An Interview with Award-Winning Artist Edmund Clark

edmund clark - guantanamo

Originally posted on February 19th 2014

Edmund Clark is an award-winning artist whose work explores notions of shared humanity, otherness and unseen experience by looking at landscape, architecture, documents, possessions and the environments of subjects of political tension.

His works, ‘Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out’ and recent publication, ‘Control Order House’; (published in 2013 by Here Press) explore the hidden spaces of control and incarceration in the ‘Global War on Terror’.

Edmund’s series, ‘Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out’ looks at notions of home, exploring three separate home environments: The naval base at Guantanamo, home to the American community; the complex of detention camps on the naval base where detainees are held; and homes where former detainees now find themselves trying to rebuild their lives in Europe and the Middle East.

‘Control Order House’ documents a house in which a man suspected of involvement in terrorist-related activity was placed under a Control Order (a restriction under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, introduced in 2005). Hundreds of unedited photographs form the basis of this documentation, accompanied by architectural representations, handwritten diary entries and documents relating to the case of the man only known as CE. Through correspondence included between Clark and the Home Office, the level of control and censorship imposed on his work inside the house is apparent, accompanied by the fact that any material could form part of CE’s case.

Clark is the only artist as yet to have gained access both to Guantanamo Bay and a house placed under the restrictions of a Control Order.

We caught up with Edmund to find out about his work as an artistic piece and document, his work process, what influences him, his publications, exhibitions and more…

Genesisimaging: Hi Edmund! Are you ready to talk to us about your work, work process, inspirations and more?

Edmund_Clark: I am indeed, fire away!

Genesisimaging: Great! Let’s start by talking about your work more generally…

Genesisimaging: How do you hope that your work will be perceived in the future?

Edmund_Clark: Perhaps my work will be considered as visual history – exploring events, experiences and ideas of representation.

Edmund_Clark: I studied history and all history is about representation and interpretation.

Edmund_Clark: These are themes that interest me a lot, in relation to how current events are seen and how we will remember them.

Genesisimaging: What led you to photography and how did your interest in the medium begin?

Edmund_Clark: I worked for a few years in international market and social research, including a lot of work about how advertising works but had to change direction.

Edmund_Clark: I got my first camera while living in Brussels in my late 20s, started looking at photos, met a tutor from LCC, I thought now or never…

Edmund_Clark: I wanted to be self-employed, I enrolled for post-grad diploma in photojournalism…

Edmund_Clark: …So, a mixture of lifestyle changes and luck!

Genesisimaging: Tell us about the very first body of work that you produced…

Edmund_Clark: That would be my major college work about young offenders involved with car crime in East London.

Edmund_Clark: It was B&W 35mm, classic observed photojournalism – very different to what I do now.

Edmund_Clark: But in some ways, already looking at ideas of criminality, law and experience. Exploring media stereotypes, with issues of tricky access.

Genesisimaging: Interesting! How does your approach to each body of work differ/are there similarities in the way you plan a series?

Edmund_Clark: I guess that a subject has to grab my imagination, intelligence and my guts.

Edmund_Clark: I suppose that I’m drawn to things that I think are important, with a bit of a complex back story and media presence.

Edmund_Clark: Then I look for information, research and a partner organisation or collaborator who can help with info’, contacts, access, maybe also funding.

Edmund_Clark: I look at what other people have done or not done about it, I look at some sort of contextual framework, then think about it for too long!

Genesisimaging: When you begin a body of work, do you already have an idea of how you would like to present it?

Edmund_Clark: I always look for as many ways of delivering or communicating what I’m interested in.

Edmund_Clark: So publication, exhibition, multimedia installation, magazine and internet forms are in my mind from the start, but I cannot tell how something will look or how I will formulate it.

Edmund_Clark: That comes later. Also I have had to deal with difficult access and that means that I don’t know what I will see or what I can get in terms of photographs or found images/documents.

Genesisimaging: Let’s talk about ‘Control Order House’…

Genesisimaging: Did you plan to present your images unedited when you approached the project?

Edmund_Clark: Not initially. That came after a lot of reflection about how I could use the process of photography to explore/represent control and order.

Edmund_Clark: And how that worked with the other materials that I had collated and had cleared.

Edmund_Clark: That was a project where access was curtailed and what I thought I was going to do was frustrated.

Edmund_Clark: I had to rethink what I could do with the images and if they were going to be cleared by the government and the ‘controlled persons’ lawyers.

Genesisimaging: How did you navigate your environment in the ‘Control Order House’, did you have a methodical approach?

Edmund_Clark: I used the protocol of an architect/designer that I know, when he enters a property and records the space by photographing in an ‘automatic’ way.

Edmund_Clark: Rotating, shooting wide angle, recording every inch of the interior. I had visited the house and knew it was bland/empty and that he used only a few rooms.

Edmund_Clark: I decided to explore the ‘nothingness’ by recording everything.

Edmund_Clark: I felt this would delve into his problematic relationship to the space and the experience of control, and be very different to my Guantanamo work.

Genesisimaging: Steve asks, how do you feel that the inclusion of the cat changed the way ‘Control Order House’ is perceived?

Edmund_Clark: If you read the details of the property conditions you see that having a pet is not allowed, that this is made part of control exercised over CE.

Edmund_Clark: It can criminalise him, yet the cat keeps appearing in the images.

Edmund_Clark: The other docs show that all of my images had to be seen by the government. The cat is a contested thing, the only living thing in the images that is free to come and go…

Edmund_Clark: …which reveals the, arguable, absurdity of the situation.

Genesisimaging: Do you think your work in Guantanamo and the Control Order House have changed your perceptions of the home environment?

Edmund_Clark: Well, I am certainly sensitive to the politics implicit in personal and institutional space.

Edmund_Clark: But also that ‘home’ and personal space are perhaps engaging ways of exploring feelings of otherness or commonality in in the minds of potential viewers or audiences of/for my work.

Genesisimaging: Lastly, a few people have asked, what are you working on at the moment and what can we expect of you next? (If you can say!)

Edmund_Clark: I am dabbling with a couple of projects that are not directly photo based, about ideas of history and process in relation to unseen spaces and ideas of the contemporary battlefield…

Edmund_Clark: might be interesting, might be pants…

Edmund_Clark: And a third instalment of work looking at incarceration and control in the global war on terror.

Edmund_Clark: Then it’s strictly… fashion and advertising!

Edmund_Clark: A PhD, a pension, a caravan by the sea and living happily ever after

Genesisimaging: We look forward to seeing your new work, as always! Unfortunately that’s all we’ve got time for…

Genesisimaging: Thank you Edmund for interesting, insightful answers to our Q’s this afternoon!

Edmund_Clark: No problem, thank you for asking! Have a nice day everyone.

Find out more about Edmund at edmundclark.com

See more on ‘Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out’ at ifthelightgoesout.com

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