IF THE LIGHTS GO OUT / LETTERS TO OMAR
1 OCTOBER – 26 NOVEMBER 2010
This is a study of a home, of a particular idea of home at a particular time in our history. This is the study of the lives of people whose paths crossed whilst in a camp on 45 square miles of Cuba, cut off from the rest of the world by razor wire and water.
The atmosphere of life in Guantanamo is conveyed by Edmund Clark’s award-winning photographs. Rather than acting as reportage, these contemplative images look at three different ideas of home: the naval base at Guantanamo, which houses the American community; the complex of prison camps there; and the homes, new and old, where former detainees now attempt to rebuild their lives. Clark says the work “is not about monumentalising the historical fact of the camps, but evoking the experience of individuals caught up in events in a backwater of Cuba.”
The narrative of these images aims to evoke the process of disorientation and dislocation central to the techniques of incarceration at Guantanamo. The photographs force the viewer to jump from prison camp to domestic stillness, from freedom to confinement and from light to dark. Clark explores the powerful resonances of control, causing a sense of unease through unexpected juxtapositions, giving a human insight into the experience of the men released without charge after years of incarceration. As the men re-adjust to their newfound freedom, their post-prison homes reveal the contrast between their domestic interiors and the confined spaces of the prison camps although motifs of confinement are present in both.
nterspersed with these images are ‘Letters to Omar’, a selection of cards and letters sent to UK resident, Omar Deghayes, during almost six years that he was held at Guantanamo. Some are from his family and his lawyer, but most are from strangers he had never met. Omar, who was released without charge in December 2007, never saw the original documents. At Guantanamo, even the backs of envelopes and blank sheets of paper were redacted, photocopied or scanned. Clark explains that “these visually extraordinary documents reveal the extent of control exercised by his interrogators and testify to the dilemma of a man, alone in a cell, thinking of home.”
The prison camps at Guantanamo hold symbolic value across the world representing the ‘War on Terror’ that followed the 9/11 attacks. More than 700 men have been imprisoned and, of these, only four have been convicted by military tribunals while hundreds have been released without charge. Despite President Obama having directed the closure of the detention camp in 2009, there is little sign of this happening. Many prisoners remain with no real prospect of freedom.
This is the story of home.
When you are suspended by a rope you can recover but every time I see a rope I remember. If the light goes out unexpectedly in a room, I am back in my cell.
Binyam Mohamed, Prisoner #1458
With a reputation for combining strong ideas and an ability to work in sensitive situations, Clark is best known for his images exploring consequences of control and incarceration. Guantanamo: If The Light Goes Out by Edmund Clark won the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award for 2009. Others awards include a 2008 Terry O’Neill/IPG Award for Contemporary British Photography for his book Still Life Killing Time, and a Gold Pencil at the 2003 One Show Awards in New York. He has worked as an Artist-in-Residence for the National Trust in Britain and his work has been acquired for national and international collections, including The National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Edmund Clark’s new book, published by Dewi Lewis, will be launched on 14 October 2010 at Flowers East. It comprises 70 colour photographs, 63 letters, an essay by Dr Julian Stallabrass of The Courtauld Institute of Art and texts by Omar Deghayes and Edmund Clark.
Additional launch exhibitions will also be held at Flowers East (15 October – 13 November), Impressions Gallery in Bradford (17 September – 14 November) and the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney (5 – 20 November), with related talks and events. The work is part of the European Month of Photography ‘Mutations III’ exhibitions in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Bratislava, Luxembourg and Moscow in 2010 and 2011.