Project 4, The Gallery Wall – documentary as art, exercise – Pickering Public Order


Sarah Pickering’s series Public Order isn’t what it might first appear to be. The images are a series of documentary photographs of police training grounds. Whilst they look quite realistic there is a sense of difference from ‘real’ life that is showing. It is this sense of difference that brings something to the series.

To look through the whole series [Public Order] is to see the lack of litter in many images, the lack of people throughout. It is to see street frontages, that don’t drop back, that look like they might have been created for filming. There is graffiti or ‘labelling’ that stands out as unreal for normal. That is to say, normal life, if this were a set of images documenting a small yet abandoned town; abandoned for reasons unknown.

We are slowly confronted with the reality of police training grounds. We are offered the opportunity to consider how they are used. Why they might be used. How there might be a need for their use in order that the police who train on these grounds are prepared for the sorts of scenarios they might face when called to deal with a public order incident.

Pickering’s images aren’t reportage, they are art documentary. They can be contrasted with editorial images by James Rawlings who’s images were published in the Guardian. [Guardian Online June 2014] Here we can find a sense of reportage of a police training ground. The genres of documentary photography have a difference and communicate differently. Art photography, as Sarah Pickering has produced here asks us questions rather than giving us answers. It does so effectively by engaging the viewer and giving its meaning slowly.