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Question: How do Pickering’s images make you feel?

I viewed the images in Sarah Pickering’s series ‘Public Order’ having read previously that they were photographs of police training grounds. The photographs, viewed in a series on the photographers web site (Pickering, s.d), at first appear to be banal images of ‘the ordinary’, yet soon it’s clear that what is shown is not ordinary. Therefore I felt curious as to what this ‘reality’ looked like, and then a little unsettled as the photographs showed urban settings that were not ‘fakes’ exactly but were instead elaborate façades, or ‘false fronts’. These are reminiscent of Hollywood film sets which have pleasant associations yet the context of the photographs is that the facades were built with serious intent, so the unsettled feeling remained. The series ended with two photographs one showing the street façade (see fig. 1.) and the other the same façade but from behind thus showing its unreality (see fig. 2.). This pair of photographs by their disturbing stark contrast seem to summarise the series — the strangely calm street fronts (the phrase ‘calm before the storm’ came to mind after viewing the series), yet behind lay something constructed, a generated simulation, something that lay hidden from the perspective of the ‘street’. I finished viewing the images feeling a little unsettled as the series posed questions about ‘what lies behind’: our sense of security living in a democracy; how each person constructs a ‘reality’ in their minds based upon their social and physical ‘inputs’.

Question: Is ‘Public Order’ an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Documentary photographs (particularly those of photojournalism) aim to form testimony to events in the world, they aspire to truth. At one level Pickering’s series ‘Public Order’ simply documents police anti-riot training grounds. It does not mislead in that the streets are shown to be mock-ups, and therefore what is depicted on them is not the aftermath of a real riot but those that have been ‘set up’ for training purposes. So in a sense there is both fact and fiction in the series. In his essay ‘Icons as Fact, Fiction and Metaphor’ Philip Gefter (Gefter, 2009) discusses the realisation that many iconic photographs have been posed or ‘set up’, and gives examples such as Robert Doisneau’s ‘Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville, 1950’ (see fig.3.), and ‘Rosa Parks on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.. on Dec. 21 1956’ (unattributed) (see fig.4.). In his conclusion of a discussion of these and other iconic images Gefter says:

A picture published in a newspaper is believed to be fact; an advertising image is understood to be fiction. If a newspaper image turns out to have been set up, then questions are raised about trust and authenticity. Still, somewhere between fact and fiction — or perhaps hovering slightly above either one — is the province of metaphor, where the truth is approximated in renderings of a more poetic or symbolic nature (Gefter, 2009).

Pickering is an art photographer not a photojournalist yet her images by the nature of the ambiguity of what they show do inhabit this region described above, that is ‘in the province of metaphor, where the truth is approximated in renderings of a more poetic or symbolic nature’. They do not mislead but invite questions from the viewer.


Gefter, Philip (2009) Essay: Icons as Fact, Fiction and Metaphor [online] At: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/essay-4/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 (Accessed on 03.10.14)

Pickering, Sarah (s.d) Public Order. [online] At: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/Works/Pulic-Order/workpg-01.html (Accessed 03.10.14)

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Pickering, Sarah (2004) Flicks Nightclub, 2004 At: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/Works/Pulic-Order/workpg-20.html (Accessed on 03.10.14)

Figure 2. Pickering, Sarah  (2004) Behind Flicks Nightclub, 2004 At: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/Works/Pulic-Order/workpg-21.html (Accessed on 03.10.14)

Figure 3. Doisneau, Robert (1950)  Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville, 1950 At: http://press.fondopiras.com/robertdoisneau.jpg (Accessed 03.10.14)

Figure 4. Unattributed Rosa Parks on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.. on Dec. 21 1956 At: http://www.greatblackheroes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/rosaparks01.jpg (Accessed 01.10.14)