Look at some more images from this series [Sarah Pickering’s Public Order] on the artist’s website.
• How do Pickering’s images make you feel?
• Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading? Make some notes in your learning log.
As viewers of images, we will all have our own interpretations of the images meaning. This series¹ serves as a good example of how we will read images differently based on our background and experiences. A part of me wants to write about how the images should make me feel, and the author of the course material lends us some of her own insights “uncomfortable”, “unsafe”, “uncanny” “destruction and danger seem to lurk there” are some of the feelings described. The problem I have is that I feel differently about these images having had my own experiences of very similar installations. Despite having spent some time using such facilities, it still took me a while to recognise what I was looking at. At first, there was an eeriness, until the facade is revealed and we are hit with the surprise. The clues are there, if you look hard enough. For me, these images remind me of a public order training facility at Lydd in Kent, on the South coast (it may be same one). It spurs recollections of adrenaline, fear, anxiety and excitement, because of the events that take place there. The pictures of debris give me a sense of relief that the training is over, and all that remains is to clean up. It is almost Late Photograpghy, showing the aftermath of some rioting.
I’m not sure that the series is an effective use of documentary. If pickering is attempting to document the stillness, eeriness and abnormality of this environment to an outsider who is unfamiliar with such surroundings, then she succeeds, very well. In this respect, no, she is not misleading. She conveys the surprise that is felt by most first time visitors when they realise that the realistic appearance is all a facade. I can also see how, as is stated in the course material “Pickering enables us to challenge society norms that we take for granted or wouldn’t otherwise think about” through her visual strategy that makes us question and probe the work. But how successful this work is as documentary photography rests on what Pickering is attempting to document. Is it a documentation of the superficiality of our current society? Or is it simply a documentation of a place not normally seen by the general public? If this is the case, then no, it is not effective. Truth be told, these facilities are rarely seen like this, except by those responsible for its administration. It would normally be seen in use by the security forces undergoing training, and the opposing CIVPOP (civilian population) doing the rioting. Pickering’s photographs are taken in broad daylight, where as 75% of the facilities use is at night, when public disorder is more likely.