Public Order (2002-5)
Riots and scenes of civil unrest are a daily occurrence in a small town called Denton. Despite the heavy police presence, the violence is only ever temporarily suppressed. Another day brings more trouble – an incident at the underground station; barricaded streets; an injured civilian to bring to safety. Although debris and pieces of broken bottles are strewn across the pavement, and smoke stains the walls, Denton is not a place troubled by graffiti or litter. On closer inspection this place seems unfamiliar. The Indian Takeaway and Antiques shop share the same blank windows. Door handles, letterboxes and curtains are missing, and there are no signs of habitation.
Denton is a set used by the police, carefully designed to provide a realistic backdrop for disorder. Although absent from the photographs, the identity of rioters can be pieced together from the elements of social stereotyping in this purpose-built environment. This fictional town holds a paradoxical population where officers act as rioters, or they dress in police riot gear to combat their own scenarios of unrest. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Denton shares its name with town where TV Detective series Touch of Frost is set, and is also the location known as the “Home of Happiness” in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Denton is a type of utopia – an imaginary and remote place, an ideal town, underpinned by an agenda for social improvement. In an impractical and abstract training resource, a Disorder Model flow-chart found on-site, lists the stages of unrest, potential escalation and points of intervention to return to a ‘State of Normality’. The Public Order series of photographs documents the attention to detail and simultaneous lack of realism within this artificial environment. This is a living invention, a fantasy placed within the real world – an attempt to make violence and disorder tangible and knowable.
Made between 2002-5 the Public Order series comprises of 24 photographs of the UK’s Public Order training facilities.