Tweet

Emily Thornberry, the now former Attorney General for the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the UK tweeted this photo of a house with the caption “Image from #Rochester”

If I’m ever buried to my eyeballs in work and juggling a dozens stories a once, and if I feel like I’m doing lots of things average and none of them well, and if I ever feel like my stated commitment to imagery and politics in society is lagging, waning or absent, and I ever wonder if thinking and publishing on these things is actually worthwhile, a story from nowhere crops up and reminds me exactly why photography is surprising, ridiculous, ineffable and constantly in need of examination and appreciation.

Emily Thornberry, Attorney General for the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the UK lost her job because she tweeted the photo above.

It’s an amazingly quick unravelling of events for Thornberry — one consistent with the swiftness of media and exchange. Her tweet was aimed at no-one and everyone at the same time. Snark that endears no-one because it only unearths the latent lack of connections currently felt between the strata of English society.

It’s a personal attack of sorts. Maybe, even, classless?!

To me and ever other English person it is obvious why. In America everyone and their grannies hang up flags. But in Britain, the St. George’s flag has become synonymous with the working classes, plain living, no-nonsense attitudes. It’s an open secret that the working classes are mocked for their, well, lack of class. It’s a stereotype that is damaging and divisive and keeps people down.

Thornberry relied on the laziest of stereotypes to throw some shade at “hard-working English men” as Prime Minister David Cameron put it. Opportunism by Cameron (a man of the upper classes) for sure, but a fair assessment of Thornberry’s dismissal of this family, home and culture.

This story reminds me how imagery is entirely culturally relative. How we are all raised with different associations readings and literacy as far as images are concerned.

It also reminds me of the power of photography. One foolish slip by Thornberry (I don’t doubt she is scornful of working classes, she just made the mistake to express it) and she’s gone. A whole career ruined and probably a parliamentary seat lost.

Read more at the Guardian here and here.

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Larry Mayes Larry Mayes Scene of arrest, The Royal Inn, Gary, Indiana. Police found Mayes hiding beneath a mattress in this room. Served 18.5 years of an 80-year sentence for Rape, Robbery, and Unlawful Deviate Conduct, 2002. Chromogenic print, 48 x 60 inches (121.9 x 152.4 cm), Edition of 5. © Taryn Simon

It probably doesn’t need me to tell you that The Marshall Project launched this week.

Ever since Bill Keller announced his departure, after 30 years, from the New York Times to take up the editor in chief role at the Marshall Project, people have wondered what could possibly emerge from within a new “nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering America’s criminal justice system.”

Early output is good.

STAFF & STORIES

Pre-launch, The Marshall Project published two pieces of investigation — Dana Goldstein wrote about youth corrections in West Virginia; and Maurice Possley recovered and uncovered the startling facts of Cameron Todd Willingham‘s wrongful conviction and execution.

Upon launch, Ken Armstrong looked at a legal quirk that literally effects life and death (Parts One and Two). Keller and managing editor Tim Golden interviewed outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder about many things including his attitude toward the death penalty.

Lisa Iaboni revisited Taryn Simon’s groundbreaking series The Innocents, for which Simon asked wrongfully accused men following their exoneration to pose for portraits at the sites of alibi, crime or with the original victims of the crime.

I interpret these three features as not coincidental to one another. The documented mistakes in the application of the death penalty — and the consequent murder-by-the-state of innocent people — is a barometer to shortcomings in the wider criminal justice system. Stories of life and death usual force people to sit up and take notice.

Elsewhere on the site, Andrew Cohen‘s been busy examining racial disparity in policing in the aftermath of Ferguson, the crisis in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and asking if mass incarceration is going away.

John Lennon speaks to a case of aging in Attica; Simone Weischelbaum looks at improvised make-up (fake-up) in women’s prisons; and Ivan Vong has produced an interactive of all the stats associated with the U.S. criminal justice system.

The team of journalists assembled is impressive. The visuals should be good too. One of the two managing editors is Gabriel Dance who won a Pulitzer Prize with The Guardian for his team’s data visualisation of the NSA leak. Probably the best way to acquaint yourself with the people is with this Twitter list of Marshall Project Staff.

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DOLLARS & DOING

The great unknown about this venture is the money. It’s not likely journalism grants will cover the great expense to cover investigative reporting on these matters. Money from super-wealthy individuals will play a key part. Here’s what we do know.

Thus far, the Marshall Project has partnered with Slate and the Washington Post and plans to team with other established media as and when needed to amplify the reach of the reporting. The Marshall Project has hit the ground sprinting and I’m intrigued by the possibilities. In some ways, I am surprised it has taken so long for a single issue outfit focused on criminal justice to emerge. The need has been around for a long time.

There’s lots more to come and you’re probably wise to sign up for their email blast Opening Statement.

Here’s some of Keller’s launch statement:

We are not here to promote any particular agenda or ideology. But we have a sense of mission. We want to move the discussion of our institutions of justice — law enforcement, courts, prisons, probation — to a more central place in our national dialogue. We believe, as the great jurist Thurgood Marshall did, that protection under the law is the most fundamental civil right in a free society. Yet, by the numbers, the United States is a global outlier, with a prison population matched by no nation except, possibly, North Korea, with a justice system that disproportionately afflicts communities of need and of color, with a corrections regime that rarely corrects.

We aim to accomplish our mission through probing, fair-minded journalism, combining investigative rigor, careful analysis, and lively storytelling. We will examine the failings of our criminal justice system — but also test promising reforms. While a number of news organizations are doing distinguished reporting on crime and punishment, the journalistic energy devoted to this kind of reporting — time consuming and expensive as it is — has been sapped by the financial traumas of the news industry. Our aim is both to restore some of that lost energy and to be a catalyst for coverage elsewhere. We will publish the fruits of our reporting here and expand our audience by collaborating with first-rate newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and other online news sites.

In addition to our original reporting, we will compile the most interesting news and commentary from around the world of criminal justice, distributing our findings in our daily email, and offering this site as a hub for debate and accord. We are nonpartisan and non-ideological, which means you will find here the voices of progressives and conservatives, centrists and provocateurs. As it happens, criminal justice is one of the few areas of public policy where there is a significant patch of common ground between right and left.

Keller closes his welcome with an invitation to respond in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ feature. Get writing.

Goodman, Ronnie1

© Ronnie Goodman

ARTS AND RECIDIVISM

“Evidence suggests that arts-in-prisons programs lower recidivism (returning to prisons) by 27% and reduce disciplinary actions by 75%,” reads the press release for the prison art exhibition The Cell and the Sanctuary: Art and Incarceration currently on show at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (SCMAH).

That’s a bold claim.

One of the great difficulties with justifying arts and/or liberal arts education is the difficulty in measuring its direct (positive) effects. Evaluation in budget-constrained prison systems is especially demanding and cynical. First and foremost, people want to know if any type of program steers a prisoner away from anti-social behaviour. If the answer is complex, partly elusive or complicated by other criteria then doubt descends, the enterprise is labeled as airy-fairy, and premise is dismissed.

In brief, prison arts programs wanting to prove themselves have a tough audience.

The effects of arts and education is difficult to track because many benefits such as relative thinking, critical engagement outside of institutional narratives, cumulative learning, etc. take years. Education is a slow build. Benefits are for years down the line; for a lifetime. Also, many prisoners are on long sentences and the primary criteria corrections departments and researchers look to – recidivism – can only be measured once a prisoner is released. The intangibles of a liberal arts education aren’t necessarily contributing to a measurable impact the next hour.

A general aura of skepticism surrounding arts and liberal arts education is compounded by the fact that research money often goes toward other prison programming (vocational, prison industries) and other evaluation first. We saw this was the case when the State of California stripped the DOC of its Arts-In-Corrections funding 7-years ago. In times of crisis, arts funding is first on the chopping block.

Despite no state funding, groups such as the William James Association continued, driven by volunteer efforts. The recent California budget has put millions back into the coffers earmarked for Arts-In-Corrections. The William James Association has returned to work in 11 state prisons.

The return was helped by the convincing results of a study, California Prison Arts Evaluation 2014, that was commissioned jointly by the William James Association and the California Lawyers for the Arts. You can download it here.

Here’s the results of the study and reason for bold claims.

The California Prison Arts Evaluation 2014 was a one-year study in four prisons revealing that arts programs improve prisoners’ behavior and their attitudes about themselves.

“A significant majority of  inmates attribute their greater confidence and self-discipline to pursue other academic and vocational opportunities to their participation in arts programs, signaling a pathway for overall personal growth,” says the William James Association.

 A BRIEF HISTORY OF RESEARCH

The author was Dr. Lawrence Brewster of the University of San Francisco who had, in 2012, completed a Qualitative Study of the California Arts In Corrections Program.

Prior to these two studies, there had been little research since a cost-benefit study in 1983, An Evaluation of the Arts-in-Corrections Program of the California Department of Corrections (also conducted by Brewster), which posited that society and the institutions benefited by reduced disciplinary actions, community service and beautification of the prisons.

It was high time someone brought the research up to date and dampened down naysayers and skeptics. Hopefully, the California Prison Arts Evaluation 2014 might spur other states to make a return to arts programming.

“Arts-in-prisons programs improve relationships between people within the prison as well as with guards and supervisory staff,” says the William James Association.” Prisoners exposed to arts programs are more likely to adjust to life outside prison and are less likely to become repeat offenders.”

Scan 1

‘Blind Curve’ (2010) © Felix Lucero

Goodman, Ronnie - Lower Yard

‘Lower Yard, San Quentin’ @ Ronnie Goodman

Goodman, Ronnie - Baseball at old Folsom Prison

‘Baseball at Old Folsom Prison’ @ Ronnie Goodman

Evans, Justus

© Justus Evans

Kissman, Rolf - Obscuring_Self_body

‘Obscuring Self’ © Rolf Kissman

Goodman, Ronnie - Life As Lived- Jazz at San Quentin

‘Jazz In San Quentin’ @ Ronnie Goodman

Goodman, Ronnie - UpHill Struggle

‘Uphill Struggle’ @ Ronnie Goodman

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The Cell & The Sanctuary opening, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, November 7th, 2014. Photo: Laurie Brooks / William James Association

Goodman, Ronnie - Prison Boots (2008)

‘Prison Boots’ @ Ronnie Goodman

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Installation view of The Cell & The Sanctuary, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Photo: Laurie Brooks / William James Association

Santa Cruz

THE CELL AND THE SANCTUARY

The Cell and The Sanctuary features paintings, drawings, sculptures and writings by teachers, artists and organizations who are “working together within the prison system to provide a direct link between incarcerated individuals and something larger than their dehumanizing cells,” says SCMAH.

Artists including Ronnie Goodman, Justus Evans, Felix Lucero and Rolf Kissman (whose works are included in this post) are in the exhibition, as well as Ned Axthelm, Peter Bergne, Guillermo Willie, Stan Bey, Khalifah Christensen, Dennis Crookes, Isiah Daniels, Bruce Fowler, Henry Frank, Roy Gilstrap, Thomas Grider, Gary Harrell, Amy M. Ho, John Hoskings, David Johnson, Ben Jones, Richard Kamler, Chung Kao, Darryl Kennedy, Katya McCollah, Pat Messy, Omid Mokri, Gerald Morgan, Carol Newborg, Stan Newborg, James Norton, Eric “Phil” Phillips, Anthony Marco Ramirez, Adrienne Skye Roberts, Mark Stanley, Fred Tinsley, Tan Tran, Kurt Von Staden, Geno Washington, Michael Williams, Thomas Winfrey, and Noah Wright

The Cell and the Sanctuary: Art and Incarceration is produced in collaboration with Barrios Unidos and the William James Association (also on Facebook)

It is on show November 7, 2014 – February 22, 2015

Lucero, Felix -Senseless

Senseless © Felix Lucero

Girls' Pinhole Photography Project

Anonymous. Pinhole photograph made by girls incarcerated at Remann Hall, WA, in a workshop facilitated by Steve Davis.

On November 20, 1989, the United Nations passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The treaty banned Juvenile Life Without Parole (JWLOP) and other harsh sentencing practices, such as trying children in adult courts. Along with Somalia and South Sudan, the U.S. remains one of the few nations that has not ratified the treaty. 25 years after the passage of such a landmark treaty, the U.S. incarcerates more children than any other nation.

IN CONVERSATION WITH BRYAN STEVENSON

This is the context in which we should listen to lawyer Bryan Stevenson. On the occasion of the release of his new book Just Mercy, I’ve edited and republished a Prison Photography interview with Stevenson from late 2012 on Medium. I paired Stevenson’s words with decade-old pinhole photos made by girls incarcerated at Remann Hall Juvenile Detention Facility, WA.

Stevenson is founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He has fought racial and economic inequality in the criminal justice system for a quarter of a century including wins at the U.S. Supreme Court for fair treatment of children, and successful exonerations of wrongfully convicted men. For the moneyed-class at TED, he spoke truth to power. For everyone else, he appeared on The Daily Show.

A NOTE ON MEDIUM

You can find our conversation on Medium, which is a place I’ve been experimenting with. I intend to use it mostly to republish some of the best of archive stuff on Prison Photography and to cross post relevant new articles too. The main advantage, for me, at Medium is the display of images larger than appear here on Prison Photography‘s  7-year old WordPress template!

Please, take a peek at the Prison Photography on Medium.

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The banality of the design is on full display. The windowed room is where lethal chemicals are stored and used. Courtesy of the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

In 2006, the State of California approved a plan to construct a new execution chamber at San Quentin Prison. This week, The Avery Review published an article by Raphael Sperry titled Death by Design: An Execution Chamber at San Quentin State Prison which breaks down the budgeting, the politics and the design wrapped up in the contentious project. Not to mention the secrecy surrounding many details. Just as we’ve learnt about supply chains of chemicals for new drug “cocktails” being used by States to murder people, so too Sperry takes an in-depth look at the manufacturers behind the apparatus of death. It’s a wonderful, informed and terrifying breakdown of what we do to deliver “justice.” It’s a lovely foil to my past lyrics on the aqua green aesthetics of murder at San Quentin and it reveals the absurdity of the death penalty, the most vicious and foolishly symbolic of punishments.

“The Lethal Injection Chamber is a project that teeters on the edge of visibility and invisibility,” writes Sperry. It’s a project all about sight — political oversight, design based upon sight-lines for both executioner and witnesses. Sperry’s insights are chilling and revelatory. Below, I’ve selected the parts that intrigued me most, but you really should head over to The Avery Review to read the piece in full.

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CAD Model for San Quentin Lethal Injection Facility. Courtesy of the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

DEATH BY DESIGN

Painted sheetrock walls, resilient flooring, vinyl cove base, and fluorescent lighting are used in a thoroughly predictable and pedestrian manner, much like a dentist’s office in a strip mall. The buttresses of the adjacent prison housing block, which a more creative designer might have incorporated, are instead covered by new framing; a storage room is used to occupy one of these irregular alcoves. But there is more to this design than meets the eye. Sometimes the banal is not ordinary.

The all-new facility for lethal injection provides more workspace around the body of the condemned man, an adjacent secure workspace and chemical storage room, and separated viewing areas for the various categories of observers. […] Bureaucratic skullduggery initially led to an unrealistically low project budget of $399,000: just under the $400,000 requirement to request legislative authorization of the project.7 Perhaps some secret executive-branch projects stay secret; in this case the state legislature found out about the project, causing further delays (they weren’t happy about having been hoodwinked) and an eventual approved budget increase to over $850,000. This included the use of inmate labor provided by the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (CDCR) vocational training program.

The general layout of the suite of rooms was borrowed from previously completed projects in other states. Unlike in other states, where death chamber design materials are generally only available when they have been released in response to lawsuits, the final project was presented on a tour that included the federal judge presiding in the case, reporters, and a press release that included output of the CAD model used to design the project (now no longer available). Still, when I made a public request for the identity of the architect(s) and engineer(s) responsible for the project, CDCR would not provide an answer.

The Lethal Injection Chamber is a project that teeters on the edge of visibility and invisibility. CDCR exercised unusual control of the project budget in order to try to keep the project invisible. Yet a floor plan of the design proposal eventually became part of the court record submitted by CDCR to prove the constitutionality of the new facility, making it permanently available to the public. Newspapers published photos of the competed chamber and ancillary spaces and developed infographics of the layout. Nevertheless, today it is an incredibly difficult space for members of the public to visit unless they are part of the highly specified group of participants in or observers of an execution.

Perhaps in the same spirit, or perhaps because of the general obsession with the control of sight lines in prison environments, visibility within the Lethal Injection Room itself is carefully controlled. Witnessing the death of the condemned man is a central component of the execution ritual, with prescribed access for family members of the condemned man, family members of the victim, prison staff, and witnesses to verify that vengeance has been earned for the aggrieved public. Accordingly, the execution room is something of a fishbowl, surrounded on all sides by windows, including a band of wall-to-wall glazing for the public witness and media viewing room. However, mirrored glass is used along the line where the victim’s family might see the inmate’s family: a line that crosses the body of the condemned man, as the two families are positioned at opposite ends of the room just as they are presumed to be of opposite sympathies regarding the murder. Although it is not uncommon for the family of the victim in capital cases to object to the execution of the perpetrator, either out of a generalized objection to killing or after personal reconciliation, the plan denies the opportunity for this kind of potentially healing contact between families. Just as positions of state-driven authority are fixed in a courtroom, with a jury one level up and the judge above them, the dichotomous relations of innocent and guilty inherent in the finality of the death penalty are fixed around the body of the condemned man.

[…]

The death penalty debate, especially in California, now hangs on a tenuous balance between the desire for revenge (an “eye for an eye”) and revulsion at the spectacle of suffering driven by our own blood lust (with a subtext of racism). CDCR—the department charged with conducting executions, and the owner of the chamber in architectural parlance—would clearly prefer to go about its business and has a long history of avoiding public oversight (unsuccessfully in this case), but continuing the death penalty is subject to judgment by a California electorate that is trending toward abolition. Part of the design’s banality (and its low-budget, medical undertones) may be intended to visually deescalate the death penalty debate in order to perpetuate the status quo. But perhaps even the CDCR embodies the same unresolved questions about execution that continue to reverberate in ballot referendums, courtrooms, and public debates. The bland nature of the execution chamber may also indicate a lack of investment in the procedure’s future, a realization that this is no permanent edifice but rather a set of rooms that may be demolished or at least renovated for some other purpose before long.

RAPHAEL SPERRY

Raphael Sperry is an architect and green building consultant, President of Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility, and Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts where he teaches the course “Rights, Power, and Design.” He is writing a book on architecture and human rights.

THE AVERY REVIEW

The Avery Review is a new online journal dedicated to thinking about books, buildings, and other architectural media. It’s aim is to explore the broader implications of a given object of discourse (whether text, film, exhibition, building, project, or urban environment) and to test and expand the reviewer’s own intellectual commitments.

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The Lethal Injection Facility is the windowless box adjacent to the older, still functional cell block. The CMU exterior walls predate the interior renovations for the new death chamber.

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Injection Room. Window and hose ports to Infusion Control Room at right, mirrored window for victim family viewing in center, public witness / media gallery on extreme left. Courtesy of the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

ADPSR

This is the last week you have to catch the ADPSR-created exhibition Sentenced: Architecture & Human Rights at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.

LifeInPrison

“Life in Prison: Artists Bear Witness”

Thursday, November 13, 2014 – 6:00pm – 8:00pm

MIST Harlem – 46 W 116th St, New York, NY 10026

LINK

The Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University and OF NOTE, the award-winning arts & activism magazine, hosts a conversation with three dynamic artists who use their creative voice to examine the complex experiences, both personal and political, faced by the two million men, women, and youth currently imprisoned in the United States. Via theatre, photography, and video, these artists, Samara Gaev, Russell Frederick, and Lori Waselchuk illuminate the ways in which our society treats those within our prison systems with compelling work that engages and troubles our notions
of ‘justice.’

Panelists:

Grace Aneiza Ali is founder and editorial director of OF NOTE Magazine
, one of the first online magazines focused on global artists using the arts as catalysts for activism and social change. In 2014, she received the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellowship in partnership with Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art for the upcoming exhibition, “Guyana Modern,” which will feature a new generation of photographers from Guyana and its major diasporic communities in New York, London and Toronto. She’s an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at The City College of New York, CUNY and the recipient of the “Outstanding Faculty of the Year” award for 2013-2014. Grace is also World Economic Forum Global Shaper and a Fulbright Scholar.

Russell Frederick is a self-taught Brooklyn-born photographer of Panamanian heritage. He is the recipient of grants from the Open Society Foundation, New York Foundation of the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Council and the Urban Artist Initiative Foundation. Frederick is a member of the African-American photo collective Kamoinge and is represented by KEYSTONE photo agency in Switzerland. As an educator, he dedicates time to mentoring at-risk young men with the Kings Against Violence Initiative as the Men’s Program Director.

Samara Gaev is the founder and artistic director of Truthworker Theatre Company, a social justice based hip-hop theatre company for high school and college-aged youth in NYC. Its recent original productions include “BAR CODE,” a performative analysis of the school to prison pipeline, and “IN|PRISM: Boxed In & Blacked Out in America,” which examines the practice of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Lori Waselchuk, is a Philadelphia-based visual storyteller. Her award-winning photographic documentary “Grace Before Dying,” which chronicles the prisoner-run hospice program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, in Angola, LA, aims to challenge stereotypes about people that are imprisoned and offers a compassionate perspective into an environment designed to isolate and punish.

Moderator:


Samuel K. Roberts
, Columbia University. 
Director, Institute for Research in African American Studies, and Associate Professor of History & Sociomedical Sciences.

Spike Aston
Photo: Spike Aston

Photography is often best kept simple. Likewise, the description of photography is, also, best kept simple. So let’s do that.

Disposable is a photography project that puts cameras in the hands of a dozen or so homeless men and women in London, England. Very straightforward. Disposable garners images that have given – in their production – moments to create and reflect, and – in their viewing – moments for reflection upon creative practices toward a more equal society. Right? What use is this post, and what use the participants’ efforts, and what use the program coordination efforts of Adele Watts if we’re not to reflect on the issues of poverty and homelessness in our society?

Disposable began in 2012. Disposable is grassroots. The men and women involved consider themselves a collective.

Watts worked closely with homeless artists over the period of a year and developed a body of original photographs.

“Without a brief, each participant took single-use cameras away, returning them a couple of weeks later to be developed and to look though the work and discuss it together,” explains Watts.

“Photography is a science of seeing. I like to see ordinary things too because they can tell you a lot about where you are if you don’t know. You can discover many beautiful and interesting worlds that don’t seem like worlds without photography,” says participant Spike Aston.

In the past 18 months, Disposable has mounted three exhibitions — at a Central London outreach venue in April 2013, and later at Four Corners Gallery, Bethnal Green in October 2013 and Ziferblat, Shoreditch in August 2014.

Disposable allows us to view homelessness from the rich and insightful perspective of those experiencing it, but does so with refreshing subtlety. This is achieved through a belief in cultivating authorial voice and expression without exception, which is truly at the heart of the project and all those who have brought it to life,” says Claire Hewitt who provides texts for the Disposable newsprint publication. “I was overwhelmed by the ways in which they had each nurtured their own visual languages.”

A collection of photographic works by Bill Wood, R.O.L and Spike Aston, Disposable’s most devoted members — has now been brought together in a 16-page newspaper publication.

The Disposable newsprint publication is available as an insert to the latest issue of Uncertain States a lens-based broadsheet. It is distributed through and available at: Brighton Photo Biennial 2014, V&A London, Tate Britain, Four Corners Gallery, Ikon Gallery & Library of Birmingham, Flowers East, Turner Contemporary, Margate.

Keep in touch with the project via Adele Watts’ website and Twitter, and the Disposable Tumblr.

Bill Wood

Photo: Bill Wood
Bill Wood
Photo: Bill Wood
R.O.L.
Photo: R.O.L.
R.O.L.
Photo: R.O.L.
R.O.L.
Photo: R.O.L.
Spike Aston
Photo: Spike Aston
Spike Aston
Photo: Spike Aston
Spike Aston
Photo: Spike Aston
Disposable Newsprint
Disposable Insert. ​Uncertain States. Open Call. Issue 20

Disposable
Edition of 5000 copies
290mm x 370mm
16 pages printed full colour on 52gsm recycled newsprint. Inserted into Uncertain States Issue 20, a lens-based broadsheet.
Photographic works by Bill Wood, R.O.L & Spike Aston.
Texts by Clare Hewitt & Jenna Roberts.
Edited by Adele Watts.

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Happy Halloween, folks. Here’s a fun series. Photographer Neil DaCosta went to Oregon’s kookiest Halloween attractions during daylight closing hours. However, the scenes he discovered and shot on color film ended up looking as sinister as they appear when shrouded in darkness and staged for the frightened masses.

Week to week, DaCosta works long hours as a commercial and editorial photographer. But that doesn’t stop him throwing his camera gear in the car and heading out on his free weekends to shoot personal projects. Shooting stuff to scratch his creative itch is what has kept him sane. At least that was the case until last weekend when his excursions to into haunted houses, forests and corn mazes may have just driven him over the edge.

The ghastly result is a series called With The Lights On.

It all started harmlessly enough. DaCosta stumbled across a haunted trail walking his dog and reasoned that photographing halloween attractions during daylight hours would make for interesting pictures.

“When I was younger, I use to volunteer at a similar haunted trail and remembered how spooky it was even during the day,” he says.

Despite his ghoulish memories of younger experience, DaCosta thought a throughly mature and deliberate diurnal examination of the sites would reveal them for the low-budget, facade dependent constructions they are. DaCosta thought his images would draw back the curtain.

And, so, DaCosta trudged with his 4×5 camera to the West Linn Haunted Trail, the Fear Asylum, and The Haunted Maize — tourist spots all within half-an-hour of his hometown, Portland.

“I captured them empty, during off hours, with the lights on,” explains DaCosta. “But the dark humor I was envisioning, ended up being just more dark than humorous. Goes to show that some of our fears don’t rely on the dark to manifest.”

Photographing on site was eerie. Dead dummies swung and tarps billowed in the dank air. DaCosta got the jitters which were not helped by joggers in the forests who crept up while he was under the dark cloth of his medium format camera.

Those that operated the attractions were welcoming. “Everyone was in to it. Owners put a lot of work into these haunts and they are only seasonal. They are excited someone wants to photograph their hard work,” says DaCosta.

Like all good Halloween antics, DaCosta’s unsettling images jangle the nerves and provide relief and laughter.

Being a procrastinator, DaCosta has yet to decide on his costume for tonight, but he’ll be channelling photographer Joel Peter Witkin, who is his favorite macabre showman.

Happy Halloween folks! Enjoy these pics and then get out there, Trick ‘o’ Treat, and spook some people!

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