In 1996, the US Department of Defense released declassified excerpts of The Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. This was the standard textbook for students at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA): an American military training academy set up in Panama in 1946, which trained Latin American soldiers. More than 60,000 soldiers have been trained at the establishment, and eleven dictators have attended its courses—among them, some of the region’s most notorious human rights abusers, such as death-squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, Leopoldo Galtieri, Efraín Ríos Montt as well as strongman Manuel Noriega, Domingo Monterrosa, Colonel Julio Alpirez, and General Luis Alonso Discua, who commanded an army death squad known as Battalion 3-16. Despite this shocking list of human rights abusing alumni, US army officials identify these men as “a few bad apples.”
In direct response to this, Selley has created a series of collages, using images of two early to mid-twentieth- century American geographers—Isaiah Bowman and Eugene Vernon Harris—housed at the University of Milwaukee Photography Archive. These photographs were used to chart, map, and document Latin America on behalf of the American Geographical Society and the US Foreign Service. In Human Exploitation, Selley edits these images and places them within extracts of the manual. In this way, the artist creates nuances that record the implementation of power and, by altering their surfaces and deconstructing the linear narrative history, he imbues them with new meaning. This creates a feeling of suspicion and mystery where people are removed from the pictures, and attention is drawn to banal objects that become menacing. When these collages are sequenced, they generate a dark, poem- like narrative that reminds us that things aren’t always as they seem, while attempting to convey both the reality and threat of the militarization of the young soldiers.
The sound piece contained within this folder is an amalgamation of
songs known to be currently or historically used by the US Military for
interrogation purposes. The Human Exploitation manual talks
extensively about the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners and
interrogatees. The manual advocates the use of sensory control –
whether a deprivation of the senses, or an overload of unwanted
sensory stimulus. This can include blocking out all natural light, constant
changing of clocks, drastic variation in the times that meals are served,
or the constant playing of extremely loud music. The idea behind such
techniques is to prevent any form of routine developing in the prisoner,
with the aim of ultimately inducing “psychological regression”: a loss of
autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioural level.
The US military has been known to use many songs in this way – from
aggressive heavy metal bands such as Metallica to children’s popular TV
show theme tunes such as Sesame Street and Barney the Dinosaur. I
have taken a selection of these songs, corrupted the files in an editing
software – a process which to some extent is out of my control and is
relatively random – after which I have channelled them through an
analogue synthesiser and re-composed the sound into its current form.
The idea of twisting, corrupting and re-composing these files can be
associated with a damaged and twisted memory that we need to
re-assemble, working with what remains. The sound becomes
swamped, the violence hidden within the status of the songs selected,
each corrupted sound wave merges and competes with the other – a
sinister representation of the sound of state violence and torture.
George Selley is a London-based photographer, filmmaker, and researcher. He is a recent graduate of an MA in Photojournalism & Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication. Selley currently teaches photography at Fine Arts College in Camden and his work has been published in Dazed, PHMuseum, Wallpaper, Huck, The British Journal of Photography, Artpress, and Fisheye Magazine, among other notable publications. In 2017, Selley was one of the first photographers to receive the Paris Photo Carte Blanche Student Award. His work has been exhibited globally in places like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Ukraine, Portugal, Israel, Hungary, the Netherlands, the US, and the UK. In 2015, his documentary Study Drugs was selected and screened at the American Public Health Association Film Festival in Chicago. The artist is co-founder of the Carte Blanche Collective.