Exercise: Sarah Pickering

Look at some more images from Sarah Pickering’s series, Public Order on her website.

  • How do Pickering’s images make you feel?
  • Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Just as with Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murders, I find that Pickering’s photographs in her Public Order series evoke a sense of uneasiness in me. The scenes in the photos are off-kilter, in some of the images almost sterile. No human activity is present at all. Windows are boarded up and eerily the traffic light is devoid of any colour signal – there are just three black holes visible. In other photographs debris litters the street, burnt out cars form barricades across streets and shopping trolleys and car tyres block the entrance to a road. This sign of past activity (or is it a future activity – it is up to the viewer to decide) juxtaposes with those images which are more sterile, with deserted clean streets and boarded up windows. There is a surreal sense in at the photograph entitled Semi-Detached 2004 as the viewer looks through the open door of the house only to see a grassy verge in the distance. As we look deeper into the images, more layers are peeled away. We notice the sooty evidence of fires against walls, a burnt out phone booth, and false wall facades. We then realise that we are looking at something completely different to what we originally imagined. The scene is staged, in a similar fashion to a Hollywood movie set of a little town in the Wild West.

Although Pickering’s work can be construed as being misleading, I don’t believe it is. What she focuses on are simulations. In her Public Order series she is documenting a place where police undergo their riot training. The set is a specifically built little village for the sole purpose of training police officers in how to deal with various riot scenarios. Her other bodies of work, Explosion and Fire Scene also deal with simulations. The balance she achieves between fake and real is very fine. She shoots after practices have taken place so she is showing the viewer the aftermath. As Pickering states on the Lannan Foundation website:

My work explores the idea of imagined threat and response, and looks at fear and planning for the unexpected, merging fact and fiction, fantasy and reality.

Sarah Pickering and Susan Bright: Introduction and Public Order series 1/5


Pickering, Sarah (online) Available from: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/Works/Pulic-Order/workpg-01.html [Accessed 9 June 2015]

Sarah Pickering and Susan Bright: Introduction and Public Order Series 1/5 [online]. Aperture Foundation.  25/05/2010. 16 mins 8 secs. Available from: https://vimeo.com/11904198 (accessed 9 June, 2015)

Sarah Pickering: Explosions, Fires, and Public Order Lannan Foundation. Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago. Available from: http://www.lannan.org/art/art-grants/sarah-pickering-explosions-fires-and-public-order1/ [Accessed 9 June, 2015]


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