Houses of Power - Essay 

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Houses of Power explores themes of international relations between foreign powers, global security and territorial ownership by photographing diplomatic missions in cities around the world. It investigates the symbolism of the diplomatic mission within a host country and how that guest country wishes to be perceived. Diplomatic missions take on varying titles and degrees of importance always defined by historical, political, geographical and social ties between countries.

An extensive range of these missions will be photographed, from a 3 room nondescript office like the Consulate General of Palau in Heiloo, Netherlands to the architecturally imposing Chinese embassy which was recently completed in Washington D.C. The Chinese Embassy signifies the imperial ambitions of China in the global political to position itself as a rival superpower to the United States while the diminutive Consulate General of Palau represents much more modest diplomatic between itself and the Netherlands.

The tiny nation of Nauru, an 8.5 square mile rock in the Pacific relies heavily on foreign aid. It has small consulates and embassies in donor nations Australia, the United States, China, India and nearby Fiji. Almost devoid of resources it is able to maintain ties because of it’s strategic positioning in the Pacific and control of valuable fishing waters. For these reasons there is a grappling for influence in the region by other powerful nations. Documenting the modest embassy of Nauru in New Delhi comments on ambitions of building strong ties with India potentially to create a bargaining chip with China for future aid to bolster it’s failing economy.

The Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia is seen as Australia’s most important foreign post given the close proximity of the two countries. The large physical scale of the embassy represents how Australia wishes to be viewed by it’s neighbor while the high level of security around the embassy comments on fears of an attack by the armed forces, local population or terrorist group.  The US embassy in Iraq is the largest diplomatic mission in the world, spread out over a 104 acre compound bigger than the Vatican. The embassy's fortress-like design, immense size and isolation from events taking place on the streets outside the green zone in Baghdad could be seen to contradict the role of embassies, traditionally a conduit for engagement with local communities where they are constructed. US declarations to hand all power to the Iraqi people are undermined by the monstrous presence of the embassy and question the foreign policy goals the US envision for the broader Middle East region.

Documenting both these highly protected embassies with armed guards, road blocks and barbed wire comments on the state of global security and the power that terrorist groups now yield, metamorphised as fear. The photographer’s role as social commentator is raised with material produced potentially perceived as a threat to a nation’s security leading to possible censoring of images. People will occasionally be present within the images themselves and their existence signifies by products of diplomacy, their often diminutive presence dwarfed by the architectural forms of an embassy speaks of the status of individual within the nation state.

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Australia is a semi-permanent assemblage of tents clustered on the lawn of Old Parliament House in the nation's capital. It represents the political demands of Australian Aboriginal people and was created in 1972 as a response to the government's refusal to recognize Aboriginal land rights at the time. It is not recognized as having official diplomatic status as defined by the Vienna Convention and is defined as a Representative Office. It’s inclusion comments on international laws and alliances between nations in determining the sovereignty of a country and their citizens.

Abkhazia, a state in South Caucasus is seeking independence from Georgia and despite a declaration of independence in 1999 has only been recognised internationally by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. Russia’s decision to back Abkhazia are a rebuff to US support of Georgia who broke away from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nicaragua’s recognition of Abkhazia and resultant Representative Office in Sukhum, Abkhazia’s capital is deeply symbolic and can be linked to the Nicaraguan President’s close ties to the ex-Soviet Union and potential strategic relations and support from Russia for the Central American nation.

By documenting these diplomatic missions Houses of Power shows how nations exert their foreign policy ambitions within an architectural context. As the project progresses an archival catalogue will be constructed with the intention that the viewer can compare dozens of diplomatic missions alongside each other and better understand the intricacies of international relations symbolized by one building that projects a nation’s identity on a global level.

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