Project 4 – Public Order

Sarah Pickering explores the training and training facilities used by emergency services personnel through her photographic practice. This exercise asks me to take a closer look at her series entitled, Public Order.

 How do Pickering’s images make you feel?

This question is quite difficult to answer without some level of influence by the course textbook. There is a description of Sarah Pickering’s series immediately preceding the exercise in the course textbook. I would have preferred to have viewed the series without any prior knowledge of its content. However, my own feelings about the series are not unlike the unsafe and uncomfortable feelings described in the course textbook. I viewed the series on Pickering’s website in the sequence presented by her. The opening three images (Denton Underground Station 2003, Lola Court 2004 and Front Garden, School Road 2005) depict a very sterile environment similar to that of the Irish ghost estates phenomenon (unfinished and unsold houses remaining as a result of the collapse of the housing market). However, the appearance of cameras in some of these early images hint at the necessity for the town to be monitored. The next images in the series reveal the true purpose of the buildings. The images, Farrance Street 2004, Off Vickers, and Eastcourt Street 2004 clearly show debris, brick and other missiles strewn around the street and there are burn marks on all the walls. Once I know the purpose of this facility, my feeling of unease lifts as I understand that this is a control environment, which allow for the safe training of public order drills by police officers. I believe that the manner or sequence in which this series is viewed is very important to how the mood of unease at first grows in the viewer, and then is relieved through a greater understanding of the facility’s purpose.

Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

In an interview with Susan Bright in 2010, Pickering described how disappointed the police were that she had little interest in photographing the training, riots and public order drills that police had carried out during her visit to the training facilities. There is more power in the late/aftermath photographic approach to the series, rather that showing the ‘blatant violence’. Sarah Pickering believes that her approach has rendered the series ‘more evocative, than trying to get some action shots.’ I feel that the work is an effective use of documentary photography. It succeeds in opening a conversation about the society we live in, that necessitate such places.


Sarah Pickering on Public Order & Explosions series: Excerpt (2010). [online] Available from: [Accessed: 3 December 2014]

 Sarah Pickering. [online] Available from: [Accessed: 3 December 2014]



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