Based in the United Kingdom, photographer Sarah Pickering has worked with the emergency services, pyrotechnic manufacturers, TV prop makers, and police departments to produce some of her most recent bodies of work. Riots and scenes of civil unrest are a daily occurrence in a small town called Denton. Despite the heavy police presence the violence is only ever temporarily suppressed. Another day brings more trouble – an incident at the underground station; barricaded streets; an injured civilian to bring to safety. Although remnants of broken glass are strewn across the pavement and debris and smoke stains on the walls, Denton is not a place troubled by graffiti or litter. On closer inspection this place seems unfamiliar. The Indian Takeaway and Antiques shop share the same blank windows usually occupied by shop display. Door handles, letterboxes and curtains are missing, and there are no signs of habitation.
Denton is a set used by the police, designed to provide a realistic backdrop for a riot. The violent aggressor is defined here by the estate he could inhabit. Although absent from the photographs, his identity can be pieced together from the elements of social stereotyping in this purpose-built environment. Public Order documents the attention to detail and simultaneous lack of realism within this artificial environment. This is a living invention, a fantasy placed within the real world – an attempt to make violence tangible and knowable.
Pickering’s work has been included in exhibitions such as How We Are: Photographing Britain, Tate Britain 2007; New Photography in Britain, Galleria Civica di Modena, Italy, 2008; Manipulating Reality, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2009/10, and Living in the Ruins of the Twentieth Century, UTS Gallery, Sydney 2013. Solo exhibitions include Incident Control at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago 2010 and Art and Antiquities at Meessen De Clercq, Brussels, 2011.
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