FERGUSON, THE ZINE

David Butow is raising cash on Kickstarter to fund the printing of a zine of his images made in Ferguson over the past 3 months. The images have been made, the edit done and the sequencing finalised. I’ve seen a PDF of Ferguson and it is a zine that is taut and emotional. It is also quite different from other projects I’ve seen coming out of Ferguson. Many of the scenes framed by Butow have multiple vignettes playing out in them all at once. They’re considered and crafted images. It’s both a photographers’ photography project and a statement relevant to all. It works as art and as political marker. It is relevant to documentarians and also, I think, will stand up to the test of time. Butow travelled to Ferguson twice — once after Michael Brown’s death and once after the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson. As well as 34 photographs, Ferguson also includes raw interview transcripts used in the grand jury deliberations. One offers a nuanced view of the neighborhood where the shooting took place and of Michael Brown himself. “The work goes beyond the violence to offer an intimate and emotional portrait of the community’s reaction – from conflict to prayer – and puts the meaning of what occurred in Ferguson in historical context,” says Butow. 1

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FUNDRAISING, KICKSTARTING

Please consider backing this timely, no-nonsense, self-starting publication. Printed in California, using recycled paper and inks. 64 pages, 34 original B&W photographs. 8.5″ x 11″

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I was astounded when a press release (copied below) hit my inbox. Currently, private prison corporations have no legal requirement to provide the same types and amount of information that the public and journalists can demand of state and federal prisons!

A new law looks to correct this disparity.

Last week, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) in Congress. The bill, HR 5838, requires non-federal correctional and detention facilities that house federal prisoners to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Human Rights Defense Center made the following press release last week:

Private Prison Information Act Reintroduced in Congress, to Ensure Public Accountability at Privately-Operated Prisons

Currently, private companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group are not required to comply with FOIA requests even when they operate facilities that hold federal prisoners through contracts with federal agencies, and are paid with public taxpayer funds. This includes privately-operated facilities that house immigration detainees.

Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, and Christopher Petrella, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley, have worked closely with Rep. Jackson Lee’s staff over the past two years to reintroduce the PPIA during the 113th Congress.

Various versions of the PPIA have been introduced since 2005; however, private prison firms and their supporters have lobbied against the bills. For example, CCA’s federal lobbying disclosure statements have specifically referenced lobbying related to the PPIA.

Friedmann and Petrella argue that because private prison corporations rely almost entirely on taxpayer funds, and perform the inherently governmental function of incarceration, the public has a right to obtain information pertaining to private prison operations. In short, the government should not be able to contract away the public’s right to know through FOIA requests.

Friedmann testified before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in June 2008 in support of a previous version of the Private Prison Information Act.

A coalition of 34 criminal justice, civil rights and public interest organizations submitted a joint letter to Rep. Jackson Lee in December 2012, followed by a renewed letter on June 11, 2014, expressing support for the PPIA and encouraging her to reintroduce the bill.

The letter noted that “If private prison companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to enjoy taxpayer-funded federal contracts, then they must be required to adhere to the same disclosure laws applicable to their public counterparts, including FOIA.”

The signatories to the joint letter included the Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Media Justice, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Florida Justice Institute, Grassroots Leadership, Enlace, In the Public Interest, National CURE and FedCURE, Justice Policy Institute, Justice Strategies, Prison Policy Initiative, Private Corrections Institute, Southern Center for Human Rights, The Sentencing Project, Southern Poverty Law Center and Texas Civil Rights Project. The NAACP has also voiced support for the PPIA.

“This bill is about public accountability – to ensure that for-profit prison corporations, which assume the role of the government when incarcerating federal prisoners, must comply with the same Freedom of Information Act obligations as federal agencies such as the Bureau of Prisons,” said Friedmann. “That is only fair and reasonable, but private prison companies will most likely object to the bill, as they favor secrecy over fairness.”

“The introduction of the Private Prison Information Act constitutes just the first step in bringing transparency and accountability to an industry that’s funded almost entirely by your and my tax dollars,” Petrella added. “We’ll continue to work tirelessly until this bill is brought to fruition.”

For more information:

Visit the Private Prison Information Act website.

Alex Friedmann
Associate Director, Human Rights Defense Center
(615) 495-6568
afriedmann@prisonlegalnews.org

Christopher Petrella
(860) 341-1684
christopherfrancispetrella@gmail.com

Pigs' Disco by Stuart Griffiths

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Stuart Griffiths was a kid when he went to Northern Ireland, in 1988, as a fresh recruit of the British Army. His first Christmas as an adult was spent on base. He dropped a tab of acid.

In the book Pigs’ Disco, Griffiths details his time serving for queen and country, his fear, boredom and struggle see what could possibly follow. I wrote about the body of work for Vantage, the new photography “collection’ published by Medium.

“At the turn of the nineties, Britain reveled in rave culture. From Bognor to Bangor, loved-up youth danced until dawn in clubs and beyond. A decade before cell phones, pill-popping kids were convening mass-raves in farmers’ fields and empty warehouses by word of mouth.

If there was one place you’d think this euphoric wave could not breach, it’d be the barracks of the British Army. But you’d be wrong. Pigs’ Disco details Griffiths’ drug addled misadventures from 1988 to 1993 while stationed, for the most part, in Northern Ireland as a paratrooper with Her Majesty’s finest.”

Read the full story: Tripping On Acid While In Her Majesty’s Service (Medium)

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Stuart Griffiths - Pigs' Disco

Stuart Griffiths - Pigs' Disco

Pigs' Disco by Stuart Griffiths

Stuart Griffiths - Pigs' Disco

Pigs' Disco by Stuart Griffiths

Letters To Bill

Pigs' Disco by Stuart Griffiths

Pigs' Disco by Stuart Griffiths

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The book Pigs’ Disco, by Stuart Griffiths is published by Ditto Press.

Pigs' Disco by Stuart Griffiths

 

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TORTURE REVELATIONS

It was a double whammy this week. Everyone noticed the 6,000 page report into CIA torture. Many won’t know that today was the day that Justice Department attorneys presented the Obama administrations rationale for suppressing over 2,100 photos and videos of torture by American military personnel in Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Since 2009, the Obama administration has argued that releasing them would inflame anti-American sentiment abroad and place Americans at risk. Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is not so easily convinced and wants the government to explain, photograph by photograph, how each might pose a threat to national security. The fight to release these photos dates to 2004, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

David Levi Strauss has tracked these developments from the very beginning. Several chapters in his new book is Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow (Aperture, 2014) deal directly with the war over control of torture photos.

CONVERSATION

Strauss and I, for WIRED talked about state secrets, how the brain is wired, the political power of images and whether or not photos of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse actually exist.

WIRED: Why has the release of 2,000-plus remaining images and videos made by US military personnel in Abu Ghraib not been resolved?

Strauss: Because of the effectiveness of the images. They became the symbol of the change in US policy to include torture. Images are very powerful. That’s why the US government has become very afraid of the effects of these images worldwide.

The other amazing thing about the Abu Ghraib images was that they crossed the boundary between private and public. That is unusual. It changed things for photojournalism, for the military, certainly, and for the public at large. Prior to the release of the Abu Ghraib images, the military was handing out cameras to soldiers so that they could use photos to stay in touch with their families, and to be used operationally.

Read the full conversation: The War Over the US Government’s Unreleased Torture Pictures.

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[All images for this Prison Photography post via Salon]

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Untitled by Derrick Quintero and Ann Catherine Carter. From the “Surrogate Project”

WHAT

This week, apexart announced the three winners of its Unsolicited Proposal Program. One of the selected projects was Life After Death and Elsewhere, organized by Tom Williams and Robin Paris.

WHO

Artist and educators, Paris and Williams coordinate the best prison arts program I’ve never written about.

They work in tandem with prisoners on death row in Tennessee. The Riverbend Maximum Security Institution imprisons 79 people on death row. Eleven prisoners — Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman, G’dongalay Berry, Tyrone Chalmers, Gary Cone, John Freeland, Kennath Artez Henderson, Nikolaus Johnson, Donald Middlebrooks, Harold Wayne Nichols, and Derrick Quintero among them — have worked with Paris and Williams on a few projects. I have admired their practice for a long time.

I’d be embarrassed about bringing their work to you when they are already so far down their creative paths if I didn’t think they still had long and beautiful journeys planned out.

You can see a lot of their work, stretching back 18-months, on the R.E.A.C.H. Coalition blog.

WHERE

Earlier this year, in Nashville TN, in collaboration with artists from Watkins College of Art they produced the exhibition Unit 2 (part 1) from which several of the images included herein originated. Recently, they completed Unit 2 (part 3). In both cases they partnered with small local galleries to put on the events.

PHOTOGRAPHY’S USE

Photos feature heavily in the collaborations between the condemned men and outside artists. For the series “Add-Ons” an outside artist would provide a prompt in the form of a drawing or piece of writing but often an image. The prisoner would then add to it by either drawing or writing directly on the print, or riffing off of it in words and sketches to create a second companion piece.

For the series “Surrogate” a prisoner would make a request for someone on the outside to do something for them by proxy — to enjoy a library full of books, to eat a hearty breakfast prepared to precise specifications, or to make a family portrait. In many cases the evidence and *shared experience* was documentation usually in the form of a photo.

AN ADVOCATE’S MESSAGE

While the process in producing these works is necessarily personal and intimate, the sharing of the artwork and the political urgency needn’t be. Paris, Williams et al. want to use exhibitions as moments for discussion and public education. Namely, they want to contribute to the anti-death penalty movement. As Paris told Hyperallergic, “The system of legal defense for capital cases is shoddy and poorly funded at best; there are no rich people, to my knowledge, on death row. We incarcerate more of our population than any other country. I could go on and on. It’s shameful. It’s not who we think we are as a country.”

PROPOSAL

This isn’t prison fetishism. The men on death row alongside the artists and students corralled by Paris and Williams are collaborators in the fullest sense. I think it is significant that the winning proposal was written by the prisoners; I think it may have been a deciding factor for the judges on the quality, intent and pedagogy of the art.

The prisoner-artists’ proposal reads:

During the past year, the state of Tennessee has staged a nearly unprecedented offensive against those individuals it has sentenced to die. A state that has executed only six people since 1960 has recently scheduled ten executions. As prisoners on death row, and imminent victims of that state-sponsored violence, we represent the “bare life” described so powerfully by historians and philosophers. During the past two years, however, through an unusual partnership with artists, writers, and educators in Nashville, we have endeavored to make our circumstances visible to those beyond the walls of prison. Through published writings and art exhibitions, we have addressed a public that knows as little of our lives as they do of the indignities of belly chains or the menacing shimmer of razor wire.

Our past exhibitions have often included collaborations with artists and art students on the outside. We have created “add-on” drawings (exquisite corpses, more or less) with people beyond the prison, and we have started sketchbooks before sending them out for strangers to finish. We have composed “surrogate” assignments for outsiders to realize (photographs of the stars, for instance, which some of us haven’t seen in 25 years, or the libraries in cities that we will never visit). We have made gifts of our art works and offered them to visitors to the opening of an exhibition in exchange for their photographic portraits. In one show, we exhibited a diorama that traces the all-too-common path from poverty to prison, and in other, we exhibited our personal snapshots and family photos to offer the world a glimpse of our social lives and to show that we are more than prisoners and men condemned to death

In response to your call, we propose an exhibition that will feature designs for our own memorials alongside our representations of the lives we would pursue if we were free. We have all been condemned to death, and the state of Tennessee intends to kill us, but some of are innocent, and we all hope to demonstrate that we are more than the sum of our worst deeds—or that we might be.

The works we will submit will include drawings, paintings, photographs, models, and text-based pieces. Some of us will submit statements outlining reasons for refusing to design their own memorials.

Kudos to them and all involved. Hope to be in NYC when it shows! Robin Paris and I are currently in conversation and I hope to share that back-and-forth with you in the future, but until then, I’d like to use this recent success as an excuse to share some images of the prisoners’ work.

Images courtesy of Guardian, Hyperallergic, Solitary Watch.

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Upreyl Mitchell and Harold Wayne Nichols, “Untitled” (add-on artwork), acrylic and colored pencil on photograph, 13″ x 9″ in (photo courtesy Robin Paris)
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Mika Agari, Jessica Clay, Amy Clutter, Robert Grand, Kristi Hargrove, Robin Paris, Sharon Stewart, Tom Williams, Weng Tze Yang, and Barbara Yontz, “Surrogate Project for Harold Wayne Nichols: Breakfast for Dinner,” photograph.
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Donald Middlebrooks, ‘Silence is Compliance’ (acrylic on canvas board)
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‘The Night Sky’ by Robin Paris and Tom Williams with writing by Gary Cone, Harold Wayne Nichols, and Donald Middlebrooks. From the Surrogate Project
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Nickolus Johnson and Zack Rafuls, “Untitled” (add-on drawing), mixed media on paper, 14 x 11 in.
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Photograph and drawing, by Upreyl Mitchell and Kennath Artez Henderson. From the Surrogate Project.

ARTISTS

Robin Paris is associate professor and chair of the Department of Photography at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, and she has taught at Belmont University and The University of the South, Sewanee. Her work has appeared in exhibitions throughout the country. She has been co-facilitating the art workshop in Unit 2 (the Death Row unit) of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution since 2013. Her recent work has involved collaborations with its residents.

Tom Williams is assistant professor of art history at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a graduate of Stony Brook University and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, and he has taught at the School of Visual Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, New York University, and Vanderbilt University. His writings have appeared in Art in America, Grey Room, and other publications. He has been co-facilitating the art workshop in Unit 2 (the Death Row unit) of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution since 2013.

APEXART

apexart is a non-profit arts organization in Lower Manhattan that was conceived to offer opportunities to independent curators and emerging and established artists, as well as to challenge ideas about art, its practice and curation. apex art is at  291 Church Street, New York, NY 10013 USA and it puts on exhibitions, Fellowship Program, publications, and public programs. It is free. Contact is 212 431 5270 or info@apexart.org. Hours are Tues – Sat 11am-6pm.

UNSOLICITED PROPOSAL PROGRAM

Anyone, from anywhere, may submit an idea-based exhibition to the Unsolicited Proposal Program. Each annum, three winning proposals are presented at apexart as part of its year-long calendar. Proposals remain anonymous and judged by an international group of 100+ artists, curators, writers and arts professionals. Each juror reads at least 50 proposals, in randomized order. Each proposal receives as many as 25 votes.

“We believe it is the most objective and fair process of evaluation that we have found,” says apexart. “Submissions are reviewed anonymously and solely on the strength of their idea. Previous curatorial experience is in no way required. Supplemental materials are not accepted to further level the playing field.”

The eventual ranking of proposals is made available online to all applicants.

ZoraMurff

Jerome at 15. © Zora Murff

Hey y’all. You might have heard about the launch of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering America’s criminal justice system. You might also recall that I was excited by the launch.

Excited because I think we’ll all benefit from having focused, smart and quirky analysis of America’s carceral, criminal and correctional territories. But, excited also, because I’ll be contributing features of photographers’ work.

OPENING GAMBIT

My first piece about Zora Murff, Tracked: A Photographer Reveals What It’s Like To Be A Kid In The System was published this week.

Here’s an excerpt.

In addition to slinging his camera, Murff works as a “tracker” for a program that provides low-risk juveniles alternatives to incarceration. He coordinates transportation to therapy and counseling sessions, contacts schools to make sure that the juveniles are attending classes, collects urine samples for drug tests, and monitors the juveniles’ locations through data from their ankle bracelets.

“My job is to be a consequence, to insert myself into their lives while the adolescents themselves are struggling to exert control over their development,” says Murff who wanted to capture how juveniles in the system are supervised and monitored, and how the resulting lack of privacy can impact their development.

“Cameras are typically used by the state to surveil,” he says. “I too am recording, but my camera is there in a collaborative capacity. I feel that the people I’m photographing have taken back a level of control.”

Read and see more at The Marshall Project

If you want to learn more about Zora Murff’s work you might be interested in this long interview I did with Murff on Prison Photography in January, 2014.

OPENING STATEMENT

I really can’t recommend enough the daily newsletter of criminal justice news put together by The Marshall Project’s Andrew Cohen. It’s called Opening Statement and it brings together the best links and most pressing stories. Indispensable. Get it!

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Carnell Hunnicutt, Sr. Northern Correctional Institution, Somers, CT. Courtesy Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility. Via Solitary Watch.

Today, December 10th, is Human Rights Day. Organised by the United Nations, the day of action is based around the central tenet that “Each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights. Human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values.”

As Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center recently pointed out:

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains several articles which would apply broadly to prisoners and former prisoners in the U.S., but unfortunately remain unrecognized by the U.S. government.”

Specifically, we should be looking at the enforcement of policy and law as they would uphold Articles 4, 8, 9 and 21.

The problems are endless. Executions need to stop — the state shouldn’t be murdering citizens. Mass incarceration, generally, brings with it almost insurmountable problems (overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, predation, sexual and psychological abuse). The prison industrial complex magnifies these problems in poor communities. I’ve noticed a cycle of issues-du-jour that append to critique of American prisons. Most recently, no doubt, the issue of solitary confinement has been widely discussed. Why? Because it is abusive and counter-productive. Moves in the right direction are starting to reign in the rampant use of solitary as a disciplining technique. I wrote about what’s at stake for Daylight Digital last year:

Juan E. Méndez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture, is clear that solitary confinement is torture and permanently damages the mental health of prisoners.

“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” said Mendez in front of the UN General Assembly in June 2011. “It is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system.”

Prisoners lose their minds quickly when deprived of human contact. Identity is socially created, and it is through relationships that individuals understand themselves.

Solitary confinement “undermines your ability to register and regulate emotion,” explained Craig Haney, psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in an interview with WIRED. “The appropriateness of what you’re thinking and feeling is difficult to index, because we’re so dependent on contact with others for that feedback. And for some people, it becomes a struggle to maintain sanity.”

Common symptoms resulting from long-term isolation include chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair. In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving and become essentially catatonic.

If a prisoner doesn’t withdraw within him or herself, he or she may resort to aggression. In his study of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, Haney found that nearly 90 percent had difficulties with irrational anger, compared with just 3 percent of the general US population.

Physician Atul Gawande has compared the permanent psychological impairment described in Haney’s research to that incurred by traumatic brain injury.

For many, calendar days such as these serve to raise brief awareness. Often not much more. In our busy lives it can be hard to stay on top of the ebb and flow of politics, policy and information; it’s tough to hold those in power accountable, especially if day-to-day we’re just trying to get the bare minimum done.

I don’t know what I think of e-petitions as I don’t know how to gauge their efficacy, but I do know it takes seconds to sign one and you can do it after the kids are in bed and the washing up’s drying.

Thanks to Prisoner Activist for this comprehensive list of 22 active petitions against solitary confinement.

ACLU: Stop the Abuse of Solitary!

ACLU Action: Allow UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Access to Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

ACLU Action: A Mother’s Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children

ACLU of Arizona: Arizona is Maxed Out! No New Supermax Prison Beds

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC): Stop Abuse of
Solitary Confinement

Amnesty International: US super-maximum security prisons must be opened up for UN scrutiny!

Amnesty International USA: Free Albert Woodfox – End the Injustice. Remove Woodfox from Isolation

Amnesty International USA: Solitary Confinement: US Government Must End This Cruel and Inhumane Practice

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB): Demand the State of California Stop the Torture

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR): Honor the Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners’ Demands

Free Zulu Movement: Please examine the case of Kenny Zulu Whitmore, held in solitary confinement for 35 years in Louisiana State Prison

Friends Committee on Legislation of California: Stop the abuse of solitary confinement

National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): End Prolonged Solitary Confinement Now

National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): Take Action to End Solitary Confinement of Youth in California

National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): People of Faith Support Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014

New York City Jails Action Coalition (JAC) Says: End Solitary Confinement; No Supermax at Rikers

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition: Support Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners’ Five Core Demands (hunger strike)

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition: Corcoran SHU Prisoners Start Hunger Strike for Decent Healthcare

Roots Action: End prolonged solitary confinement

Shut Down Logan River: Logan River Academy – Stop using solitary confinement a.k.a. “Precaution,” and “Development,” on kids

Sylvia Rivera Law Project: DOCCS, Make Housing Safer for Trans People in New York State Prisons!

The Petition Site: End Child Torture: Stop Holding Our Kids in Solitary Confinement!

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THE PREAMBLE

As some of you might be aware, I recently moved down the west coast from Portland to San Francisco. Just as I focused on local artists back then, so too I’ll be peppering Prison Photography with features of local Bay Area photographers.

Kirk Crippens is a long time friend. I saw his latest show on opening night and I thought it was responsible and heartfelt. I have never been to Bayview Hunters Point which is the focus of Crippens’ series The Point. I am curious but as with many of the outlying SF neighbourhoods, I’ve never had a reason arise to visit. Which says a lot in itself of boundaries within even the same city. Bayview is home to one of my favourite newspapers. The SF Bayview reports on prison issues when virtually no one else is seeing the abuses occurring in our prison system. That’s an aside; on to the article proper

THE POINT

While reflecting on the African-American community of San Francisco, James Baldwin once said, “This is the San Francisco that Americans pretend does not exist.” The Bayview-Hunters Point district is a predominantly Black neighbourhood and, for years, has been isolated from the rest of the city and cited as a significant example of urban marginalization.

While other photography projects focus on the tougher, negative aspects of Bayview-Hunters Point, photographer Kirk Crippens took a slower and more reflexive approach to his interactions with a neighbourhood he admittedly knew next-to-nothing about prior to working on The Point which is a collection of portraits and interior domestic scenes.

The Point is currently on show at San Francisco City Hall. It includes not only dozens of portraits and interior shots made by Crippens but also family photographs to those in his portraits. It’s a lovely balance and a special production for this exhibition The Point: Kirk Crippens in collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point Community (Nov 15th – Feb 27th, 2015).

The Point celebrates the generations who have called Bayview home — “the kings and queens of Bayview-Hunters Point” as Crippens describes them.

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THE BEGINNINGS

In early 2011, Crippens walked into the Providence Baptist Church, established in Bayview in the early 1940s. The congregation welcomed him, shook his hand, remembered his name. Crippens described his task of photographing the community to the pastor. Subsequently, meetings were set up with respected individuals of the community who worked with Crippens to realise a shared vision.

“At a time when San Francisco continues to grapple with the distressing trend of the out-migration of the African-American community, it’s more important than ever that we bring this exhibit to City Hall,” says Tom DeCaigny, San Francisco Director of Cultural Affairs.

THE CONTEXT

Located at the southeastern corner of San Francisco, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was considered to be one of the last remaining San Francisco neighborhood left untouched by developers. However, with the completion of the Muni Metro T Third Street line in 2007, the first new light-rail line in San Francisco in more than half a century, and other plans on the horizon, Bayview-Hunters Point has recently become a focal point for recent redevelopment projects.

“Gentrification” is the word on everyone’s lips.

I wanted to find out a bit more, so I asked Kirk a few questions.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

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THE QUESTIONS

Prison Photography (PP): What did you know of Bayview-Hunters Point before photographing?

Kirk Crippens (KC): Not much. Not until late 2010, when an email invitation to work on a project in the community arrived. I had an intuition I should accept the project. I began exploring the neighborhood, but my first photographs reflected my perspective of an outsider. I was wandering the perimeter of a community.

PP: What do you know now?

KC: I know ways to connect with a community. I needed to connect in a significant way in order for the project to assume some power and relevance. In early 2011, I walked into Providence Baptist Church. My life changed that Sunday morning; the Church became the lens through which I learned about and connected with the community.

I know about the beauty and solidity of the multi-generational bonds that run through the neighborhood.

Bayview-Hunters Point is the focus of redevelopment projects. The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a superfund site requiring years of radioactive pollution cleanup, is being targeted for 10,500 new homes and close to 4 million square feet of commercial and retail space. The Point is on its way to becoming another coveted San Francisco zip code. While the African-American community watches its neighborhood transform, gentrification threatens to undermine its way of life. Displacement is underway in this historic African-American district.

PP: The church was your entry point into the community. Do you think the people and homes that access point provided allowed you to make a representative portrait of the neighborhood?

KC: It would be hard for someone to make a representative portrait of any neighborhood, so I’ll answer no. What I have done is reflect a vibrant segment of the community. Is it representative, probably not? Is it significant, yes — this aspect of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood is not often celebrated or recognized.

Other photography projects focus on the gritty, troubled aspects that come from oppression and economic struggle, The Point is a collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point community.

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PP: How has the work been received in San Francisco?

KC: I’m honored to say well. The exhibition opened at RayKo Gallery in September and was immediately booked by the San Francisco Arts Commission for a 3-and-a-half month exhibition at San Francisco City Hall.

PP: Your current exhibit at San Francisco City Hall features (beautifully framed) family pictures form the albums of the folks in your formal portraits. Why did you decide to pair the two types of image?

KC: A desire to connect further with the community. The director of the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries, Meg Shiffler and I had a meeting to discuss ways to enlarge the exhibition. We took inspiration from a previous exhibition at the SF Library that featured family photographs from Bayview. We then asked my friends and contacts if they had historic and family photos for the exhibition.

We were overwhelmed by the generosity and interest that came from the community. In the end we added 60+ historic and family photos and interspersed them with large 36 pieces from my work. It changed the project into a collaboration.

PP: Change is afoot in Bayview Hunters Point, as it is in all of San Francisco. What do you think the future has in store for the community there?

KC: The future of The Point is being created during these transformative years of redevelopment. I suspect the community will look quite different in 20-30 years, and not all for the best. I don’t want to speculate on what will or might be, and I certainly don’t want the friends and adopted family I’ve found in Bayview to see their community displaced, but I see mighty changes underway and everyone is bracing for them.

PP: Thanks, Kirk.

KC: Thank you, Pete.

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KIRK CRIPPENS

Kirk Crippens is an American artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had an early start with photography, inspired by his grandfather who kept a darkroom in his closet. Based in San Francisco since 2000, he began exhibiting in 2008. He was named a Top 50 Photographer in Critical Mass in 2010 and 2011, nominated for the Eureka Fellowship Program, invited to speak during PhotoAlliance’s Spring Lecture series at the San Francisco Art Institute, and was a finalist for Photolucida’s book prize.

Crippens has been an artist-in-residence at both RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco and Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon. His portfolio Foreclosure, USA was recently acquired by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas and can be seen in their current exhibition State of the Art, Discovering American Art Now.

He currently serves on an arts board in Bayview Hunters Point. Providence Baptist Church has become his home away from home.

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prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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