Category Archives: police

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis: From criminal to artistic investigation

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis, by photographer Arwed Messmer.

On amazon US and UK.

Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: Numerous accounts of the RAF and the German Autumn in 1977 have been chronicled over the past forty years, from journalistic, historical, literary, cinematic, and artistic perspectives. Arwed Messmer begins with the various photographs made by police photographers at the time—pictures of demonstrators, crime scene images, and mug shots. He poses the question of how this past search for criminological evidence can be employed artistically. His narrative strikes an arc from the beginnings of the movement to the multiple eruptions of violence in 1977, the abduction and murder of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, and the suicides of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe in Stammheim Prison. Messmer’s work therefore also has an ethical dimension: which photographs can be shown, how can they be shown, and why do we want to see them? This investigation touches a key point in the debate on images that are on the one hand historical documents, and on the other hand embodiments of their own aesthetic with powerful potential for an empathetic examination of history.


Arwed Messmer, Stammheim #12 1977/2016 Zelle 720 (Ensslin). Using a negative from the State Archives of Ludwigsburg


Andreas Baader am Rathaus Berlin-Schönberg/Martin-Luther Str., 9. August 1967. © Arwed Messmer using a negative of the Berlin Police Historical Collection

The “Deutscher Herbst” (German Autumn) has just turned 40. During forty-four days in the autumn of 1977 Germany was gripped in a terrorist crisis.

It began on 5 September 1977, when the Red Army Faction kidnapped Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the President of the Federation of German Industries. With his Nazi background and powerful position in the economy, Schleyer represented everything the kidnappers abhorred. They offered to free him in exchange for the release of 11 leaders of its group who were then incarcerated in specially constructed super-prison at Stammheim, near Stuttgart.

The German government refused and for the 44 days of Schleyer’s captivity, the country lived in a state of emergency.

On 13 October, Palestinian terrorists, who supported the activities of the RAF, hijacked a Lufthansa plane with 87 people on board. They wanted the release of the RAF prisoners too. Five days later, a special task force stormed the plane and freed the passengers. One hearing the news, the RAF prisoners in Stuttgart-Stammheim committed suicide. One day later, the body of Schleyer was found in the trunk of a car. Even today, it is not known who shot him. Nor if the deaths in the prison cells were indeed suicides or, as some claimed, extrajudicial killings undertaken by the German government.


RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer


RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

The RAF group would only officially dissolve in 1998 but its origins can be traced back to the student protest movement in West Germany in the late 1960s when many young people felt alienated from older generations because of the legacy of Nazism and a suspicion of authoritarian structures in society.


Arwed Messmer, Home Office # 07 1977/2016 Interior Cell 716 (Raspe) (Detail.) © Arwed Messmer using a negative of the State Archives-Ludwigsburg

Photo archaeologist and photographer Arwed Messmer spent several years in state archives looking for utilitarian and unstaged images taken by police photographers spanning the era between the peak of student protests in 1967 and the autumn of 1977. The photos were taken for surveillance or documentation purposes at rallies, crime scenes and reenactments.

Most of these images of Messmer’s RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis series have never been published before. He appropriated them for his own artistic purposes, believing that they call for ‘a second look’ that could potentially build up a new image of the era between the peak of student protests in 1967 and the autumn of 1977.

As we all know, the way a photo is read changes with the passing years. This holds particularly true when it comes to images linked to politics and ideologies. The images commissioned by the state were once part of criminal investigations and have now lost their primary function as evidence. Nevertheless, they can still offer new types of insight decades after the events.

The images below will illustrate the point:


Benno Ohnesorg, 1967. Photo via


Arwed Messmer, Benno Ohnesorg, 1967/2017. Taken by a police photographer using a negative from the Berlin Police Historical Collection

On 2 June 1967, Benno Ohnesorg, a German university student, was killed by a policeman in West Berlin while he was protesting the state visit of the Shah of Iran. The photos of the dying 26-year-old belongs to Germany’s collective memory. The iconic press photograph, taken at the scene, shows a distressed young woman cradling the head of the dying man lying on the asphalt.

Ohnesorg’s death triggered student protests across West Germany and helped fuel sympathies for the RAF.

Messmer uncovered a photo of the same scene but taken from another perspective by a police officer. Instead of the intimate last moments in the arms of a young woman, you can see that the poor man died in front of the flashes of press cameras.

The press photographer and the newspaper editors chose an image that would trigger emotion in the viewer, a photo that sums up the event and the suffering. The police photo demonstrates how the visual representation of the crime was constructed. But what the police image also shows is that journalists had to be included in the pictures. They were suspects too, they were potential sympathizers of the protests.


RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

To be honest, i wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as i did. My enthusiasm for the book comes from historical curiosity (I knew fairly little about the RAF so i had to catch up on far left protests of the 1960s and 70s) and from a genuine interest in discovering more about how, at the time, the police worked and distrusted. But i think what moved me the most was to realize how little has changed, how terrorists and police alike can use, distort and exploit images to suit their own ends.

RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis combines 2 books: one containing all the photos and a booklet with the commented captions of the images as well as a series essays that explain the artistic, theoretical and historical contexts of the work.


RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer


RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer


RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer


RAF. No Evidence / Kein Beweis (inside the book.) Photo by Arwed Messmer

Unauthorized images: when absurd gag laws call for absurd (but witty) artworks

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Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

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Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

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Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

One of the benefits of being a citizen with a cheap camera phone is that it is possible to record abuses of power, disseminate them on social media and even see them used in court as evidence of police brutality. While reading the latest issue of the British Journal of Photography, i found about a project by artist Daniel Mayrit which comments on a “gag law” that was approved in Spain back in 2015. I didn’t know anything about the law but it is seriously restricting Spaniards’ rights of freedom of assembly and right to information.

The laws comprises several measures. One of them forbids citizens to photograph or film police officers, establishing penalties on “the unauthorized use of images or personal or professional information” about police officers “that could endanger their personal safety or that of their families, of protected facilities or endanger the success of a police operation.” Even journalists can be fined for tweeting the photo of police officers making an arrest. And in August 2015 a woman was fined 800 euros for posting on facebook the photo of a police patrol car illegally parked in a disabled parking space.

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Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

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Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

The law is ludicrously called Citizens Security Law. Artist Daniel Mayrit (famous for a photo series which presents the portraits of the most powerful people in the City of London as if they were delinquents caught up on CCTV cameras) decided to demonstrate the extent of the absurdity of the law. Since the police and other state security forces are authorized to distribute their own images of themselves through their social channels, and thus hold the monopoly on their own images, Mayrit submitted these photos to the censorship processes necessary to meet the parameters of the Gag Law.

This project challenges the effectiveness of the law by applying its own contents to images distributed by the police and other government agencies and institutions while exploring different visual strategies to dismantle the law’s objectives even under strict compliance with each and every one of its articles and postulates.

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Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

I was wondering what this religious-looking bust on the website of Mayrit’s project had to do with the work when i found an article explaining that Spain’s government had given the country’s top policing award to a statue of the Virgin Mary. I’m going to let that sink in….

Anyway, the artist told El Pais that because of the award, the Virgin Mary was now part of the police state. He was thus ‘forced’ to preserve her anonymity by pixelating her face.

Mayrit also created a parody account of the police Instagram:

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Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

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Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

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Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

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Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

Previously: Show Us the Money. Portrait of financial impunity.

Magazines to make you forget that we’ve just entered the Dark Age: The Funambulist, Neural and Gambiologos

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Police officers celebrating an evangelical cult leaded by the commander of the military police battalion of Belo Horizonte during the Youth & Police project. Photo by Susana Durão, via The Funambulist

Since we have now officially entered the Dark Age, i thought it would be good to remind ourselves that there are smart and socially-sane people who are quietly resisting the kind of ideas that are getting acceptable in Make American White/Orange Supremacist Again, on BrexitBeach and elsewhere in the ‘Western world.’

Some of these people publish magazines. I keep buying/downloading them. They look at the world with a critical eye and cover topics that range from the anthropocene to the militarization of cities, from hacktivism to finding value in precariousness, from inherently racist design to disobedience towards capitalistic models.

I’m going to say a few words about each of these publications and then i’ll go and hide in a cave in Wallonia with my trusty electric torch, read them and remember that there’s a world out there that refuses to give in to bigots, idiots and predominant dogmas.

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I’ll kick off with The Funambulist. Politics of Space and Bodies, a bimestrial magazine published by architect and editor Léopold Lambert. The publication invites experts in philosophy, history, anthropology, politics and other humanistic disciplines to bring a critical perspective on architecture, urbanism and design.

The 8th (already??!) issue of the magazine is dedicated to the police. Police violence and abuses, police role in society but also citizens’ attempts to resist the injustices the police are responsible for.

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Photo by Hamdi Abu Rahma, 2014, via The Funambulist

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A spread from Carceral Environments. Photo: The Funambulist

The Police issue is the one i’m focusing on today because that’s the one i’m reading at the moment. But previous issues have been focusing on State misogyny (Clothing Politics), the relationship between design and racism, health-related political struggles, etc. There’s also Carceral Environments which is the perfect companion for Police.

The Funambulist is available in both printed and digital formats. I prefer the paper one but i’m not the patient kind so i usually jump on the digital version so that i can nose around immediately.

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Neural 54. Image stolen from Underbelly

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Neural 53. Photo Neural

And then there’s Neural, the paper mag/blog that helps us navigate new media art, electronic music and hacktivism since 1993. It’s unremittingly brilliant. I think Alessandro Ludovico and his team have interests similar to mine (except music, i’m not into music AT ALL. Sound art, yes please but music: NO!) Yet, i keep discovering works, ideas and places each time i open it. And even when i already know them, Neural has a perspective on them that i wasn’t even suspecting existed.

Also there’s always a little surprise in the centerfold. Issue 54’s playmate is a bunny literally made of dust.

Here’s a lowdown of the content of the 53rd issue of the magazine. I have issue 54 in my lucky little hands. It goes from a visit to Medialabmx in Mexico to a report of Meta.Morf, an art&tech biennial in Tronheim. On page 8, there’s an interview with Garnet Hertz so that’s where i’m going to start reading.

Belo Horizonte_MG, 09 de junho de 2014 Making Off de montagem e coquetel de abertura da exposicao Gambiologia, A Gambiarra nos Tempos do Digital, que acontece no Oi Futuro a partir de 10 de junho. Foto: NIDIN SANCHES / Divulgacao
Gambiologia, A Gambiarra nos Tempos do Digital, exhibition view. Photo: NIDIN SANCHES / Divulgacao

Belo Horizonte_MG, 09 de junho de 2014 Making Off de montagem e coquetel de abertura da exposicao Gambiologia, A Gambiarra nos Tempos do Digital, que acontece no Oi Futuro a partir de 10 de junho. Foto: NIDIN SANCHES / Divulgacao
Gambiologia, A Gambiarra nos Tempos do Digital, exhibition view. Photo: NIDIN SANCHES / Divulgacao

I also want to point you to what the guys from Gambiologia have been doing since 2008. The artists from Gambiologia turns into science the practice of makeshifts, the art of resorting to astute improvisation in order to repair what doesn’t work and create what you need with what you have at your disposal.

They just released the Gambiólogos 2.0, it’s not a magazine but the catalogue of the exhibition of the same name.

I’m waiting from my paper copy to arrive from Belo Horizonte but in the meantime i’m reading the online edition of the catalogue. It’s on ISSUU (the english version is at the end of the mag.) As are Gambiologia’s previous publications. Obrigada!

Previously: The Funambulist magazine. Politics of Space and Bodies and Weaponized architecture. Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging, Facta – Gambiologia magazine #3. Hacker poetics, Magazines: Facta (the Gambiologia magazine), Neural and Aksioma brochures.

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton.

On amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Verso writes: Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. It’s a doctrine that has vastly broadened police power the world over—to deadly effect.

With contributions from #BlackLivesMatter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, Ferguson activist and Law Professor Justin Hansford, Director of New York–based Communities United for Police Reform Joo-Hyun Kang, poet Martín Espada, and journalist Anjali Kamat, as well as articles from leading scholars Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Robin D. G. Kelley, Naomi Murakawa, Vijay Prashad, and more, Policing the Planet describes ongoing struggles from New York to Baltimore to Los Angeles, London, San Juan, San Salvador, and beyond.

A SWAT robot, a remote-controlled small tank-like vehicle with a shield for officers, is demonstrated for the media in Sanford, Maine on Thursday, April 18, 2013. Howe & Howe Technologies, a Waterboro, Maine company, says their device keeps SWAT teams and other first responders safe in standoffs and while confronting armed suspects. Police now typically use hand-held shields when storming a building. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
A SWAT robot, a remote-controlled small tank-like vehicle with a shield for officers, is demonstrated for the media in Sanford, Maine on April 18, 2013. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty via Business Insider

The backdrop of Policing the Planet is the Ferguson protests, the Black Lives Matter movement and the way police around the world -but mostly in the U.S.– are killing civilians. However the book is less about premature loss of life by the hands of law enforcement and more about the way that some people, vulnerable because of their poverty and/or the colour of their skin, are monitored and marginalized throughout their entire life. It’s also about how police, prison and other forms of state violence are seen as the only way to deal with people who are homeless or suffering from mental illness or drug addiction.

In a nutshell, what the authors of the book want to challenge is routine policing, not just the ‘exceptional abuses’ of policing.

It seems that everything started with the best intentions back in the 1990s when the “community-minded” broken windows theory was adopted by the police. It was an easy and logical idea: nipping any form of anti social behaviour in the bud would naturally curb down urban disorder and vandalism in neighbourhoods.

Unfortunately, the broken windows policing often led to increased militarization of the police, school-to-prison pipeline, residential segregation, mass incarceration, mass surveillance and mass criminalization of the black working class, of Native Americans and more generally of poor people.

The authors of the book are social movement organizers, scholar-activists, journalists and artists. Together, they challenge the role and legitimacy of the police, reflect on alternatives to the most aggressive forms of policing and denounce the over-funding of the police force to the detriment of the social security net, job creation, rent control programs, basic public services like health care and transportation, etc.

Each of the essay or interview in the book explores a different case study: ‘anti-Indianism’ in New Mexico, influence of Israeli policing structures on the LAPD, New York city’s strategy to rely more on invasive policing than on mass incarceration, LA Skid Row as a testing ground for police practices that will be exported to the world, links between criminalization of poverty and real estate speculation, state violence and gentrification in El Salvador, etc.

Broken store windows remain as members of the Anne Arundel County Police guard the intersection of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Baltimore. Schools reopened across the city and tensions seemed to ease Wednesday after Baltimore made it through the first night of its curfew without the widespread violence many had feared. People in Baltimore have been angry over the police-custody death of Freddie Gray.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Broken store windows remain as members of the Anne Arundel County Police guard the intersection of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, on April 29, 2015, in Baltimore. Patrick Semansky—AP, via Time

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Advocacy groups are calling for a reduction in the use of police officers in schools. Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images, via The AP

Policing the Planet is a powerful book. I often found it hard to believe what i was reading. Surely people cannot face that much discrimination just because they are poor, black or Muslim? Surely, the police is here to protect us? But my incredulity can be explained by the fact that i’m white, living in a nice, quiet area of a mid-sized city and spending a lot of time with Harry Hole, D.I. John Rebus or Sergeant Logan McRae. Some of my friend back home are Arabs, Latinos or otherwise not very Belgian-looking and they often told me how they are routinely stopped, searched and threatened by the police under the most flimsy pretexts.

And don’t go thinking that Policing the Planet is ‘just’ about police in the U.S. because, as we all know, the American model often ends up being exported to other countries.

I’d recommend Policing the Planet to pretty much everyone. I learnt a lot from this book. Others (less naive and ignorant than i am), will appreciate the importance of exchanging these stories, experiences and lessons learnt.

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Police officers try to disperse a crowd Monday in Ferguson, Missouri. Via Business Insider

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson.   Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP
Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP, via the Tico Times


The Clash, Guns Of Brixton