River Way (Roadblock)

Sarah Pickering – River Way (Roadblock)

Sarah Pickering – River Way (Roadblock)


River Way (Roadblock) is an unsettling photograph in which nothing is quite as it seems. Two battered and burned out cars face each other, blockading an improbable road empty of life but full of suggestions and traces. Yellow no-parking lines curve around corners to possible bustling high streets. Scorch marks on kerbstones and walls propose something more menacing – the familiar aftermath of a scene of urban unrest. But it is the architecture of clumsy breezeblock facades, naïve pink and blue doors and too many security cameras that re-formulate what at first glance seems an everyday street, into a stage set of latent violence.

Sarah Pickering uses the medium of photography to research places where truth, and that which appears to be true or real, co-exist. River Way (Roadblock) is from her series Public Order (2002-5) that documents Denton, a simulated urban town at the Metropolitan Police Public Order Training Centre. Denton forms a constructed complex of shops, nightclub and job centre – an alternate reality where imagined scenarios of civil unrest can be staged and rehearsed.

Hovering between everyday fake and off-kilter simulation, River Way (Roadblock) is a restless image that questions photography’s ability to document the ‘real’, and challenges assumptions that future scenes of civil unrest must be located in similar urban working-class environments.

Public Order is on display at the exhibition Staging Dis-order, alongside work by six other photographers at London College of Communication from 26th January until 12th March 2015.

3 responses

  1. By looking at this photograph I can’t stop thinking of Broomberg and Chanarin’s work Chicago. Denton and Chicago belong to those places constructed to pre-staged realities which up to this point were just mere possibilities but not certain.
    Once these places are up and used as training methods, and lets not forget their exclusivity as they are accessible just to a few, they stop being a theme park, a fantasy, a pantomime of law and order and become tools of segregation and civil construction. To me is here where the importance of this work lies: the exposure of the Pantomime. Pickering’s image offer us time to reflect on the paradox, absurdity as well as the power that lies behind places like Denton and therefore to question the societies we live in.

  2. Both ‘River Way (Roadblock)’ and ‘Chicago’ remind me of Omer Fast’s video ‘Five Thousand Feet is the Best’ which I saw in the Brighton Photo Biennale 2012. As Martin identifies, the site of conflict is hard for the film maker to access and the mode of conflict is by its nature premeditated. The video shows the work done by a drone operator sitting in the US activating an unmanned [sic] plane to fire at people on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    There are many levels of staging, the virtual and the ‘real’ here. After hours of talk with an operator, Omer Fast films a fictional interview with an actor in the role of the operator; follows the actor into the corridor in what appear to be breaks from the camera; and mixes these scenes with blurred film of the real operator.

    As well as this mix of staging and the real in the making of the video, this paradox is embedded in the activities the operator carries out. In order to kill, the operator has to zoom in, and therefore sees an image – a very clear one – of the violence he has in inflicted, which is of course experienced in horrifying physical reality by the targeted person. The operator talks about suffering from ‘virtual stress’. In so many ways, the virtual impacts on the ‘real’, and this is replicated in the making of the video.

    See Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space Photoworks Autumn/Winter 2012/13

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