Confined: The Captive and Keeper

Confined: The Captive and Keeper in Contemporary Life
The Bluecoat, Liverpool
Until 10th July 2011

The work of seven photographers, covering four gallery spaces at the Bluecoat, takes the viewer through the institutional processes of confinement from initial interrogation through to imprisonment. These processes are acted out in the layout of the exhibition itself.

Six of the photographers are coupled in three of the gallery spaces, while the seventh of the group is shown separately. In this first room, David Moore’s photographs of Paddington Green High Security Police Station, show the inside of what could be an ordinary British police station. However, this police station was initially adapted to interrogate IRA terrorists, and its present upgrade accommodates more recent suspects. In this British police station anyone of us could be pulled off the street to be interrogated.

The central gallery space compares the international drama of Guantanamo Bay with the mundane tragedy of the dog’s home. Edmund Clark’s photographs of Guantanamo look at aspects of imprisonment of the detainees. Taking the idea of ‘home’, he looks at the environment in which the detainees are housed and the quarters of their military guards. We do not see any of the people and so it is the quiet evidence of their lives that is examined. A sense of discomfort exists within the pictures, what you would expect from a prison camp, but this is carried over into Clark’s photographs of the homes that the prisoners occupy after leaving confinement at Guantanamo.

Photographing in a dog’s home, John Darwell’s dogs stand in for the detainees at Guantanamo. Darwell’s ‘Dogs in Cages’ series takes it’s cue from an interview with the commander at the centre of the Abu Ghraib scandal, who stated that she was ordered to ‘treat detainees like dogs’. Darwell’s images are displayed on either side of a constructed corridor in the centre of the room. As the dogs pace around their cages, the viewer takes the place of their keeper looking through the wire mesh.

This corridor device is used again for Ben Graville’s photographs in the next room. The viewer walks down the corridor between photographs of prisoners being driven to and from Criminal Court. Whereas Moore and Clark focused upon detainees who have not had a trial, Graville’s captives are either on the way from trial or they have been judged. At the end of this corridor are photographs by Juergen Chill of empty prison cells. The uniform cells are viewed from above and show the viewer how the captives have made these spaces into their own.

The last gallery space could be interpreted either as a light at the end of these tunnels or a rather grim endpoint. David Maisel’s images of canisters at first appear to be a row of paint cans stained with paint. These discoloured copper canisters hold the remains of psychiatric patients at a U.S. state-run hospital and the discoloration is the corrosion, partly caused by the human ashes that they hold. Even in death these captives are still locked in their cages. The light of renewal lies with Dornith Doherty’s photographs of seed banks. The subjects of confinement here, the seeds of plant species, are protected so that they can be the starting point for new life, a new beginning for these captives.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full colour catalogue that illustrates the work of all of seven photographers included in this show.

Stephen Clarke

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