A Travel Blog for the Diefenbunker: Canada's Cold War Museum
Photographs of Abandoned Nuclear Missile Bases
By Brett Leigh Dicks
Diefenbunker: Canada's Cold War Museum
August 3 – September 9, 2018
For forty-five years, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics flexed their political and military might during a cultural clash of ideologies.
Fuelled by the differences in their economic, social and political ideologies, the two superpowers became antagonists and slid into a Cold War where the battle to gain military supremacy resulted in a nuclear arms race. Adopting a philosophy of Mutual Assured Destruction, the two adversaries stockpiled nuclear weapons to the point where their respective arsenals had the capacity to obliterate the other many times over.
When the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the end of the Cold War, the holdings of American and Russian nuclear armaments were significantly reduced with many of the supporting facilities being closed and abandoned. All that now remains of the Cold War legacy are decaying reminders of the nuclear-charged faceoff by two opposing forces heading towards an unthinkable end.
For the past 15 years, California-based Australian photographer, Brett Leigh Dicks has been documenting that legacy. His photographs depicting the abandoned nuclear missile facilities scattered across both the Western United States of America and Eastern European comprise the exhibition Opposing Forces which will be exhibited at the Diefenbunker Museum’s Vault, 75 feet underground from August 2 until September 9.
Photographs of Decommissioned Australian Prisons
By Brett Leigh Dicks
Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara
May 18 – July 12, 2018
Empty prisons are eerie places where the walls do speak. Etched into the stone is the passing of successive generations of inmates all with their own stories. Each prison has its own history, character, and tales to tell and so too does every cell. But old prisons are not just a reminder of the past - they also help guide the future.
INSIDE: Photographs of Australian Decommissioned Prisons by Brett Leigh Dicks is an exhibition at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara of compelling, black and white images documenting Australian prison facilities that have surpassed their use-by dates.
Across the past thirty years Brett has photographed various natural and urban landscapes etched with traces of human history. For the past five years he has turned his photographic scrutiny upon closed-down jails, prisons and penitentiaries throughout Australia, Europe and United States returning last year to his homeland where he undertook the first comprehensive documentation of decommissioned Australian prisons and jails.
“I have been photographing abandoned prisons across the United States for the past decade,” Brett explained. “In 2016 that work was exhibited at Fremantle Prison where I asked about Australian prisons. Nobody had previously done a comprehensive study of old Australian prisons so last summer I set off with my camera and photographed closed –down facilities all across Australia.
“I was given access Parramatta Correctional Center where operations were suspended only a few years ago, traipsed around the infamous Port Arthur Historic Site in the midst of a bitter Tasmanian winter and even managed to talk my way into an old jail that’s now an outback police station.”
The exhibition includes both historic and contemporary Australian sites including Adelaide Gaol, Fremantle Prison, J Ward Ararat, Maitland Gaol, Old Melbourne Gaol, Parramatta Correctional Center, Port Arthur Historic Site, Trial Bay Gaol and the Wilcannia Police Station. The subject matter ranges from the empty quietness of once bustling cellblocks and common areas
to more abstract contemplations of the interaction between barred windows with the morning light and the poetic twisting of coils of barbed wire.
While Port Arthur closed in 1877, Parramatta Correctional Center housed prisoners until 2011. Brett said photographing the two locations offered two very contrasting experiences.
“There were still books and televisions and personal items in the cells at Parramatta - the ins and out of prison life remained very apparent whereas Port Arthur featured the haunting remnants of rustic metal and stone,” he observed. “The prisoner experience was obviously very different at each of those locations and so too were the resulting photographs.
As for the role photography can play in the afterlife of prisons, Brett said that every society’s approach to punishment and incarceration should be something that is constantly being reassessed.
“As society changes so too does its values,” he said. “Prisons used to be a place of punishment and repentance, but in the lifespan of some of these prisons they were transformed into places of reform and rehabilitation. Justice and the form it takes should be an ongoing conversation in every community and I think there is a place for photography to illuminate that.