There probably isn’t a better time to look at Sarah Pickering’s work than now, just shortly after the attack on London Bridge, the Manchester bombing and the Westminster episode. Pickering’s Public Order is a body of work depicting the training ground used for police riot training. I reviewed Pickering’s work during Context & Narrative and my initial impression then was as follows: “This sign of past activity (or is it a future activity – it is up to the viewer to decide) juxtaposes with those images which are more sterile, with deserted clean streets and boarded up windows. … As we look deeper into the images, more layers are peeled away” (Lynda Kuit, Context & Narrative).
There is a strange dichotomy present in her images. On the one hand there is the reality of the aftermath of some kind of violent action, albeit a rather sterile aftermath, and on the other there is the fact that these dwellings or structures are fake. But on first glance, one doesn’t realise that this is a set. The absence of people is immediately obvious and quite disturbing. Post riot scenes usually are full of people milling around, disorientated and distressed – the vocality of the image shouting out from the photograph. But there is no sense of noise in Pickering’s images. They are strangely silent, like silent witnesses, yet we know someone, some people were there.
Pickering’s project Incident features images shot in a training venue for fire fighters, learning to use their breathing apparatus and move and detect the source of fire in heavy smoke conditions. The prints are in black and white which helps to emphasis the sooty conditions and residual heat of the fire and subsequent dampness.
The contrast between bright light and its dark absence indicates the frantic motion of fire and human that must have occurred there.
Pickering describes the materiality of the large scale prints as being very seductive, the surface mimicking the carbon covered surfaces in the training building (Photoparley).
Both bodies of work are a depiction of the work of public safety officers and the training they undergo to do their daily job. The training is rigourous – it has to be. The real life situations that these police officers and fire fighters will have to encounter will be worse than the training scenarios, which are necessary to ensure that these men and women are mentally and physically able to do the job required of them. As much as communities depend on them, they depend upon each other in their line of work, each person linked to the other for safety and moral encouragement.
Bambury, Adam (2008) Brighton Photo Fringe 08 – Sarah Pickering’s Incident At Phoenix [online]. Available at: http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/photography-and-film/art61894 [Accessed 4 June, 2017]
Boothroyd, Sharon (2015) Sarah Pickering [online] https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/sarah-pickering/ [Accessed 4 June, 2017]
Kuit, Lynda (2015) Exercise: Sarah Pickering [online] Available at: https://lyndakuitphotographycn.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/exercise-sarah-pickering/ [Accessed 4 June, 2017]
Pickering, Sarah [online] Available at: http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/index.html [Accessed 4 June, 2017]