sites of public execution

Since 2001, I have been researching, photographing and making short films about sites that had been used for public executions at different times in history. When I began this ongoing project, people were petitioning for Timothy McVeigh's execution to be televised, a modern form of a public arena. I was compelled to ask not why, but how is this still happening in America? What function does watching state sanctioned killing serve? What do societies that have abolished this form of perceived justice choose to show of their histories in public space? Are shifting values visible in the function of space? Can images reflect the power of society to impact policy change?

What I found was that some sites were quite venerated as places for public execution, such as St. Peter's Square in Rome, (named after St. Peter who was executed there) or the field in Salem, MA (now named Gallows Hill Park) where accused witches were hung. And some places are now well known for other reasons, such as the Louvre (in front of which the guillotine was installed during the French Revolution). The different ways in which the history of these places has been dealt with, some capitalizing on the executions, others concealing the execution history with other events that also occurred in these places, spoke more to me about present day morality and values in each country than the abolishment or continuation of capital punishment in those countries.

The photographs in this series are sepia-toned silver prints presented in French mats. This presentation is a reference to historical photographs and cataloguing of images made for documentation purposes. Each of the mats have calligraphic titles describing the dates and types of executions that occurred on that site, rather than the name and place pictured, as is customary.

A book with images and stories from this series was produced in conjunction with the solo exhibition "Watch This" at Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham, MA, Fall 2007. Second edition was published in 2010. New images have been produced in Mexico and the American South and West Coast. And now, beginning with the death of Saddam Hussein, the Internet has become a placeless site for many public executions, extending across borders and functioning internationally.

Lana Z Caplan 2014

Sites of Public Execution book available for purchase here.

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