Outposts by Donovan Wylie, published by Steidl

 
 

Discipline and punish, as formulated by Michel Foucault, could be a fairly accurate description of Donovan Wylie’s photographic work developed in The Maze in 2004. More recently, in British Watchtowers (2007) and Outposts (2011,) the Northern-Irish photographer’s work developed into a representation of surveillance and control. In other words, his work is shifting from a representation of the traditional repressive state to that of a warfare state. But whether in a prison or on the battlefield, his intention is to show the architectural structures built by the authorities to control the people.

 
 

Outposts by Donovan Wylie, published by Steidl

 
 

Thus having started with the representation of The Maze, the Belfast prison once used by the British government to repress Irish Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists, he extended his project to the British Watchtowers, “belvederes” built in the Northern Irish countryside to control the movements of population. After the dismantling of these surveillance devices, Wylie discovered that some elements of these watchtowers were to be reestablished in Afghanistan. He thus decided to go there and photograph that other conflict zone. One must see in the shift from The Maze to the British Watchtowers to Outposts, an objectification of a personal experience – Donovan Wylie grew up in Belfast under the shadow of the Maze – through the means of documentary and typological photography, and then an extension of this cold, dispassionate vision of the conflicts that our leaders lead in our name.

British Watchtowers and Outposts must be considered as the two sides of the same medal: internal repression, on one side, and the so-called “war of terror,” on the other. Should anyone have doubts about the intentionality of this approach, the similarity of the covers for British Watchtowers and Outposts, the image and typography, are there to testify that these two books should be considered a diptych.

 
 

Outposts by Donovan Wylie, published by Steidl

 
 

If one considers modern warfare as being also technological, what is striking in the images gathered in Outposts is the archaic character of these small forts lost in a stony landscape. These lunar images in which no enemy is visible clearly evoke Dino Buzzati’s Desert of the Tartars. In light of all these elements, the work of the Magnum photographer could be considered merely a very good photography of warfare architecture. But Outposts, as Wylie’s two previous volumes, becomes fascinating when considered as a reflection around the photographic process itself. Indeed, what is the purpose of these warfare constructions, if not to satisfy the desire to watch? By representing the scopic impulse, the absolute necessity to observe in order to understand and control the world around us, Donavan Wylie does not only highlight the fact that the power control processes involve, as always in this digital era, the eye. Even better, he duplicates the photographic device. Through his own desire to see, he underlines a general desire, that of the authority, and ours, as onlookers of his images.

 

 

Rémi Coignet