Friday, 6 December 2013

OBJECT: Still Life Killing Time, Edmund Clark

Periodically there will be an outcry in the UK over the length of sentences and parole conditions imposed on violent criminals. ‘Life should mean life’ goes a common rallying cry amongst those who see prison not as a means of rehabilitation, but a mechanism of punishment, and perhaps secondarily a means of protecting the public. However the inevitable result of very long prison terms is of course increasingly elderly prisoners, and the fate of these prisoners in a system largely geared towards the young and the strong is a topic that is less often discussed. Although we know they exist (or we assume they exist) much of the discussion and debate around the penal system tends to focus on young and repeat offenders, not those who have been incarcerated for very long periods, and who may very well live out the remainders of their lives behind bars.
In Still Life Killing Time, Edmund Clark set out to explore the experience of inmates in the E Wing of Kingston Prison, Portsmouth, at the time the only dedicated prison wing for elderly prisoners. As the name implies the book is a series of still life and environmental photographs, taken around the prison’s communal areas and in prisoner’s cells. Originally setting out to tell inmate’s stories through portraiture as he had done in a previous project about young offenders, Clark turned from this approach to focusing just on still life photographs in response to the difficulty he felt about consent and the representation of violent criminals.
The result is a strange set of images, many of which are for me reminiscent of visits to elderly friends and relatives in their houses and care homes. Chintzy decorations, religious icons, cut out photographs of classic cars, royals and rather out of date celebrities. And yet little details come through that remind you of the context of these objects. What appears to be a fairly typical, if quite spartan, bedroom has to be reconsidered when one notices a book titled ‘Manslaughter United’ on the bedside table. A pin board covered in Celtic FC memorabilia is visually interrupted by a photograph of a famous murder victim, John Lennon.
Then there are the frankly depressing photographs of very institutional scenes; cells, waiting rooms, a chair lift, security camera monitors. A rota for newspapers, a list of daily activities punctuated by a ‘World mental health day’ sticker. These are still mostly ambigious images, many of which could exist just as easily in an old person’s home (or psychiatric hospital) as in a prison. The sense of visually criss-crossing between conflicting indications of what one is viewing is an unsettling experience, and one which somewhat reflects the genericity of all such state institutions.
As Simon Norfolk points out in his introduction to the book one has to remember that the owners of these objects and occupants of these spaces are not typical old folks, but people who have in many cases committed heinous crimes. And yet then as Norfolk also acknowledges there is also a sense of disconnection between what these people may have done in the past, and what they are capable doing now. If one views a core purpose of the penal system as being to protect the public from dangerous individuals, it becomes hard to see what purpose is served by incarcerating those who are unable to carry out simple tasks without supervision and instruction. One particularly sad photograph for example shows a list of instructions to guide someone (presumably suffering from dementia) through the steps they need to take to use the toilet.

Still Life Killing Time asks a lot of awkward questions, and it does it in an understated, quiet way which makes the sensation of looking at it all the more uncomfortable. The resounding message is that whatever crimes prisoners may have committed the attitude that we should simply lock them up and throw away the key is clearly not the right one, morally or practically, and that it’s impossible to ignore the responsibility for a certain level of care that the state takes on when it incarcerates people.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

LANDSCAPE: Chosen Location

The Local Nature Reserve (LNR) at Rye Harbour was established in 1970 by East Sussex County Council (ESCC) under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949. In November 2011 the management responsibilities were transferred to the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The 465 hectares (1149 acres)are generally flat and low lying with no natural feature above 6m. and entirely within the Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay SSSI (9,137ha.). The high points are the crests of shingle storm ridges built up over hundreds of years by the combined action of tides and storms. The low points are the sheltered areas between the ridges where saltmarsh developed on the regularly inundated land.

The influence of the sea has been greatly reduced during the last one hundred years by man-made sea defences. In addition, the naturally high water table has been lowered by a drainage system emptying into the rivers. These two factors have enabled a traditional agriculture of grazing with some arable. The loss of wetland has been partly offset by the extraction of the largest shingle ridges, creating pits. Within the Nature Reserve there are many habitats resulting from a variety of soils; a gradient of salinity; varying degrees of exposure to wind and flooding by the sea; water level; and different management practices. The main habitats can be broadly described as: intertidal; saltmarsh; reclaimed saltmarsh; drainage ditches; shingle ridges; sand; marsh; pits; scrub and woodland. Consequently there is a great variety of species with 3,300 recorded so far. These include more that 150 that are considered rare and endangered in Britain.

The area also contains considerable historic interest with military fortifications from the 16th, 19th and 20th centuries, a lifeboat disaster and evidence of man's early and continuing efforts to defend the land from the sea. This flat, open and historic landscape, with its low level of development, proximity to the sea and network of footpaths is popular with visitors. It can provide a very special experience. There is a good network of footpaths that enables much of the Nature Reserve to be visited from access points in Rye Town, Winchelsea Beach and Rye Harbour. There is a small, unmanned information centre in the car park at Rye Harbour, but our main centre, at Lime Kiln Cottage, is opened on most days by volunteers (10am-4pm). All five bird watching hides are accessible to some wheelchairs and provide visitors with a close view of much wetland wildlife.

Video tour of the Pillboxes I photographed for my final images.

Monday, 11 November 2013

OBJECT: Arguments For and Against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

There are arguments both for and against euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Some of the main arguments are outlined below

Arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide
There are two main types of argument used to support the practices of euthanasia and assisted suicide. They are the:
   ethical argument – that people should have freedom of choice, including the right to control their own body and life (as long as they do not abuse any other person’s rights), and that the state should not create laws that prevent people being able to choose when and how they die
   pragmatic argument – that euthanasia, particularly passive euthanasia, is already a widespread practice (allegedly), just not one that people are willing to admit to, so it is better to regulate euthanasia properly
The pragmatic argument is discussed in more detail below.

Pragmatic argument
The pragmatic argument states that many of the practices used in end of life care are a type of euthanasia in all but name.
For example, there is the practice of making a ‘do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation' (DNACPR) order, where a person requests not to receive treatment if their heart stops beating or they stop breathing.
Critics have argued that DNACPR is a type of passive euthanasia because a person is denied treatment that could potentially save their life.
Another controversial practice is known as palliative sedation. This is where a person who is experiencing extreme suffering, for which there is no effective treatment, is put to sleep using sedative medication. For example, palliative sedation is often used to treat burns victims who are expected to die.
While palliative sedation is not directly carried out for the purpose of ending lives, many of the sedatives used carry a risk of shortening a person’s lifespan. Therefore, it could be argued that palliative sedation is a type of active euthanasia.
The pragmatic argument is that if euthanasia in these forms is being carried out anyway, society might as well legalise it and ensure that it is properly regulated.
It should be stressed that the above interpretations of DNACPR and palliative sedation are very controversial and are not accepted by most doctors, nurses and palliative care specialists.
Read more about the alternatives to euthanasia for responses to these interpretations.

Arguments against euthanasia and assisted suicide
There are four main types of argument used by people who are against euthanasia and assisted suicide. They are known as the:
   religious argument – that these practices can never be justified for religious reasons, for example many people believe that only God has the right to end a human life
   ‘slippery slope’ argument – this is based on the concern that legalising euthanasia could lead to significant unintended changes in our healthcare system and society at large that we would later come to regret
   medical ethics argument – that asking doctors, nurses or any other healthcare professional to carry out euthanasia or assist in a suicide would be a violation of fundamental medical ethics
   alternative argument – that there is no reason for a person to suffer either mentally or physically because effective end of life treatments are available; therefore, euthanasia is not a valid treatment option but represents a failure on the part of the doctor involved in a person’s care

Religious argument
The most common religious argument is that human beings are the sacred creation of God, so human life is by extension sacred.
Only God should choose when a human life ends, so committing an act of euthanasia or assisting in suicide is acting against the will of God and is sinful.
This belief, or variations on it, is shared by members of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.
The issue is more complex in Hinduism and Buddhism. Scholars from both faiths have argued that euthanasia and assisted suicides are ethically acceptable acts in some circumstances, but these views do not have universal support among Hindus and Buddhists.

‘Slippery slope’ argument
The slippery slope argument is based on the idea that once a healthcare service, and by extension the government, starts killing its own citizens, a line is crossed that should never have been crossed and a dangerous precedent has been set.
The concern is that a society that allows voluntary euthanasia will gradually change its attitudes to include non-voluntary and then involuntary euthanasia.
Also, legalised voluntary euthanasia could eventually lead to a wide range of unforeseen consequences, such as those described below.
   Very ill people who need constant care or people with severe disabilities may feel pressured to request euthanasia so that they are not a burden to their family.
   Legalising euthanasia may discourage research into palliative treatments, and possibly prevent cures for people with terminal illnesses being found.
   Occasionally, doctors may be mistaken about a person’s diagnosis and outlook, and the person may choose euthanasia due to being wrongly told that they have a terminal condition.
Medical ethics argument
The medical ethics argument, which is similar to the ‘slippery slope’ argument, states that legalising euthanasia would violate one of the most important medical ethics, which, in the words of the International Code of Medical Ethics, is: ‘A doctor must always bear in mind the obligation of preserving human life from conception’.
Asking doctors to abandon their obligation to preserve human life could damage the doctor–patient relationship. Causing death on a regular basis could become a routine administrative task for doctors, leading to a lack of compassion when dealing with elderly, disabled or terminally ill people.
In turn, people with complex health needs or severe disabilities could become distrustful of their doctor’s efforts and intentions. They may think that their doctor would rather ‘kill them off’ than take responsibility for a complex and demanding case.

Alternative argument
The alternative argument is that advances in palliative care and mental health treatment mean there is no reason why any person should ever feel that they are suffering intolerably, whether it is physical or mental suffering or both.

According to this argument, if a person is given the right care, in the right environment, there should be no reason why they are unable to have a dignified and painless natural death.