“A Conversation with Redaction”: Edmund Clark and Crofton Black Explore Physical Traces of Rendition


On Thursday, June 9, the World Policy Institute hosted our 2015 Emergency Fund Grantee Edmund Clark and his co-author Crofton Black for a conversation moderated by Jonathan Cristol, a World Policy Institute Fellow. The authors engaged in a round-table discussion with human rights researchers and photographers about their newly released book, Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition, which we co-published with Aperture Foundation this spring.

The book explores the undocumented incarceration and transportation of suspects in the U.S. war on terror, also known as extraordinary rendition. It engages readers with a mixture of revelatory documents and compelling photographs that blend documentary practice and forensics.

To a small roundtable audience from across the non-profit, policy, and international relations sectors, the authors explained their different approaches to investigating rendition. While Black, as a researcher, combed through declassified, often heavily redacted documents that provided clues about the story of rendition, Black, a photographer, traveled to the inconspicuous and often banal-looking places, including warehouses and hotel rooms, where suspects were allegedly detained.

Clark and Black said they often found themselves “in a conversation with redaction.” Black reflected on the sense of mystery around each declassified document that had much of its text blacked out. In a way, he said, “what is not there is sometimes more provoking than what is.”

Clark said he felt something similar when documenting the secret spaces of incarceration with his camera. He recalled engaging with “the façade, and what we cannot see behind it.” Because of the classified and redacted nature of its subject matter, Negative Publicity only tells part of the story of extraordinary rendition. It also poses many questions about what stories remain untold. “The imagination plays an important part in the work,” said Clark. “The black rectangles of redaction, for example, create a vacuum of information that needs to be filled.”

Clark and Black’s findings shed some light on the invisible processes of the state during the war on terror. However, their documents and photographs still leave much to the imagination. What remains behind the façade? What stories of extraordinary rendition have not yet been uncovered?

-Jeff C. Wheeler



From the World Policy Institute’s blog by Jakob Sergei Weitz

“A question raised by the book is if these ordinary people deserve any blame for the renditions. Without a doubt, Black says, they knew they were transporting prisoners. They may not have known the details of their capture and the fate that awaited them at these sites, but the managers, crews, and pilots were aware of their cargo. The book leaves this answer up to the viewer, presenting only documentation and still photographs.”

Simone Salvo