’Image at Perpignan.

For more images and links on Guantanamo see Prison Photography‘s Directory of Visual Sources.

This post is to salve the disappointment of thousands of visitors to Prison Photography that are tempted by the post titled View Inside Guantanamo: Video only to find that the Guardian’s rights to the three minute “tour” video have expired.


There exists a bristling irony in the Guardian’s curt and formal explanation of circumstance: the erasure of evidence based upon ‘rights’ pertaining to the command is an insulting reminder of the powerlessness of detainees whose lives are manipulated at will.

Paradoxically, in this case, it is the denied party that is the apologist for the US military’s enforced expiration and unavailability of material. It seems the controlled release of this footage has been trumped by its controlled withdrawal.

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

As a worthy (and non-governmental) alternative, Magnum offers Paolo Pellegrin’s 11 minute slideshow ‘Guantanamo. There are a few interesting things about this piece none of which are the actual photographs. The prints are steeped in morbid detachment and the unsurprising truth that the photographer was also controlled throughout this military prison.

The slideshow’s early description of Guantanamo as a small American town is sinister; the edited audio interviews of former UK detainees, family members, detainee lawyer and psychologist are very successful. The follow-up portraits of former detainees that Pellegrin later completed in Afghanistan are very strong.

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

All photos copyright of Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

Please, refer to my earlier post, for a comprehensive directory of photographic resources for Guantanamo including Bruce Gilden’s subtle flash-bulb mockery of Guantanamo’s rank and file. (Search within Magnum archives as deep-linking is impossible).

Update: Prison Photography collated a Directory of Photographic & Visual Resources for Guantanamo in May 2009.

Guantanamo Prisoner, Political Graffiti. Banksy

Guantanamo Prisoner, Political Graffiti. Banksy

Anyone who says the recent media tour of Guantanamo isn’t a public relations exercise by the lame duck has not had their eyes open. Global media were given a tour of camps 4, 5 and 6 at Gitmo and all the footage was screened and vetted before release.

Video: Here is the Guardian’s three minute offering. With any hope Obama will put this illegal operation out of action in 2009.

Artistic legacy of Guantanamo

Guantanamo Protesters outside the US Embassy, London

Guantanamo Protesters outside the US Embassy, London

Meanwhile, we can think of the potency that the orange jump-suit has gained. It’s another icon of the Bush presidency. With regard it’s establishment and its bare-faced operations, Guantanamo was far outside of the public’s imagination. Our culture stomached the guilt and under the Bush administration it was never likely Guantanamo prison would be brought back into line with international law. Activist and non-activist art protested Guantanamo by subverting the camp’s own visual vocabulary.

UHC Collective. Art Instalation, Manchester, 2003. Guards with replica guns were on duty 24 hrs and followed a regime copied from media reports.

UHC Collective. "This is Camp X-Ray". Art Installation, Manchester, 2003. Guards with replica guns were on duty 24 hrs and followed a regime copied from media reports.

Back on my home turf in Manchester, UHC, a notoriously bold and inventive art collective, scaled up a version of Camp X-Ray on an unused lot in Withington. It was complete with guard towers, fake guns and orders and activity that replicated the media’s reports of Guantanamo, Cuba. See other UHC Projects here, and read the BBC report here.

Road to Guantanamo (2006). A Michael Winterbottom Film

Road to Guantanamo (2006). A Michael Winterbottom Film, Spanish Release

And while we are not focusing entirely on photography, slightly off topic with video, I cannot recommend Road to Guantanamo highly enough. The film tells the ridiculous story of three young British-Pakistanis who were in the wrong place at the wrong time (southern Afghanistan, November 2003), and ended up in Guantanamo for 2 years. Your jaw will not leave the floor.


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