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The Photography Blog: ‘Control Order House’ by Edmund Clark – Photographing our response to terrorism

Alex Hare
book cover 217x300 The Photography Blog: Control Order House by Edmund Clark   Photographing our response to terrorism

(c) Edmund Clark

Recent events in Boston have served as a painful reminder of the threat posed by terrorism. In Control Order House, a book launched recently by Edmund Clark, we look at how a state (in this case the British Government) responds to this threat; the legislation passed and, above all, the effect it has on those that are subjected to it.

It’s a remarkable body of work that documents a period of our law in this area, the judgement against the individual and, of course, the photographs that record his living experience under the Control Order.

Clark is interested in making historical records of forms of control and he found the whole concept of Control Orders very interesting; “here you have a law giving  rise to a legal judgement that relies upon evidence that hasn’t been heard or scrutinised in open court, and which removes a person from their home and family and puts them in a different town under strict control without actually determining guilt. One can’t help but feel it flies in the face of our basic legal principle of innocence until proven guilty”.

I immediately wonder if there is a critique of ‘the system’ within the work but Clark is very clear on this; he’s not a campaigner nor is he pushing any particular agenda. He’s a historian interested in recording methods of political control, incarceration and how a society deals with those it subjects to these forms of control. For Clark, this aspect of a society is very revealing about the society itself.

The book starts by outlining Control Orders; they could be imposed on people living here (British or otherwise) suspected of involvement in terrorist activity. A Control Order could be imposed via evidence which only had to support a ‘reasonable suspicion’, rather than prove any guilt. Following a trial, a Control Order amounted to detention without necessarily being found guilty of any offence and which was not, therefore, imprisonment in the strictest sense of the phrase.

The Controlled Person that Clark visited lived under a curfew and had to report to security each morning and evening and to the police at lunchtime. His movements were restricted within the town to the point he had to decline a labouring job because it fell outside his ‘permitted area’ and who he spoke to and when was also under strict control. Add to this the effect of not knowing when the Control Order may be lifted, the impact on the controlled persons life cannot be underestimated.

house interior 2 300x200 The Photography Blog: Control Order House by Edmund Clark   Photographing our response to terrorism

(c) Edmund Clark

The photographs therefore serve as record of the legal and historical significance of Control Orders and an insight into the reality of the living experience of a person subjected to a Control Order.

I ask Clark about gaining access to such a sensitive subject and he explains how, after some initial effort, the Home Office was reasonably co-operative in allowing him access to the house and the individual concerned.

This strikes me as somewhat contradictory to the nature of Control Orders; whilst the obvious nature of secretly gained evidence being heard in closed session against an individual is not entirely desirable in a liberal democracy, having also granted access for this project, the Home Office strikes me as being remarkably open and frank about such a controversial piece of legislation.

For Clark, it’s a case that they were probably happier to be ‘onboard’ than not and, consistent with the theme of the whole project, exercise control over what he could and could not do whilst in the house.

Conditions were strict; revealing the identity or location of the house or the individual concerned was potentially an offence for both himself and the controlled person but, within these limitations, Clark was also more or less free to undertake his photography as he saw fit and publish his results albeit all the material had to be first seen by both the Home Office and the controlled persons lawyers.

The photographs are more than just a historical record though; they are inherently about control – both a lack and an abundance of. For example, we can see how the individuals very presence here is a result of a particularly onerous piece of state control and yet the photographs themselves are devoid of any artistic control.

Clark explains; “I’m abdicating the normal process of artistic control a photographer normally has-the pictures are reproduced without editing, in the order they were taken and without artistic licence on angle, lighting or moving items for better placement. I also wanted to look at the space through someone else’s eyes in contrast to how we have freedom to control and choose our own living spaces.”

“It’s important to me that I engage people with these photographs and I think if I were to be partisan that would be counter productive to this aim. It’s a visual record of what happened at this period of our history but I also hope people can relate to their own daily experience of their space.”

Control Orders have now been superseded by very slightly less onerous Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM’s). Clark explains that the key differences are slightly less restriction on movement and removal of those concerned is not necessarily to such a distant location from their home.  However, the legal process behind TPIM’s remains broadly the same though as for Control Orders.

‘Control Order House’ is published by Herepress and available here

Clark’s book on Guantanamo Bay is available here

Your views:

1. What’s your view on the UK anti terror legislation his work has documented?

2. Do you think the strictly historical-documentary approach with an absence of any agenda has been the right one here?

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  • Concerned Citizen

    It’s an excellent idea! The technology to implement such a policy to control terrorism already exists in an informal sense: our telephone calls, SMS messages and e-mails are recorded and kept for at least 6 months, thanks to a European Directive. However, for terrorists with a life-long agenda to ’slay’ anyone who does not subscribe to their belief system, creating the equivalent of a societal open prison would be a huge saving in costs of detention and would make our secular societies much safer.
    The Orwellian aspect would, of course, have the keffiyeh clad lefties out on the streets banging on about ‘freedom’. the same freedom(s) their political/religious fellow travelers want to trample on and destroy. But, so what! If the belief-system that informs your world view is benign, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.
    Anyway, it’s high time the Gay Cheveras and religious nutters in our society felt some of the pressure they dish out to citizens going about their lawful business, or who just like to enjoy the occasional Marathon.


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