Richard Ross, Architecture of Authority



Richard Ross’ Architecture of Authority at ACME is a series of photographs of architecture that is active, aggressive, built for a specific, state-sanctioned violence. Interrogation room, interview room, pat down room, booking bench, holding cell, and lethal injection room, the lesson here is end-game- the state has made you, and it can literally unmake you, stripping your rights, your individuality, your freedom, and your life.

The photographs are hung in restrained salon-style groupings of up to four images that relate to one another. Though comprised of individual works, the groupings make sense, forcing us to see the similarity of spaces, the replication of authority’s tactics relative to a specific goal. For example, the hallmark of the interrogation room is a single chair, though the accessory in Santa Barbara is a roll of toilet paper to stem tears and runny noses, while in Guantanamo it’s handcuffs that attach to the floor. Minimalist and almost monochromatic, the photographs are devoid of the bodies, emotions, and actions for which the rooms were built. Stark, crisp photographs that show every detail in the frame, the punctum in the images is their relentless referencing of human bodies, and yet their refusal to show us any. But the bodies are there like ghosts, populating the empty images. We imagine the people who have sat in the interrogation chairs, or on the booking bench. We feel the guard’s uneasy authority in the lethal injection room, ineffective air-conditioner blasting on the back of his neck.

It’s difficult to choose the most chilling, but for me it’s the segregation cells at Camp Remembrance, the new Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Open to the elements, the cells simultaneously expose and imprison the prisoners. These flimsy structures seem to say everything about the administration’s justification for holding the prisoners in the first place, underscoring the inequity of our war on Iraq.

In the East gallery, most of the photographs are from television police procedurals like Law and Order, and NYPD Blue. Showing our cultural fascination with a fictionalized version of the moment of interrogation, of getting to the truth, these photographs comment on our glamorization of what is ultimately an intensely unglamorous architecture. Two real interrogation rooms are set in this gallery. Smaller photographs, they seem squeezed onto a smaller wall, like afterthoughts that can’t compete with our fantasy of interrogation.

Architecture of Authority is about the spaces that enable the excesses of authority. Ross’ point seems to be not that architecture forces us to behave in certain ways, but rather that without collusive, willing ambassadors of the state, architecture is powerless. Architecture of Authority shows us that without the guard, the bureaucrat, the official, and the prisoner, there is no apparatus of authority, just a bunch of empty rooms.

Summer 2007

One Response to “Richard Ross, Architecture of Authority”

  1. 1 Richard Ross, Prison Apparatus and the Human Touch « Prison Photography

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