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As part of the ongoing OPEN-i project, Edmund Clark and I discussed Ed’s latest project Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out.

Ed’s nuanced work from on Guantanamo began with his documenting the domestic interiors of released British detainees. As Ed progressed he realised he needed to go to the US base on Cuba. The project deliberately jumps between these environments of “residence”, forcing the viewer to consider the personal as opposed media representations we otherwise rely on.

Ed’s work deliberately excludes portraits of detainees, partly because he feels those images are widespread but also due to a belief that audiences react to “images of bearded men” with unavoidable prejudice.

Ed also looks at the leisure spaces on Guantanamo that US military personnel inhabit during down time. The juxtapositions are poignant.

The photographs in the book Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out wrap around letters received by detainee Omar Deghayes during his time in Gitmo. Except they are not letters, they are copies, processed, redacted, re-processed, copied again. If he received a colour copy it was a rare treat. Some of the correspondence is so bizarre, Deghayes wondered if the were genuine or if they were props to the mind games played by his captors.

My family has been urging me for years to talk more quickly, and having heard myself here I get their point. The only excuse I have is that it was early in the morning here on the Pacific Coast when we sat down for the webinar.

Ed, on the other hand, talks wonderfully about the images and their situation in our shared GWOT visual landscape.

PHOTOGRAPHS AS IMPLEMENTS OF TORTURE

The book, Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out concludes with an essay by Dr. Julian Stallabrass. He describes a rather pernicious and Luddite use of photographs in psychological torture at Guantanamo:

Al-Qahtani was repeatedly shown photographs of scantily dressed women, along with images of 9/11, particularly pictures of children who had died that day, had the pictures taped to his body, and to ensure that he had paid them close attention, he was induced to answer questions about them.

This is a practice of interrogation of which I was not aware and is obviously troubling; a deliberate use of imagery to vex and agitate and an example of the power of photography as applied in an abusive context.

OPEN-i

Thanks to OPEN-i coordinator Paul Lowe for inviting me back once again. It’s an honour to speak with a photographer at the top of his game. OPEN-i is a global network hosting monthly live discussions on critical issues relevant to documentary photography and visual storytelling.

EDMUND CLARK

Edmund Clark is winner of the 2010 International Photography Awards (The Lucies), 2009 British Journal of Photography International Photography Award, and the 2008 Terry O’Neill/IPG Award for Contemporary British Photography for his book ‘Still Life Killing Time’. His work is in several collections including The National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

GITMO – OTHER READINGS

Prison Photography archive of posts referring to Guantanamo.

The Prison Photography Guantanamo: Directory of Photographic and Visual Resources (May 2009)

Omar Deghayes: 'I gave them a really hard time.' © Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

“I didn’t realise what was going on until the guy had pushed his fingers ­inside my eyes and I could feel the coldness of his fingers. Then I realised he was trying to gouge out my eyes,” Deghayes says. He wanted to scream in agony, but was determined not to give his torturers the satisfaction. Then the officer standing over him instructed the eye-stabber to push harder. “When he pulled his hands out, I remember I couldn’t see anything – I’d lost sight completely in both eyes.” Deghayes was dumped in a cell, fluid streaming from his eyes.

Excerpt: ‘How I fought to survive Guantanamo‘ (Guardian, UK)

I don’t want to give the impression I dislike Obama. I think he has toiled strenuously against many idiots this past twelve months. I think he’s carried a nation-sized curse of rhetoric and is subject to a Bush-beaten electorate hoping for more than neglect and dis-empowerment. However, I am disappointed he hasn’t yet been able to close Guantanamo, especially as it seemed like one of his easier-to-achieve promises.

Friend, Steve Silberman, pointed out Ezra Klein‘s WaPo article about where Obama has gone wrong this past year. Obama tried to get stuff done in a congenial manner but it was just not sexy enough for the American public. He never even tried to sell it;

Obama’s presidency has tried to show, not tell. He’s not given speeches about how government can work. He’s not tried to change minds about the theoretical possibility of government working. He’s tried to make government work. Winning achievements, not arguments, has been at the center of the administration’s agenda.

But that’s meant letting the government work. And that turns out to be an ugly thing, full of deals with pharmaceutical companies and concessions to Nebraska and delays and press releases and controversy and anger and process stories and confusion. Americans don’t like Washington, and they like it less when they see it more. Obama’s strategy has meant they see it constantly, and there’s no one really guiding them through its thickets.

Conclusion: No pleasing everyone. Politics is a b*st*rd of a career.

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