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.