Architecture of Authority
Ross (photography, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Waiting for the End of the World ) has traveled far and put himself at risk to photograph mostly small places of confinement or detainment (e.g., segregation cells at Abu Ghraib prison; a confessional booth in a Catholic church). Though an impassioned essay by John R. MacArthur (president & publisher, Harper’s ) raves here about Ross and his photographs while railing against the institutions that build such horrible spaces, this reviewer, for one, is not buying in. Are prisons expected to look like the lobby of the Ritz Carlton? Does a DMV waiting room destroy the people it serves because its blue fiberglass bucket seats set against a gray wall take the joy out of registering a used Chevy? If Ross’s point is that these grimy, dank, depersonalized rooms, corridors, and cells are uglywell, they are. Are they often designed to dehumanize and to elicit information? Yes, though that’s hardly surprising. This book is useful for those seeking a common thread among places constructed with a purpose and no aesthetics across cultures. But as a photo essay, it tells us little we don’t already know or could not imagine.