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Power in small spaces

Photographer Richard Ross shows how architecture can be used to exert control.

Richard Ross begins Architecture of Authority gently enough with the photograph of a taped circle on the floor where children gather for "circle time" at a Montessori school. But already it is clear that an order is being given. The photos progress into the further reaches of our daily lives from a Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room to a bank to a movie executive's office. By the time Ross has brought us through prisons, interrogation rooms in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and the lethal injection room in Angola State Penitentiary, the friendly Montessori circle seems more controlling.

Devoid of people these images still tell a very human story of how constructed spaces define our relationship to authority. From benign socialization to calculated intimidation, the intent is clear. Ross's photographs are eloquent. And they transcend borders, proving that reinforcing power through architecture is a global language.

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His access to so many of these otherwise secret spaces suggests his intentions were trusted. Some places, such as the inside of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, are being seen by average viewers for the first time. The result is a collection of images that cannot be dismissed and should certainly be discussed in larger circles with the powers that control them.

Joanne Ciccarello is a Monitor photo editor.