Funded! This project was successfully funded on September 29, 2011.

Update #38

'Prison Obscura' Exhibition Opens at Haverford College, PA, 24th January

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Graphic design for Prison Obscura by Ellen Gould.
Graphic design for Prison Obscura by Ellen Gould.

PRISON OBSCURA, 24TH JAN. - 7TH MAR.

It is with giddy, air-punching pride and mammoth-sized gratitude for those that helped me along the way that I announce the imminent opening of Prison Obscura.

This exhibition is my first solo-curating gig and reflects my thinking right now about images of and from American prisons. Prison Obscura includes works, approaches and genres that — after 5-years of looking at prison photographs — I consider most informative, responsible, challenging and useful.

Prison Obscura is on show at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery from January 24 through March 7. The CantorFitz built a remarkable Prison Obscura website to accompany the exhibition, at which you can find a lengthy 5,000-word essay as to why I have shied away from traditional documentary work and focused instead on surveillance, code, vernacular snaps, prisoner-made photographs and rarely-seen evidentiary images.

I posit that certain images can more accurately speak to political realities in America’s prison industrial complex. I also celebrate photographs that were made through processes of collaboration with prisoners and with intention to socially engage the subjects and educate audiences. I want you to wonder why you — a tax-paying, prison-funding citizen — rarely gets the chance to see inside prisons, and I want us to think about what roles existing pictures serve for those who live and work within the system.

PRISON OBSCURA ARTISTS

Alyse Emdur’s collected letters and prison visiting room portraits as well as Robert Gumpert’s recorded audio stories from within the San Francisco jail system provide an opportunity to see, read, and listen to subjects in the contexts of their incarceration.

Juvenile and adult prisoners in different workshops led by Steve Davis, Mark Strandquist, and Kristen S. Wilkins perform for the camera, reflect on their past, describe their memories, and self-represent through photographs.

Prison Obscura will also feature work made in partnership with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Men from Graterford Prison who are affiliated with both its own Restorative Justice Program and Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Group are collaborating to create a mural for the exhibition.

The exhibit moves between these intimate portrayals of life within the prison system to more expansive views of legal and spatial surveillance in works like Josh Begley’s manipulated Google Maps’ API code and Paul Rucker’s animated videos, which offer a “celestial” view of the growth of the prison system.

Prison Obscura builds the case that Americans must come face to face with these images to grasp the proliferation of the U.S. prison system and to connect with those it confines.

EVENTS

I’ll be giving a curator’s talk in the gallery on Friday, January 24, 2014, 4:30-5:30pm, followed by the opening reception 5:30–7:30pm.

Additionally, poet C.D. Wright will be on campus for a Tri-College Mellon Creative Residency in conjunction with the exhibit, and on January 31, at 12 noon in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Wright and I will host a dialogue about Prison Obscura.

DETAILS

Prison Obscura is presented by Haverford College’s John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities with support from the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

Part of the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and located in Whitehead Campus Center, the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesdays until 8 p.m.

Haverford College is located at 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA, 19041.

SPREADING THE WORD

View and download press images here. For interviews or variant images contact me. Here’s a big postcard.

For more information, please contact myself or Matthew Callinan, associate director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and campus exhibitions, at (610) 896-1287 or mcallina@haverford.edu

Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery on Facebook (including installation) and Twitter. Haverford College on Twitter. Hurford Center for the Arts on Twitter.

Josh Begley Facility 492 From the series Prison Map.
Josh Begley Facility 492 From the series Prison Map.
Photographer unknown: Untitled, Green Hill School, Chehalis, WA. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Davis.
Photographer unknown: Untitled, Green Hill School, Chehalis, WA. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Davis.
Alyse Emdur. Anonymous Backdrop Painted in Woodbourne Correctional Facility, New York. From the series ‘Prison Landcapes’ (2005- 2011)
Alyse Emdur. Anonymous Backdrop Painted in Woodbourne Correctional Facility, New York. From the series ‘Prison Landcapes’ (2005- 2011)
Mark Strandquist. Pocahontas State Park, Picture of the Dam. One Hundred and Thirty Days (top); text describing the scene written by a Virginia prisoner (bottom). From the series 'Some Other Places We’ve Missed' Mark Strandquist. Pocahontas State Park, Pi
Mark Strandquist. Pocahontas State Park, Picture of the Dam. One Hundred and Thirty Days (top); text describing the scene written by a Virginia prisoner (bottom). From the series 'Some Other Places We’ve Missed' Mark Strandquist. Pocahontas State Park, Pi
Robert Gumpert. Tameika Smith, 9 July 2012, San Francisco, CA. From the series ‘Take A Picture, Tell A Story.’
Robert Gumpert. Tameika Smith, 9 July 2012, San Francisco, CA. From the series ‘Take A Picture, Tell A Story.’
Kristen S. Wilkins. Supplication #17 (diptych). “It might be hard to find, but it’s called Trapper Peak near the Bitterroot Valley.” From the series ‘Supplication.’
Kristen S. Wilkins. Supplication #17 (diptych). “It might be hard to find, but it’s called Trapper Peak near the Bitterroot Valley.” From the series ‘Supplication.’
Suicide watch cell, Building 6A, Facility D, Wasco State Prison, California (August 1st, 2008). This photograph document was submitted as evidence in the Brown vs. Plata class action lawsuit (Supreme Court of the United States, May 2011). Photo: Anonym
Suicide watch cell, Building 6A, Facility D, Wasco State Prison, California (August 1st, 2008). This photograph document was submitted as evidence in the Brown vs. Plata class action lawsuit (Supreme Court of the United States, May 2011). Photo: Anonym
Photographer Unknown. Group holding cages, C-Yard, Building 13, Administrative Segregation Unit, Mule Creek State Prison, August 1st, 2008. Used by law firms representing imprisoned plaintiffs in class action lawsuit against the State of California in the
Photographer Unknown. Group holding cages, C-Yard, Building 13, Administrative Segregation Unit, Mule Creek State Prison, August 1st, 2008. Used by law firms representing imprisoned plaintiffs in class action lawsuit against the State of California in the
Graphic design for 'Prison Obscura' by Ellen Gould
Graphic design for 'Prison Obscura' by Ellen Gould

Update #37

‘Cruel and Unusual’ Goes To Australia and Ireland

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14/38 (Not The Man I Once Was) © Amy Elkins, from the series Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night

Cruel and Unusual, the 2012 exhibition of photographs from prisons, originally commissioned and debuted at Noorderlicht in the Netherlands is on the move.

It was on show in Sydney, Australia at the Reportage Photography Festival, May 24th – June 13th.

The Photoville/UPI folks selected Cruel and Unusual as one of three container shows to go to Reportage. Russell Frederick’s Dying Breed: Photos of Bedford Stuyvesant and Bruce Gilden/Magnum Foundation’s No Place Like Home: Foreclosures in America made up the trio.

As one presentation ends, another begins. Cruel and Unusual is on view at the Sirius Art Center in Cobh, Ireland, June 13th – July 22nd.

Co-curator Hester Keijser talks at the reception on June 22nd at 2pm.

I’m really happy to see the exhibition live on, and grateful to those who are making it happen. Special thanks to Peg Amison at Sirius Arts Center, to Sam Barzilay at Photoville, Olaf and the team at Noorderlicht for their ongoing support.

[Originally posted here.]


Update #36

Announcing The Prison Photography Photobook

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2013 will bring with it many new things and revelations. Among them: proof that the Mayans were full of crap and also, the Prison Photography photobook.

The book, with the working title American Prisons: Photography In The Era of Mass Incarceration, brings together in 120 pages the research I conducted during Prison Photography On The Road.

This week, Kevin Messina, founder of non-profit publishing house Silas Finch, and I laid out the format, the target-audience and the goals for the book. Silas Finch has published the work of Daniel D’Ottavio and Simon Hoegsberg. Raymond Meeks collaborated with Silas Finch to produce the Orchard series – three books of the work of Deborah Luster, Wes Mills and Mark Steinmetz. It is expected that the prison photography book will be – in terms of edition size – Silas Finch’s largest project to date.

In addition to the standard version (priced reasonably to secure as wide a readership as possible and stay true to the spirit of PPOTR), we’re producing a limited edition run of 100 books. Furthermore, plans are afoot for an App/digital version, which will include more images, audio of photographer interviews and potentially content from beyond American shores.

Portland based book maker and friend Rory Sparks (head honcho at EmSpace) is consulting on printing and design.

The planned publish date is September 2013. It’s going to be a busy year bringing together the work of 40+ photographers and penning words to do their work justice. My task is to frame four decades of American prison photography within a thesis that remains powerfully committed to social justice and accessible for all readers.

Part activism and part journalism, we intend the book to be a beautiful object. The images will dictate the mood and the narrative. Images are the main focus; they are the hook. My words will follow in an essay giving the 80+ pages of photography a context. Although it’s a historical survey we want to avoid producing something akin to an exhibition catalogue. It’ll be a fine balance, but if we achieve make it then we might just create a photobook that’s compelling and unique. It may even chart new territories.

Now, to work.

Below: Photo of San Quentin State Prison, found in a thrift store. Photographer unknown.

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Update #35

Musics, Arts, Prints, Stickers, Cards & Newspapers In Your Mailboxes

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Backers! Happiness to you as we approach the long dark days of winter. No longer sheepish, I can say out loud that the remainder of the PPOTR incentives have been shipped. I've even had reports back from some of you that they are in your hands, eyeballs and CD players.

Backer, Wayne Bremser asked if there was a track listing. The answer is yes:

  • Lette Mbulu - Kube
  • Jean Wells - Have a Little Mercy
  • Fabulous Denos - Bad Girl
  • Betty James - I'm Not Mixed Up Anymore
  • Johnny Watson - I Say, I Love You
  • Lee Shot Williams - You're Welcome to the Club
  • Apagya Show Band - Kwaku Ananse
  • The Aliens - We're Laughing
  • Horace Andy - Skylarking
  • Jennifer Lara - Consider Me
  • Angela Prince - No Bother With No Fuss
  • Burning Spear - Fire Down Below
  • John Holt - Strange Things
  • Charlotte Dada - Don't Let Me Down
  • Rosemary - Not Much (Do You Baby)
  • Albert King - Had You Told It Like It Was (I Wouldn't Be Like It Is)
  • Johnny Knight - Little Ann
  • Freddy King - Now I've Got A Woman
  • Sinner Strong - Don't Knock It
  • Little Willie John - I'm Shakin'
  • Sam & Bill - I Feel Like Cryin'
  • Marion Black - Who Knows
  • Ken Boothe & Stranger Cole - Arte Bella
  • Freddie McGregor - Bobby Bobylon
  • Jerry Jones - There's a Chance for Me
  • Mahmoud Ahmed - Gizié Dègu Nègèr
  • Oscar Sulley & The Uhuru Dance Band - Bukom Mashie

I also wanted to share this brilliance with the world, so posted it to the blog with Youtube vids, too. I can take no credit for the brilliance; the PPOTR Soul mixtape was a pressie from Brendan Seibel before I left on the odyssey. And I played it endlessly. I hope you enjoy it too.

Those of you who are waiting on the book ... BIG news on it's way. Can you handle the tension? Probably, yeah.

Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and all the other greetings appropriate this time of year.


Update #34

We Got A Publisher! (And Other News)

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WE GOT A PUBLISHER!

We have a publisher for the PPOTR book! Still have to sign on the dotted line (don't grumble that I'm jumping the gun) but it is a formality. The publisher, who I could, but don't want to name, just yet, is flying out to Portland in a couple of weeks to sit down, meet, greet and eat. We have been familiar with each others work for some time. As with most photo and art book publishers, they are modest in size, big in realism, and supportive of unique project such as Prison Photography on the Road. More to come.

This is especially exciting news for those of you who pre-ordered the book. But good news for everyone. It means we can go full tilt on the design AND press more copies than in a non-editioned copies for general sale.

HOLIDAY

I've just got back from a couple of weeks in Europe. It was my parents' 40th wedding anniversary so we had the first Brook family holiday in 20 years. Bordeaux was the location. Here's a photo of my nephew, a budding 3-yr-old photographer, in the local vineyard.

INCENTIVES

The trip to Europe afforded me a the opportunity to pick up 200 newspapers from the UK. The baggage handlers didn't know what they were dealing with!

The newspapers will go out to you all just as soon as I get off this mountain.

So, I'll be off the grid for a week, but when I get back ... I also have the rest of the incentives printed, organised and ready to go.

PPOTR GETS A SHOUT OUT IN THE SUNDAY TIMES, UK

PPOTR got a nice mention by Jonathan Shaw in a recent Sunday Times (UK) photography supplement article about how the internet allows new forms of distribution and engagement:

[New] mutual relationships have also seen other positive benefits perhaps not deemed commercially viable or to have a mass appeal, can now be made, brought into the public domain and given the opportunity to shine. Crowd-funding platforms, such as Kickstarter, provide an opportunity to back creative projects and in return receive an award for support.

Pete Brook, editor of Prison Photography, and writer for Raw File, Wired’s photography blog, put forward a persuasive proposition in Prison Photography On the Road.

“I wanted to involve the community at every level I could,” he says. “Dozens of photographers, including Vic Blue, donated prints to raise money. Crowd funding is community funding; it involves the community. Together we tackled the hard issue of prisons in an engaging, novel way … and now it is out there for the world.”

The full article, Hurricane Sweeps Away Landscape, can be read here and the whole supplement can be found as a pdf here.

PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY COLLABORATION WITH VII PHOTO

I'll be featuring four exclusive interviews with VII photographers, Jessica Dimmock, Ed Kashi, Ashley Gilbertson and Ron Haviv to be rolled out weekly beginning the 20th Sept. As part of VII Photo's in partnership with Think Outside the Cell they have produced a photo and video media campaign about the challenges of reentry into society and the stigma of incarceration.

THANK TO YOU ALL!

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    POSTCARD FROM THE ROAD, sourced from one of the many prison museums in the U.S. Listed as an official supporter of the project on website and in book acknowledgements.

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    MIXTAPE (CD) of the tracks that keep me sane over the 8,000 miles. PLUS, postcard and listed as an official supporter of the project on website and in book acknowledgements. Plus, postcard from the road.

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