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I wanted to share with you an essay I wrote for the publication that accompanied Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility a project by artist collective ERNEST at c3:initiative, in Portland, Oregon (September 2015).

The essay, titled Never Neutral, considers the drawings of one-time-California-prisoner Ernest Jerome DeFrance. I wander and wonder one way and then the other. For all their looseness, DeFrance’s drawing might be the tightest and most urgent description of solitary confinement, we have. They come from down in the hole.

Pen marks rattle around on the page like people do when they are put in boxes.

I ventured away from photography here. Got a bit speculative. Have a read. See what you think. See what you see.

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NEVER NEUTRAL

Power breeds more power. The unerringly-certain power belonging to, say, nation states, financial posses, military strategists and total institutions, rides roughshod over opposition. The assault upon bodies, ideas and ecology inherent to the process of accumulating power is not always a conscious assault. As a power grows, opponents shrink, relatively. Harder to acknowledge, and even see, opponents that recede from power’s view are easier to crush.

Prisons have crushed their fair share. For the past four decades, the United States’ prison systems have grown exponentially. They have, at times, and in some places, grown unchecked. Since 1975, the number of prisoners has increased five-fold (and the number of women prisoners increased eight-fold). The U.S. spends $80 billion annually to warehouse 2.3 million citizens. In any given year 13 million individuals are cycled through one jail or prison or another. The prison industrial complex has come to dwarf education budgets. It has, in California, battered teachers unions. It removed non-custodial sentencing policy from the table for many a long year. It disavows notions of treatment, restoration or forgiveness. The prisons industrial complex laid to waste many of the key social, moral, political, environmental and psychological underpinnings of community.

In the face of such tumorous growth, common-sense opposition has been edged out and swallowed up. Sporadically, however, narratives that counter the fear, bullying and rhetoric of the prison industrial complex and its beneficiaries capture attention — narratives from advocacy, journalism, personal correspondence, legal briefs, FOI requests, jailhouse law, contraband and whistleblower testimonies. Art, too, has consistently spoken—or sketched—truth to power. Art is part of the resistance.

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Prisoner-made art is, mostly, made for loved ones beyond the walls; prison art rarely gets seen by anyone beyond its intended recipient.

Given the sheer volume of jailhouse artworks made every day, it may seem strange to isolate, for this essay, a single prisoner’s sketches for critique. There is, however, something profound in the works of Ernest Jerome DeFrance that set them apart. Prison-art (pencil portraiture, greeting cards, DIY-calligraphy, envelope doodles) tends to reveal the circumstances of its production; that is, it reveals the facts and parameters of the prison system (limited resources, distant recipients, censor-safe subject matter).

A lot of prison part is personal and figurative, but DeFrance’s work is abstract, loose and reveals not only the circumstances of production but the brutalizing effects of those circumstances. For example, a run-of-the-mill prisoner-drawn portrait of a child — and the hope it may embody — is made in spite of the system, and a child’s innocence is something outside and beyond any corrupted system. Removing sentiment from the equation, a prisoners’ card for her child is an established, safe, non-controversial, and relatively unpoliced gesture. By contrast, DeFrance’s drawings operate outside of the routine prison art economy; they are untethered, non-figurative and non-occasional statements that are difficult to anchor and understand.

DeFrance’s loops and swirls are the feedback of a maddening prison system.

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DeFrance made these images while incarcerated in the California prison system. During that time he spent extended periods of time in solitary confinement. He submitted these works to Sentenced: Architecture and Human Rights (UC Berkeley, Fall 2014) an exhibition produced by Architects, Designer and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) an anti-death penalty group that also argues against prolonged solitary confinement.

Architect Raphael Sperry, founder of ADSPR, led a highly visible media campaign for the adoption of language in the American Institute of Architects code of ethics prohibiting the design of spaces that physically and psychologically torture — namely, execution chambers and solitary confinement cells. Why? Because extreme isolation can lead to permanent psychological impairment comparable to that of traumatic brain injury. [1]

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In an attempt to reconnect the most isolated American citizens with the outside world and in order to get some reliable information about solitary confinement, the call for entries for Sentenced: Architecture and Human Rights requested drawings of solitary cells by prisoners in solitary cells. Of the 14 men who submitted work, most stuck to the brief and drew plans or annotated elevations. DeFrance sent dozens of frantic nest-like lattices.

I defy anyone to say that DeFrance’s works don’t encapsulate the same terror as the to-scale, measured, line-drawn renderings by fellow exhibitors. It is not even clear if DeFrance had completed these works. What is complete? What is a start and what is an end … to a line, to a thought, to a stint in a box when the lights are always on, the colors are always the same, and sensory deprivation perverts time, taking you outside of yourself?

Solitary confinement “undermines your ability to register and regulate emotion,” says Craig Haney, psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “The appropriateness of what you’re thinking and feeling is difficult to index, because we’re so dependent on contact with others for that feedback. And for some people, it becomes a struggle to maintain sanity.” [2] Chronic apathy, depression, depression, irrational anger, total withdrawal and despair are common symptoms resulting from long-term isolation. [3]

All we know is that DeFrance considered these works finished enough to mail out.

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Like a Rorschach Test for the horror-inclined, DeFrance’s works trigger all sorts of associations — Munch’s The Scream, Mondrian’s trees, Maurice Sendak’s darker side, Pierre Soulages‘ everyday side and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away character No Face. I can go on. There are knuckles, clenched fists, scarecrows and magic carpets. I see bulging eyes. I see that optical illusion of the old witch’s nose. Or is the neckline of a young woman in necklace and furs?

Reading into DeFrance’s art with ones own visual memory is, admittedly, an exercise fraught with complications. Scanning work for something familiar is to lurch toward inner-biases. How does one land, or explain, connection with this work?

DeFrance’s art defies easy definition. These are not the crying clowns, the soaring eagles, the scantily-clad women or the Harley Davidson cliches common of prison art. These are … well …  you decide. Faces, collars, cliffs, ropes, cliff faces, tourniquets, capes and caps? Is that a helmet? Of a riot cop? Of a cell-extraction specialist? Of the law and that which metes out judgement, retribution, pain and accountability? Or is it a divine shroud? Or is it a torture hood? [4]

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On any given day in the United States, 80,000 people are in solitary. In California, solitary is a 22½-hour lockdown in a 6-by-9-foot cell with a steel door and no windows. Juan E. Méndez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, told the UN General Assembly in June 2011 that solitary confinement is torture and assaults the mental health of prisoners. “It is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system.” Mendez recommends stays of no more than 15-days in isolation. Preceding this, in 2006, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, a bipartisan national task force, recommended abolishing long-term isolation reporting that stints longer than 10-days offered no benefits and instead caused substantial harm to prisoners, staff and the general public. [5] Some Americans have been in solitary for 15, 20, 25 years or more.

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If a drawing “is simply a line going for a walk” like Paul Klee said then DeFrance’s drawings pace and circle the paper as he would his 54 square feet. One’s eyesight deteriorates rapidly in solitary. Denied any variation in depth-of-field, sharpness and acuity are lost. In a state of looseness and unknowing, gray walls throb and the mind conjures its own forms. Amorphous beings pulse within DeFrance’s work. Solid shape abandons us. Are we looking at shadows of ghosts? Scale suffers too. These forms are as large as you are brave enough to imagine.

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Inasmuch as these images are indicative of solitary confinement experience, they are indicative of all prisons in the United States. “Every terrorist regime in the world uses isolation to break people’s spirits.” said bell hooks in 2002. hooks was talking about social exclusion but the phrase applies as easily to physical confinement. Indeed, with the exception of total-surveillance enclaves (where control needn’t be material) social exclusion and extreme incarceration tend go go hand-in-hand anyway. DeFrance’s works are a commentary, from within, of the philosophy and architectures we’ve perfected as an ever-more-punitive society. No other nation in the world uses solitary to the degree the United Sates does, and no other civilization in the history of man has locked up as greater proportion of its citizens. [6]

“Solitary confinement is a logical result of mass incarceration,” said Dr. Terry Kupers, psychologist and esteemed solitary specialist. [7] The demand for cells to house those handed harsher, longer sentences resulted in a huge prison boom since 1975. Still, these facilities could not adequately accommodate the vast number of people being locked up. Overcrowding gripped all states and any mandates to rehabilitate and provide activities for prisoners were all but abandoned. Haney reasons that extreme isolation resulted directly from prisons attempting to maintain power. He says, “Faced with this influx of prisoners, and lacking the rewards they once had to manage and control prisoner behavior, turned to the use of punishment. One big punishment is the threat of long-term solitary confinement.” [8]

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Kalief Browder’s suicide in June 2015 brought national attention back to the issue of solitary confinement. He was kept in Rikers Island for 3 years without charge for an alleged theft of a backpack. Kalief didn’t kill himself, a broken New York courts and jail system did. [9] Ever since the California Prison Hunger Strikes, beginning in 2011, solitary had been the main topic on which to hang debate about mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. The unforgiving logic of solitary confinement policies is the same as that which has led to thousands of in-custody deaths, so-called “voluntary suicide” and officer-involved killings.

The Black Lives Matter movement has successfully tied over-zealous community policing, to stop-and-frisk, to restraint techniques, to custody conditions, to a bail system that abuses the poor, to extended and unconstitutional pretrial detention, and to solitary confinement in its devastating critique of a structurally racist nexus of law enforcement.

#SayHerName. Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas; Jonathan Saunders in Mississippi; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Charly Leundeu Keunang in Los Angeles; Sgt. James Brown in an El Paso jail; James M. Boyd in the hills of Albuquerque; John Crawford III in a WalMart in Ohio; Walter Scott in North Charleston; Eric Garner and Akai Gurley in New York; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and thousands of more people over the past 12 months alone killed by law enforcement.

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So corrupted and violent is the prison system that one wonders if it can be fixed at all or whether it should be completely disassembled. Neil Barksy, chairman and founder of The Marshall Project, recently argued for the total closure of Rikers Island [10]. I am often asked if I think there exists people who deserve to be locked up and should be locked up. There’s a presumption in the question that the prison is a neutral factor. And there is a presumption, too, that people don’t change. But a prison is never neutral. In fact, most of the time prisons are very negative factors int he equation. Prisons damage people severely. Mass incarceration has made us less safe, not more safe. At what point and in what places can we confidently state that a prisoner’s violence (or the threat of violence that is attached upon them) is his own?

Conversely, at what point must we accept that the prison itself has caused anti-sociability and incorrigible behavior? Why are we surprised at the notion that a system built on threat and violence creates prisoners who incorporate threat and violence into their survival? Prisons create, often, people who fit better in prison than in free society — most end up institutionalized and docile and a few violent and unpredictable. Ultimately, no one can pass judgement on a prisoner because when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are serving extremely long sentences or Life Without Possibility Of Parole, they exist in a system that molds them to our worst assumptions.

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How far are we willing to go to protect ourselves against our worst fears and demons of our own creation? The first of  many things I saw when viewing DeFrance’s was an echo of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. According to Roman myth, Saturn was told he his son would overthrow him. To prevent this, Saturn ate his children moments after each was born. His sixth son, Jupiter, was shuttled to safety on the island of Crete by Saturn’s wife Ops. Unwilling to surrender his absolute power, Saturn lost his mind. Goya is one of many artists to depict the scene, but none did it with such gross frenzy.

Goya had watched the Spanish monarchy destroy the country through arrogance. In his despondent old age, Goya reflected upon the darker aspects of society and human condition, and he played with notions surrounding power and the way a power treats it’s own charges. The prison industrial complex devours humans. It relies on bodies. Private prison companies forecast profits based upon toughening legislation to fill their facilities. Our laws have looked to warehousing instead of healing, and our society has travelled too far, for too long, into territories of massive social inequality. Art is part of the resistance and sometimes exposes a system that is programmed to deny witness; sometimes art can give those outside prisons a glimpse of the torture inside.

To see Ernest Jerome DeFrance’s art is to look into the belly of the beast.

FIN

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Atul Gawande, ‘Hellhole‘, New Yorker, March 30, 2009.

[2] Craig Haney, ‘Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and ‘Supermax’ Confinement‘, Crime & Delinquency 49 (2003). ps. 124–156.

[3] Stuart Grassian, ‘The Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement‘, Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 22 (2006). p.325.

[4] The four men in charge of reconstructing Abu Ghraib for US military use were hired shills who had overseen disfunctional and scandal-ridden departments of correction the U.S. in the decades prior to 2003. Abu Ghraib was not an abnormal situation; it was a reliable facsimile of the abusive systems routinely in operation in the homeland. They four men were Lane McCotter, former warden of the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, former cabinet secretary for the New Mexico DOC, John Armstrong, former director of the Connecticut DOC. Terrry Stewart, former director of the Arizona DOC and his top deputy Chuck Ryan. View more at Democracy Now!

[5] Confronting Confinement [PDF] Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons: 

[6] For many reasons, the widespread use of isolation in American prisons is, almost exclusively, a phenomenon of the past 20 years. Some prisoners have been kept down in the hole for decades. The controversial use of long-term solitary confinement is one of the most pressing issues of the American prison system currently in public debate. Much of the debate results from the attention drawn to California—and to the SHU at Pelican Bay in particular—by the California Prisoner Hunger Strike.

[7] Terry Kupers, in the keynote address at the Strategic Convening on Solitary Confinement and Human Rights, sponsored by the Midwest Coalition on Human Rights, November 9, 2012, Chicago.

[8] Brandon Keim, ‘Solitary Confinement: The Invisible Torture‘, Wired.com

[9] Raj Jayadev, founder of Silicon Valley Debug and pioneer of Participatory Defense makes this argument very well.

[10] Neil Barksy, ‘Shut Down Rikers Island‘, New York Times, July 15, 2015.

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The American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives, on Friday, voted today in Toronto to adopt a new policy barring psychologists from participating in national security interrogations. That means psychologists won’t be approving torture techniques or overseeing “enhanced interrogations.” That means psychologists can, and must, refuse to work in such capacities for the U.S. military and they will have full backing of their professional body in so doing.

Democracy Now! covered the decision, here and here.

My favourite comment came not from any of the APA members but from Peter Kinderman, the president-elect of the British Psychological Society who was representing the BPS at the APA meeting.

“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s great. I think it’s well overdue. I was joking earlier that this represents American psychologists rejoining the 17th century and repudiating torture as a means of state power. […] The agreement is that American psychologists would respect agreed international definitions of the abuse of detainees and agreed international standards for judicial process. We shouldn’t be involved in abusing detainees, and we should remain within domestic and international law. That strikes me as commonsense, obvious. It’s what the public would expect. And about bloody time, too.”

General Abul Waleed, Head of Command for the Wolf Brigade, and Col. James Steele, Samarra, Iraq. Gilles Peress/Magnum, for The New York Times.

Remember at the height of the Iraq War, when sectarian fighting raged and bodies were being dumped in the streets daily? Well, the U.S. military was directly funding many of the killers’ activities. U.S. Colonel James Steele, decorated by Rumsfeld, was the man in collusion with the murderers.

Gilles Peress‘ made the above-photo during a 2005 New York Times assignment on Iraqi counterterrorism commando units. (You can find 27 of Peress’ images  by searching “Peress Iraq 2005” on the Magnum website.) On the right is Colonel James Steele, head of General David Petraeus’ counterterrorism operations.

I included the same photo in a blog-post nearly two-and-a-half years ago alerting readers to The Guardian‘s investigation into United States’ funding of Iraqi police commandoes.

Today, and in continuation of its investigation, The Guardian published details of a massive network of torture centers operated by the Iraqi police commandos.

See the full length 51-minute documentary about Steele and read the article of  horrendous details accompanied with a 5-minute edited version of the film. to the crimes covering all the essential details of U.S. Military

“The United States funded a sectarian police commando force that set up a network of torture centers to fight the insurgency. It was a decision that helped fuel a sectarian war. At it’s height it was claiming 3,000 deaths per month,” says the narrator.

Until now, the media hasn’t been certain if these commando units were part or all of the feared ‘Death Squads’ that kidnapped, disappeared and killed people, usually following night-time raids.

Both Peress and his fellow journalist Peter Maass offer statement in the Guardian video. Peress speaks of the inexplicable amounts of blood he saw in a room of the building. During the visit incredibly loud screams of pain could be heard throughout the building. According to Maass, Steele left the room, the screams fell silent, Steele returned and Maass continued his interview with a Saudi prisoner.

General David Petraeus – and Col. Steele of course – continually denied the Iraqi police commando force had been infiltrated by Shia militias looking for revenge against the Sunni’s who had benefitted under Saddam Hussein’s reign. Iraqi’s say this is preposterous as everyone knew the police were corrupt, and that sectarian and murderous groups such as the Badr Brigade had in regions completely taken over commando operations.

Absolute scandal. What else do we not know? What else have we not seen?

This time last year, I talked about the torture of Iraqis by the UK Army. The issue at hand then was specifically the death of Baha Mousa.

As part of court proceedings against the British Army into Mousa’s death, hundreds of films from the British interrogation centre in Basra have been released.

The Guardian has this report. [Warning: Content may be disturbing to some viewers.]

Only last week, I also noted the late to surface reports of US complicity in Iraqi upon Iraqi torture in Samarra.

It seems now we are starting to “see” a more varied picture of violence in Iraq. This is not the images of violence through the lenses of embedded journalists or through the sights of military aircraft, but images/footage of bullying; personalised verbal and physical abuse of men behind closed doors.

Without doubt, the most indelible images of the Iraq war are those from Abu Ghraib; they are the images the world remembers, will always remember.

Likewise, these videos of interrogation and of the uninhibited darker side of standard operations are key to understanding the facts of the Iraq War.

Also read: British troops use torture – even if it is by another name

FOR A HANDLE ON THE US MILITARY’S COMPLICITY IN WIDESPREAD TORTURE IN SAMARRA, IRAQ, WATCH THIS.

FRAGO 242

FRAGO 242 is the US military’s abbreviation of a “fragmentary order” given to US military operatives.

When US military became aware of Iraqi torture of other Iraqis, to quote The Guardian‘s David Leigh, “FRAGO 242 meant that no further investigation was necessary.” When in the custody of Iraqi security forces, detainees were subjected to horrendous abuse. The US turned a blind-eye. The information about this is brilliantly presented in this seven minute video.

Iraqi commandos securing the area after a car chase resulted in the arrest of foreign terrorists. Gilles Peress/Magnum, for The New York Times. (Cropped from original)

Included in the seven minute video are Gilles Peress’ images from a New York Times assignment in 2005. (You can find 23 of Peress’ image from the assignment by searching “Peress Iraq Counterterrorism Commandos” on the Magnum website.)

The writer for that assignment was Peter Maass. He was reporting on the elite Iraq Ministry of Interior Commando Force, known as the Wolf Brigade. For the assignment, Maass shadowed Col. James Steele who he describes as “Petraeus’ man.”

At the invite of Steele, Maas visited a Samarra interrogation center. In this same video, Maass describes the sights and sounds of torture from within. During the interview incredibly loud screams of pain could be heard throughout the building. According to Maass, Steele left the room, the screams fell silent, Steele returned and Maass continued his interview with a Saudi prisoner.

Steele has not yet commented on Maass’ account of that day in Samarra.

General Abul Waleed, Head of Command for the Wolf Brigade, and Col. James Steele, Samarra, Iraq. Gilles Peress/Magnum, for The New York Times.

WHAT JOHN MOORE DIDN’T PHOTOGRAPH

All of this is a very interesting counterpoint to John Moore’s In American Custody.

Moore’s compilation of images from embedded positions at Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper (2003-2007) have been roundly celebrated since their publication on the 22nd Oct. I don’t see it. The collection is a politically safe edit of images from a war we are technically out of; they are the product of US military deceit. Moore was their pawn.

Moore’s images are benign in comparison to the descriptions set forth by Maass, the Wikileaks files and the thousands of Iraqis whose stories of torture have fallen on deaf ears for the past six plus years.

From Boing Boing:

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today released evidence it says indicates that the Bush administration conducted “illegal and unethical human experimentation and research” on detainees’ response to torture while in CIA custody after 9/11. The group says such illegal activity would violate the Nuremburg Code, and could open the door to prosecutions. Their report is based on publicly available documents, and explores the participation of medical professionals in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” Download the full report at phrtorturepapers.org.”

Boing Boing goes on to interview the Dr. Scott Allen, co-director of the Center For Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University, and Medical Advisor to PHR.

Allen contends that the ongoing monitoring of torture techniques (waterboarding, stress positions) crossed over into note taking and experimentation on human subjects. Protocols would then demand the involvement of ethics board, consent forms, etc – the safeguards of legitimate research – but obviously, the US military and CIA never saw torture as “experimentation” in its most formal definition.

Allen: “I think it’s certainly possible that while they weren’t eagerly looking forward to setting up research they might have been backed into this by saying, let’s take notes. That citation we note of Appendix F in the CIA 2004 Inspector General’s report, the one that describes the directives to doctors, says, ‘Take these notes in a very meticulous way about how detainees respond to waterboarding so we can better inform our procedures in future.’ That’s describing the framework of a research protocol.”

The note-taking on interrogation techniques probably doesn’t surprise many, but the results of new legal avenues opened up by defining torture tactics as “experiment” and “research” may?

There is a place in the US where two men have been held in solitary confinement for 37 years. It is Angola Prison, Louisiana.

Robert H. King, one of the Angola 3 was released when his wrongful conviction was overturned in 2001. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox remain.

The length of their stays in solitary are due to the seriousness of the crime for which they were charged – the murder of a prison guard. They have always maintained they were framed for the jailhouse murder. Interestingly, in the In The Land Of The Free trailer the correctional officer’s widow doesn’t believe Wallace or Woodfox were the killers.

MENTAL HEALTH IN SOLITARY

For the most visceral and psychological description of solitary confinement upon the mental and physical health of a human read Atul Gawande‘s vital New Yorker article HELLHOLE (March 2009).

Every wondered what effect isolation has on the human psyche?

Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, received rare permission to study a hundred randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, and noted a number of phenomena. First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,” he writes. “Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. . . . In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving,” becoming essentially catatonic.

What a crazy world with inexplicable institutions.

‘IN THE LAND OF THE FREE’ STILLS

Solitary cell

Herman Wallace (left) and Albert Woodfox (right) with Angola prison in the 1970s (background)

Photos from the In The Land Of The Free facebook page.

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Past and present ruminations about what is and isn’t a photograph have been a source of frustration for me. For one, people can draw whatever lines they wish to determine the point at which manipulation tricks out a photograph and thus qualifies it as photo-illustration. And for another, as Errol Morris keeps banging on about, ALL photography is lies (and manipulation).

These debates are not about truth. Interventions – power relations, habit, photographic custom, complicity among subjects, props, political agendas (and framing), cropping, tweaking of exposure levels before and after development, digital alterations – mean that photography can never be, will never be truthful.

People forget that often it is the ingenious tricks that have spurred the largest wonder among viewing public – think Oscar Rejlander’s Two Ways of Life, Spirit Photography and – in a different sense – Ansel Adams’ Zone System.

It is therefore, with some relief that an artist like Azzarella comes along using photo-manipulation as the tactic and purpose for his work.

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Last week, I questioned Anton Kratochvil’s Homage to Abu Ghraib, mainly because I think it makes little contribution to the discourse on the political aesthetics of Abu Ghraib. The blurry references to torture in Kratochvil’s images are in response only to a personal, conscious and willing point of view. I understand that Kratochvil’s work was an exercise in self-therapy but that shouldn’t stop me comparing it to Azzarella’s broader concerns about more general and unconscious reactions to well-circulated images.

If I w re to wr t th s sent nce wi h lette s m ss ng, you can still read it. The human brain is a wonderful instrument drawing on past experience to quickly filter out the non-possibilities. Just as the brain instantaneously deciphers gaps in text so it does with gaps in images.

With every passing hour the Spectacle suffuses itself further. It isn’t so much us reading images but images reading us. Our involuntary responses to images are predictable, predicted, precoded. The redacted action of violence in Azzarella’s pictures plays second fiddle to the original image, for it is the original image we drooled over and devoured.

The hooded detainee, dead student, wailing child or falling soldier needn’t even be present; our internal, emotional feedback spun by these images will forever be the same. We fill in the gaps and short circuit to prescribed disgust, sadness and politics, thus confirming our prevailing bias.

Azzarella’s works expose the fraud in us all … and our cheapened, robotic response to image.

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ALL IMAGES © JOSH AZZARELLA. FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: UNTITLED #13 (AHSF); UNTITLED (SSG FREDERICK); UNTITLED #24 (GREEN GLOVES); UNTITLED #35 (CAFETERIA); UNTITLED #39 (265); UNTITLED #20 TRANG BANG; UNTITLED #43 (PAR115311).

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