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Photography and fingerprinting room.

David Moore has an uncanny knack of gaining access to sites most photographers might think are beyond reach.

In the Summer of 2009, Moore took advantage of a short-window of time during which the cells inside Paddington Green Police Station sat empty. The survey Moore completed – a series entitled 28 Days – was the first foray into this infamous jail. Prison Photography is proud to publish these images for the very first time.

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Forensic pod.

Paddington Green Police Station is structurally banal. Constructed in the late sixties, its functionalism is belied somewhat by a concrete-lovers facade. For Britons, Paddington Green means one thing: Terrorism. Built into and underneath the station are sixteen cells and a purpose built custody suite; extraordinary hardware for a police station, but not for the interrogation of high-level terror suspects.

In the 1970’s many IRA suspects were incarcerated at Paddington Green prior to appearing in court. At that time, the period of initial detention was up to 48 hours, this could be extended by a maximum of five additional days by the Home Secretary. (Prevention of Terrorism Act, Northern Ireland, 1974). British terror legislation was not renewed until the Millennium.

The Terrorism Act of 2006 increased the limit of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 28-days, hence Moore’s title for the work.

Originally, the Labour Government and Prime Minister Tony Blair, had pushed for a 90-day detention period, but following a rebellion by Labour MPs, it was reduced to 28-days after a vote in the House of Commons.

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Control room.

Chair, police interview room.

Holding cell.

In 2005, Lord Carlile (a hero of photographers, as a key person in reversing abused UK police stop-and-search procedures) was appointed independent reviewer for the government’s anti-terrorism legislation. His team visited Paddington Green in May, 2007 and issued a damning report on its inadequacy as a modern facility for the detention of humans for such extended periods.

The facilities […] were designed when the station was built in the late 1960s in order to deal with terrorism suspects from Northern Ireland – a far different threat from that faced from international terrorism today, in terms of scale and complexity. The main deficiencies of Paddington Green are as follows:
* there are only 16 cells. Over 20 people at a time were arrested during individual terrorism investigations in both 2005 and 2006 and some had to be sent to Belgravia police station, which is not set up to deal with terrorism suspects. In addition, the normal day-to-day work of Paddington Green police station, which serves the local neighbourhood, was severely disrupted.
* there are no dedicated facilities for forensic examination of suspects on arrival. Cells have to be to specially prepared for this purpose, which is time consuming and further exacerbates the lack of accommodation.
* there is no dedicated space for exercise. Part of the car park can be cleared to provide a small exercise yard but this takes time to arrange and the car park is overlooked. This is likely to reduce considerably opportunities for exercise.[48]
* only one room is provided for suspects to discuss their cases in confidence with a solicitor.
* there are no facilities on site for the forensic examination of equipment such as computer hard drives.
* the videoconferencing room is too small to accommodate judicial hearings on the extension of the period of detention. Such hearings are usually now held in the entrance lobby, which is itself cramped, is a thoroughfare into the custody suite, and opens into the staff toilets at the back. It is clearly an inappropriate location for such a crucial part of the detention process.


And so it was, shortly after the completed £490,000 refurbishment of Paddington Green Police Station, Moore photographed to the smell of fresh paint.

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CCTV camera with courtesy screening over toilet, holding cell D

Holding cell D.

28 Days is a continuation of Moore’s preoccupation with sites of state apparatus, but this was not always his interest. During the nineties, Moore worked in New York as a commercial photographer, Upon his return to his Britain, he spent three years piecing together The Velvet Arena (1994), a look at the textures, couture and gestures of high society, openings and schmoozing … canapes and all.

From here Moore, still concerned with the dark weight of the familiar made photographs of the House of Commons. He describes The Commons (2004) as a forensic view. “British people know what the House of Commons looks like,” said Moore via Skype interview. His response was to get close and change the view; he focused on corners, carpets, perched flies, scratches in the wood and banisters.

The Commons was pivotal in Moore’s development. He argues that photography has always been entangled in politics, specifically the British Empire. Following the destruction by fire of the existing Houses of Parliament on 16 October 1834, Barry and Pugin designed the new houses for British law with Gothic-Revivalist importance. They were completed in 1847. Photography’s earliest manifestation came about in 1839 with the daguerreotype.

Law, reason, progress, conquest, taxonomy and technology drove the British Empire through the end of the 19th century. Photography, with its will to objectivity, played its part in stifling cultural relativism; it disciplined both colonialist and colonised. Against this history, The Commons, for Moore, was “born of political frustration.”

“It was important for me to break it down. I am probably most influenced by Malcolm McLaren than anyone else,” says Moore.

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Solicitors’ consultation room

Virtual courtroom.

“My volition as a photographer goes back to the want to use it as a democratic tool. Looking at state apparatus and panoptic sites, I see my work as an act of visual democracy. Any small chip I can make.”

In 2008, Moore made quite a large chip. For The Last Things, he negotiated access to the Ministry of Defence’s crisis command centre deep beneath the streets of Whitehall, London. Moore got the pictures no other photographer ever had, or ever will. Read my article for about Moore’s experience working in the subterranean complex that – to this day – officially “does not exist.”

The Last Things more than any other portfolio, opened the door for Moore to work at Paddington Green. It was a body of work with which he could show he could be trusted. Besides the Police Station was vacant. “It was relatively low security,” explains Moore.

“Paddington Green was very different to the MoD crisis command center. Paddington Green is imbued with a history and a trajectory of history. I know about [IRA] terrorism and about interview techniques and who’d been held in there over the years.”

For Moore, 28 Days is a contrast of the old and the new. An old building with new fixtures. Old procedures replaced by new codes of conduct. “There were definitely some opinions from older police officers: ‘These are terrorists, what does it matter if a cell is painted or not?’ and there was a mix of young and old police officers. The architecture reflected the changing Metropolitan police,” says Moore.

Moore’s work at Paddington Green is a glimpse of an institution in transition; in a moment and not in use. It could be said the stakes were low for London’s Metropolitan Police; that the risk was minimal. It is likely Paddington Green Police Station will cease to operate as the first stop for terrorist suspects. Plans are afoot for a new purpose-built facility. For the authorities, Moore’s work is transparency, for us it is curiosity sated, and for the photographer it is a small victory for “visual democracy”.

Exercise area.

All Images Courtesy of David Moore

Holding cells, general population area, Security Housing Unit, Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, California. Richard Ross

Holding cells, general population area, Security Housing Unit, Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, California. Richard Ross

In this response to Richard RossArchitecture of Authority I’d like to discuss two pictures – the first, Interview room, Abu Ghraib prison (“hard site”), Abu Ghraib, Iraq and the second, the Detainee housing unit, Camp Remembrance, new Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq.

There is rich discussion to be had with Richard Ross’ Architecture of Authority. Political footings jockey with ethical inertia, jockey with instructional histories, jockey with considerations of the soul. Readings thick and fast. No less, these meta-narratives are deformed by one’s own emotional interruptions. One recollects perhaps passages and interrogations through border controls, transport hubs, reception rooms and state corridors. One recalls school, streets and flaking paint.

Random knowledge bombards the equation, – Raves at Ansthruther’s decommissioned nuclear command centre during university days; A deliberate detour made during honeymoon to locate Pelican Bay maximum security prison; An introduction at San Francisco International.

My good friend, and Hesitating co-conspirator, Keith Axline recently featured Richard Ross in a Wired gallery. Keith explained to me that it is Ross’ ability to rattle shutter and catch the necessary shot every time that impressed him most. Ross’ manipulations are in spite of the unpredictable (and sometimes unexpected) access to the different sites. Ross prevails with perseverance; “No never really means no;” and aggressive networking (Ross’ chances of accessing Abu Ghraib depending largely on the trust and recommendations of military personnel he liaised with for his Guantanamo work).

Ross gets the shot he needs, even when he has only a limited number of exposures, and a limited amount of time. More surprising, Ross achieves this with almost perfect tonal harmony throughout the collection of prints. This said, Ross’ technical prowess is not my concern here, rather the gaps and routes between the images he has assembled. Ross consistently presents isolation, the viewer consistently seeks human incidence.

Holding cells, Metropolitan Police, Collingwood Road, Hillingdon, London. Richard Ross

Holding cells, Metropolitan Police, Collingwood Road, Hillingdon, London. Richard Ross

One is compelled when looking at Richard Ross’ starkly depicted environments to search out the signs of life. On a few occasions one is rewarded, a curious tourist looks back at us from atop Syria’s Craq de Chevalier Crusader Fort; a heart shaped paperweight and polystyrene cup sit on the judge’s bench in Santa Barbara’s superior court; an open bag, that will travel home with its owner, sits at the foot of a movie executive’s desk. The loose blanket left in the cell at Hillingdon Road Jail presses us to fleetingly wonder if the person who unfolded and used the blanket in the cell earlier, will be back in the cell later, possibly to use the blanket once more.

The praying figure in Istanbul’s Blue mosque is representative of the building’s purpose. He is a motif of religious expression. The security guard at Topkapi is frozen rigid behind the glass, which serves to separate him from the viewer and present him as a part of the larger observing machinery. How different the shot would be if the guard stared straight down the camera lens? I imagine Ross made a few exposures in which the man did face the camera, but Ross prefers to keep attention on the environment. It is temperate and logical for Ross to choose an image in which the guard looks like a wax model – like a construction.

The austerity of The Architecture of Authority as a collection is hard to deal with. The geographical and institutional reach of the project is impressive. Inconceivably, across this wide subject matter Ross seems to have control in all the locations. Ross distills the form of each site and presents that bare form as the key to understanding the sites function.

Segregation Cells, Camp Remembrance, new Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Richard Ross

Segregation Cells, Camp Remembrance, new Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Richard Ross

To my mind, Ross has control in all the locations bar two. The old Abu Ghraib “Hardsite” and the new Abu Ghraib prison. In both forms, Abu Ghraib was a site of photographic desperation for Ross – he was forced briefly to compromise the overall tonality of his project.

The interrogation room is disordered. This room was not designed for interrogation purposes by the American military. It has inconvenient features such as two windows (one barred and boarded), an electrical box, a dusty fire extinguisher, exposed wires, a fallen map, makeshift furniture and used soda cans. There is also a plugged-in laptop, unidentified hold-all bags and what appear to be loose wire on the floor. There is a can or tub of something half-concealed behind the nearest chair. It seems to get more ridiculous the closer you look. There are two camp beds, one folded against the wall with a bag of belongings at the foot. What filled the bookcase? Why did Ross’ guides show him here? Is this an interrogation room? It looks like a sparse room for visiting guests. Is every room at the old Abu Ghraib, de facto, an interrogation room?

Interview room, Abu Ghraib prison ("hard site"), Abu Ghraib, Iraq

Interview room, Abu Ghraib prison ("hard site"), Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Richard Ross

There has been much made of the juxtapositions between photos presented in the Architecture of Authority book and exhibitions; between schools and prisons; between barracks and mental asylums. It is Ross’ right and responsibility to guide his audience in ways of seeing. But there is enough information, memory and rituals of communication embedded in any of Ross’ individual images to warrant singular assessment.

Humans in Ross’ pictures never threatens to steal attention for very long. The narrative of the building or structure dominates the narrative of the individual. There are moments when Ross’ photographs effortlessly adopt the surveillance philosophies of each object – bank, London tube station, hotel phone booths, or the confessional. This is part the photographers skill but also the unavoidable disclosure upon sight of the modes of each disciplining, single-purpose site.

Some sites are more difficult to read than others. Ross was in new Abu Ghraib as a guest, he had a guide. The fact he included a second image counter to his over all vision reveals, not unsurprisingly, that Ross would take what he could get from his tour of new Abu Ghraib, also.

Detainee housing unit, Camp Remembrance, new Abu Ghraib prison, ABu Ghraib, Iraq. Richard Ross

Detainee housing unit, Camp Remembrance, new Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Richard Ross

Detainee housing unit, Camp Remembrance, new Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Ghraib, Iraq is a fierce image. It is at first glance still and linear but under a paper-thin surface it is simmering with tension. There are four detainees in this image. In Ross’ depopulated world, that is akin to a cacophonous arena crowd. The two clearly visible men are curiously peering at Ross’ activities and make a mockery of Ross’ attempt to mimic the prison’s personless eye of surveillance. A third man sits in the shade to the right of the image reading and otherwise oblivious. A fourth man sits on the left side of the image obscured by a water tank.

The sheepish glance of one detainee and the craned neck of the other come to dominate this image the longer one looks at it. The man at the door of the tent has no shoes on. Has he just emerged in response to the photographer’s presence? These two men brilliantly illuminate the unnatural and inflexible relationships that exist across and through chain link and barbed wire. They are merely curious at this point and do not gesture or ask anything of Ross, at least not in this exposure. They have been briefly distracted from house-keeping routines by another human that is as foreign to them as any other. Proximity means nothing here for Ross and his inadvertent subjects.

The most remarkable thing about Detainee housing unit, Camp Remembrance, new Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Ghraib, Iraq is not the clarity with which Ross communicates the apparatus of power, but rather how that drains human interaction of meaning or purpose. Does this mean I’d like to see more people in Ross’ photography? Absolutely not, there are plenty of documentary photographers who are trying to convey the spectrum of human existence, and it is not Ross’ charge. It just means that upon the appearance of non-typical images the audience’s attention is gripped. The two anomalous images from Abu Ghraib draw to attention Ross’ otherwise effortless manipulation of his audience. Ross shapes and prepares his viewer for a cold interaction. His manipulation of the audience’s eye is fitting for a project that studies dominance over subjects and imposed order of authorities.

Further investigation: Good text interview. Better audio interview. Best video presentations


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