Exercise: Sarah Pickering: Public Order (page 37)

Sarah Pickering’s image Flicks Night Club 2004 made me feel the same as I did when I visited Poundberry, Dorset  a short while ago. It was quiet, there were no people around. I commented to my friends that it felt like a film set.  The streets had an eerie feel, deserted and lifeless. Almost as if they were too perfect to be lived in. I suspect Poundbury isn’t always so lifeless though and we perhaps just picked a bad time.

Photograph of Middlemarsh Street, Poundbury by Marilyn Peddle

Sarah Pickering’s series Public Order can be seen here. I thought of Poundbury straight away, as a residential area that was too quiet to be real. Pickering’s  images show no signs of life and we are left to question how that can be and why. In her image Flick’s Night Club, the road bends to the left and, as there is an unsettling feel to the image, we are left wondering what is round the corner? On closer inspection of the image we notice that the windows are boarded up. Why? The viewer then starts to try to make sense of it? Has there been a bomb scare? or another reason for a mass exodus? I even started to think of the opening scene in John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids:

But this morning was different! Disturbingly because mysteriously different. No wheels rumbled, no buses roared, no sound of a car of any kind, in fact, was to be heard. No brakes, no horns, …. not, as there should be at such an hour, the composite tramp of work-bound feet.

(Wyndham, J, 1954 p 9)

Then we learn that it is a police training ground. We immediately feel better as we learn the reason for the street being deserted. However, Sharon Boothroyd points out that then we start to think again ‘why do these places exist?’ and ‘what else don’t we know about?’ (Boothroyd, 2014).

Is Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Pickering’s images evoke an emotion in the viewer. Initially a sense of unease and anxiety that something is not quite right; something has happened. So, our attention has been piqued sufficiently to engage interest in the image. If Pickering wanted to draw attention to the wider picture of police training and what we rely on our police officers to deal with then it offers a documentary on this in an indirect way. This leaves the viewer to think for his or herself of the wider implications of police activity and danger in the World.

Is it misleading? No. It has made me think of many things that had been pushed to the back of my mind. The unseen work of the police force and the many things that go on in the World to which the general public is blissfully unaware.


Boothroyd, S. (2014) Introduction: Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts.

Wyndham, J, (1954). The Day of the Triffids. London: Penguin



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