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photo-eye Book Reviews: Guantanamo

Guantanamo, Photographs by Edmund Clark.
Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2011.
Reviewed by Colin Pantall
Edmund Clark Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out
Photographs by Edmund Clark. Texts by Julian Stallabrass and Omar Deghayes
Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2011. Hardbound. 108 pp., 64 color illustrations, 12-1/4x9-3/4".

In Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out, Ed Clark continues his investigations on how confinement affects prisoners. "The starting point was going out with detainees who had been released and seeing how they were surviving," he says. "These people had been in prison for years, had never been charged but still had this massive label of being the worst of the worst stuck on them. I was interested in what their personal spaces said about them and if they were any traces of what they had experienced in Guantanamo."

So Clark gained access to Guantanamo and photographed the interiors. Back in the UK, he photographed the homes of recently released detainees and gained access to the cards, letters and pictures one detainee had received whilst in the island jail.

The resulting mix of pictures makes for a multi-layered image of the dehumanizing effect of imprisonment without trial. It is work that is about confined spaces and how these work their ways into people's heads to the point that imprisonment becomes a state of mind not just for the jailed, but also for the jailor.

Guantanamo, by Edmund Clark. Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2011.
 One picture shows the bedroom of former detainee, Omar Deghayes. The room is orderly, a green pillow lies on the bed with the words 'Welcome Home, Omar' printed on its cover. Net curtains cover the window, a radiator is stuck to the wall and all is as it should be. But Deghayes' room is not so different from one of the Guantanamo Guest Quarters, the Prison Camp Personnel bedrooms or even that of a Camp 5 Detainee Cell.

Guantanamo, by Edmund Clark. Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2011.
 All the way through the book, Clark conjures up visual hooks to link the prison guards and the imprisoned: the barren interiors of detainees' post Guantanamo homes echo the bare walls and scrubbed floors of the Naval Base interiors, the bleached lawn and naked shed of a British detainee's home echoing the sterile prefabs of Guantanamo housing and the Naval Base Officer's Mess.

Guantanamo, by Edmund Clark. Published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2011.
 The letters that were sent to Deghayes are the only human element in the book. There are pictures of kittens, dolphins and idyllic English landscapes: all with a document number and a Guantanamo stamp. Other letters are from well-wishers, friends and family, with one saying 'I like you, Ancol Omor. You're my best friend...' These letters don't lighten the load of Clark's message. Instead they serve to highlight the brutality of imprisonment without trial and the failures of humanity, intelligence and compassion that Guantanamo has come to signify.—Colin Pantall

Colin Pantall is a UK-based writer, photographer and teacher - he is currently a visiting lecturer in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales. His work has been exhibited in London, Amsterdam, Manchester and Rome and his Sofa Portraits will be published as a handmade book early next year. Further thoughts of Colin Pantall can be found on his blog, which was listed as one of’s favourites earlier this year.