/21 Crime

Daniel Terna

Show of Force

I made these pictures in 2008, at a time when I was thinking of the oppressive presence of police and while daily conversations focused on the threat of terrorism. New York City was still very much in a 9/11 state-of-mind, and the bloodshed caused by the War in Iraq was permeating every facet of our lives. Despite our reputation for being tough New Yorkers, it was startling to see National Guard troops on street corners, bomb-sniffing dogs in the subway, and columns of police vehicles hurtling down Broadway, disappearing just as suddenly as they appeared.

Despite my unease, I wanted to get closer to those in uniform, to see the people behind the fierce facade. Eventually I was given carte blanche to photograph a police headquarters in upstate NY. It was there that I experienced the banality of office-life in a police station: moments of boredom for those relegated to desk detail, punctuated by radio-chatter. The resulting photographs, which show the police caught during moments of boredom, training, or simply posing for a picture, reflect the human side to what wasn’t visible to me when I walked by them on the street. Even when I visited a shooting range or the Crime and Punishment museum in Washington DC, I ended up creating images that evoked a peacefulness despite the gory subjects. When I began this “Show of Force” project, I was anxious about the police and places reminiscent of their presence, yet inevitably I found a layer of tranquility below the surface.

Our country was in a different climate in 2008: the global economic crisis was only just beginning, Obama wasn’t yet elected, it would be another five years before Edward Snowden leaked classified information, and the iPhone was less than a year old. As I revisit these pictures today with the idea of “crime” in mind, I can’t help but notice how the topic of discussion has shifted from preventing acts of terrorism to seeking justice for people, particularly people of color, that are the victims of police brutality. And while gun control has always been a hot topic in this country, the issue seems more pertinent than ever, given the recent racially-motivated rampage in Charleston, NC. In the time since I first made these pictures, my attitude toward the police has shifted from one of fearful curiosity to assertive confrontation, peppered with a bit of restrained anger. As a photographer and citizen today, I have a greater sense of my responsibilities in this world and a finer feel for this landscape laid out before me.

Daniel Terna, August, 2015