A Unabomber's Home Is His Cabin

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The Independent Culture
IT IS ONLY a cabin measuring 14ft by 13, hardly a thing of beauty. Yet photographer Richard Barnes worked awfully hard to take this picture of it. He had to negotiate with government prosecutors for access to it; he had to sign a waiver promising not to look inside it; he also had to agree never to be alone with it. For the entire two-day shoot, he had minders watching his every move.

But to Barnes it was worth the trouble. His photographic speciality is archaeological evidence and he has worked on digs in Egypt. What interests him is how cultures come to "define themselves through objects". This cabin, he says, "is an artefact of our time".

For three decades it was home to Theodore Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, who last January pleaded guilty to a campaign of violence that between 1978 and 1995 left three people dead and 23 injured. Hidden deep in the Montana mountains and within these four almost windowless walls, Kaczynski wrote his anti-technology manifesto and packaged bombs to post to his victims.

Now the cabin is marooned inside a Sacramento warehouse used by the US government for safe storage of evidence in important court cases. Prosecutors in the Kaczynski trial had it hauled 1,100 miles from the Rocky Mountains because they wanted jurors to see it for themselves. That proved unnecessary, because of Kaczynski's early guilty plea. Now no one knows what to do with it.

Barnes deliberately framed the cabin in isolation, apart from the other debris in the warehouse, which included a tourist bus used for drug-running and remnants of crashed planes. "I thought the cabin was so banal and I wanted the warehouse as banal as possible also," he explains. And he was taken by the notion of "a volume within a volume, a building within a building".

What is gripping is the disjunction between the banality of the cabin and the evil that came from within it. "This is an artefact that is so simple and so uninteresting in reality and yet has come to mean so much," says Barnes. "It has been fetishised and elevated to cult status. That's what attracted me."