April 10, 2009

Gitmo Details #1: Club Survivor

In conjunction with Daylight Magazine , BNN takes a look at a series of images by photographer Christopher Sims taken at Guantanamo Bay. The photos were recently the subject of an exhibition at Civilian Art Projects, and are also featured in a Daylight multimedia podcast viewable here. Given BNN’s unique mission to fix on, delve into and create discussion around single images, we feel Chris’ photos, taken in 2006 and capturing atmosphere and character through mundanity, actually grow more curious as Guantanamo — having outlived the Bush Administration — retains its notoriety. Chris expands on the details with a few notes.

This is a photograph of Club Survivor. At first glance, it could be any beach shack bar in any out-of-the-way place in the Caribbean. It’s the type of bar where people would hang out on Friday night, or unwind after work. It’s located near Camp Delta and it’s where guards might spend their free time. Looking closely at the building, we see hand-painted iguanas and palm trees and hand-painted signs. There are four windows into the bar, but we can’t see in. Instead we see reflections – reflections of the ocean, but also in two of the windows, reflections of flood lights used for security at the prison.

And, most prominently, hand-painted on the side of building, perhaps about five feet across, is a large painting of an old-fashioned rifle. It’s a painting based on the Combat Infantryman Badge. Whoever reproduced it on the side of this building managed to achieve something I found quite remarkable – to make the painting in a way that it is both menacing and child-like at the same time.

Christopher Sims teaches photography and multimedia at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. He worked previously as a photo archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

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