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Book Review: Negative Publicity


Book Review Negative Publicity By Edmund Clark and Crofton Black Reviewed by George Slade Negative Publicity is an exasperating, aggravating book. And I mean this as a compliment. It offers an unusual amount of thorny issues to address. And it does so in the most labyrinthine manner imaginable.

Negative PublicityBy Edmund Clark and Crofton Black
Aperture and Magnum Foundation, 2016.
 
Negative Publicity
Reviewed by George Slade

Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition
Photographs compiled by Edmund Clark and Crofton Black. Text by Eyal Weizman.
Aperture and Magnum Foundation, New York, USA, 2016. 288 pp., 35 color illustrations, 8½x11½".


Negative Publicity is an exasperating, aggravating book. And I mean this as a compliment. It offers an unusual amount of thorny issues to address. And it does so in the most labyrinthine manner imaginable. This book of photo- and xerographic images, in toto, carries out its mission of tracking something that supposedly doesn’t exist with dogged perseverance and total success. Even its physical construction, using one of those plastic coil bindings that allow spreads to lie flat but often snags the pages as you flip them, reinforces the difficulty of access inherent to the book and its subject.

Second, I’d like to compliment Edmund Clark and Crofton Black for their even-handed restraint. The photographer and researcher, respectively, refrain from outrage and accusation. They simply present the evidence. Well, maybe not so simply. They carried out exhaustive research tracing sites and finding through-lines in some of the most insipidly ordinary evidence ever generated. Flight manifests, waiting rooms, floor plans, bills, airports, government buildings, structures that can’t be seen from public viewpoints. The sheer volume of the material, and the insipidity of its constituent pieces, illustrates what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” For this is, as I suggested, an aggravating account of malfeasance carried out by an international, sub rosa coalition under the cover of preempting global terrorism.

Negative PublicityBy Edmund Clark and Crofton BlackAperture and Magnum Foundation, 2016.
Negative PublicityBy Edmund Clark and Crofton BlackAperture and Magnum Foundation, 2016.

This book demands careful reading. Clark and Black have crafted an elusive, circuitous narrative. As you leaf through these pages (and work to avoid the coil binding pinch) you will note, close to the spine, numbers with arrows pointing to other numbers. These are page numbers with cross-references; one bit of information connects to another. In this way, the accumulative process of the authors can be replicated by readers, and the meticulous slow linkages of their research discoveries can filter into readers’ consciousness. Be sure to read the extended captions and all commentaries, too; the weight of neutrality is its own condemnation.

Negative PublicityBy Edmund Clark and Crofton BlackAperture and Magnum Foundation, 2016.

One thing you should note, too, is that while there are scores of names, dates, addresses, dollar amounts, and euphemisms for “prisoner” (“victim”) in the book, you will see no faces or bodies in Clark’s photographs. It’s a Twilight Zone of human abandonment; acrid smoke is still in the air, the floor is wet, but the perpetrators and interrogatees and their waterboards, wires, guns, and fire have been disappeared.

Negative PublicityBy Edmund Clark and Crofton BlackAperture and Magnum Foundation, 2016.

It’s hard to write about this book, because its success in addressing absence leaves one speechless. (If you’ve seen the 2007 film Rendition, you have a starting point for this book’s complex implications. The movie, however, is a drama; by necessity it enters those anonymous buildings and unpacks the horrors of those dark chambers. Clark and Black have contented themselves with the less sensational truths of accessible documents.) As a photobook or as investigative journalism it is less than whole. But the sum of the two, plus the structure of the book object itself, plus the exasperating suggestions of what lies between the gaps, makes for an insidious, deeply disturbing read.—GEORGE SLADE

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GEORGE SLADE, a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant. He can be found online at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/


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