Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas
September 19 – December 14, 2008
National Building Museum, Washington D.C.
April 18 – August 16, 2009
For the past several years—and with seemingly limitless access—American photographer Richard Ross has been making unsettling and thought-provoking pictures of architectural spaces that exert power over the individuals within them. These compelling, sometimes disturbing, images are brought together in Architecture of Authority, which is accompanied by a book of the same title published by Aperture.
Richard Ross’s Architecture of Authority photographs were provoked by the artist’s fury at the state of the post–9/11 world––the abuse of power, erosion of individual liberty, illegitimate authority, and constant surveillance. From a Montessori preschool to churches, mosques, and diverse civic spaces—a Swedish courtroom, the Iraqi National Assembly hall, the United Nations—the images build to ever harsher manifestations of authority: an interrogation room at Guantánamo, segregation cells at Abu Ghraib, and finally, a capital-punishment death chamber.
The connections among the various types of spaces are striking. As Ross points out: “Architecture is not necessarily an innocent act of creativity. A confessional in a Catholic church and an interview room at the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters share the same intimate dimensions. They are both uncomfortably tight spaces constructed to force people together, to extract a confession in exchange for some form of redemption.” The human figure is almost entirely absent from Ross’s photographs, but often implied—the work compels the viewer to ponder the power structure that lurks behind spaces, from benign to elegant to sinister.
Richard Ross was born in New York in 1947 and has taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, since 1977. He has photographed for the New York Times Magazine, Discover, Vogue, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Ross recently received a Guggenheim award to continue photographing this series. Ross has published nearly a dozen books, including Museology (Aperture, 1989) and Waiting for the End of the World (Princeton Architecture Press, 2004). The work from this series had its show debut at the ACME Gallery in Los Angeles this summer.