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Binh Danh. ‘The Transamerica Pyramid, 2014 Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 10 x 8 inches / Frame: 14.75 x 12.5 inches

BINH DANH

A recent move makes San Francisco my new hometown. As is my wont, I’m out and about trying to figure what’s happening here in the city. Late last year, I saw Binh Danh’s exhibition This, Then, Is San Francisco at Haines Gallery.

A few things struck me.

– First, the sky blues and sepias of make the work just lovely to view.

– Second, there seems to be an increasing nostalgia toward the city of San Francisco right now which is reflected in art-makers and photographers trying to preserve a view of the city – be that in books, stubborn alternative processes, comparative views of the city as it once was, or flat-out direct denunciations of money-driven change.

– Third, the scenes captured by Danh cannot be random and in fact some of them look quite political.

I got Danh on the blower to ask him about how and why the work was made.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

Click any image to see it larger.

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Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

Q&A

Prison Photography (PP): At first glimpse, the work seems as if it is about process and the joy of the surface. Does This, Then, Is San Francisco have the same level of political engagement typical in your other work?

Binh Danh (BD): You’re somewhat right. Of course, being an artists there’s always the joy of the image. But if you look deeply, there’s also some political messages. There’s pictures of gatherings and protest in front of City Hall.

PP: I saw the image of the rally held by mothers whose family members had been killed but their murderers never found.

BD: And even the photo of the city hall — on the lawn where people are sleeping, they look like dead bodies. Because of the medium, it looks like a civil war photograph.

PP: And the body shapes are identical.

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Binh Danh. ‘City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Binh Danh. ‘Hoa Phat, Little Saigon, Larkin Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

BD: I am alluding to these political spaces of the city.

PP: Did you grow up in San Francisco?

BD: No. I grew up in San Jose. For me, San Francisco was the place we went to for school trips. Even in adulthood, I see the city as a tourist. Each time I go there it is new. Every inch of the city is photogenic. And that goes way back. I enjoy the fact that This, Then, Is San Francisco is in conversation with those images from the nineteenth century when the city was being built.

PP: How does this relate to your previous work about Yosemite? It seems to make more immediate sense to use daguerreotypes to photograph Yosemite — what with the archives of Carleton Watkins and Edward Curtis. Their works were very political and tied to the myth of manifest destiny and ultimately controlling of the West.

BD: Both Carleton Watkins and Edweard Muybridge photographed San Francisco AND Yosemite. I’m walking in those giants’ footsteps. For me, San Francisco is the gateway to California – going as far back as the Gold Rush when people arrived, stocked up and then travelled on to the Sierra Mountains. Everything in Northern California flows toward San Francisco and into the Bay.

PP: One could conceptualize San Francisco as being at the foot of an elongated Yosemite Valley?! The Pacific Ocean is the terminus of the Sierra Mountains watershed.

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Binh Danh. ‘Panoramic View from Corona Heights Park, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plates: 25.75 x 13.5 inches

BD: But also looking forward. San Francisco is tied to innovation, accelerated movement, change and speed. It always has been. Of course, now, those things are associated so closely with Silicon Valley and the South Bay.

PP: But for the purposes of the international community, San Francisco is the epicenter of that.

BD: I wanted to document San Francisco in this moment of change. I didn’t realize Haines Gallery wanted to do a show. They felt I had enough work. But the project is not complete; it’s ongoing. I expect in 30 or 40 years I’ll go back to some of the same streets to stand in the same locations and make the same pictures with daguerreotypes.

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Binh Danh. ‘Rigo 23’s Truth Mural U.N. Plaza at the Civic Center, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5inches

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Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco Camerawork, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall (Mother’s Day 2014) Rally for Black Youths Whose Killers Have Never Been Found by the San Francisco Police Department, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

PP: Why daguerreotypes?

BD: The daguerreotype results in a reverse image. So, the cityscape is familiar but it’s odd. I like the uncanny.

PP: The reversal makes the viewer look a little harder, which is I think what all photographers want go their images?!

PP: There’s no shortage of spots in the city. How did you choose sites? I’d like to ask, specifically, about the TRUTH mural.

BD: When you do work with a commercial gallery, they are trying to sell work they are trying to move work. So, a lot of the more iconic San Francisco scenes are a little more successful in that [marketable] way. Some of the quieter scenes that might make there way into a future show or book.

I’m happy Haines picked the TRUTH mural piece. Rigo23 did that piece and what I like about that mural is that it faces city hall and confronts power.

PP: It was made in 2002 to commemorate the 2001 quashed conviction of Robert H. King, one of the Angola 3, after 32 years of incarceration, 29 of which were spent in solitary confinement. It was also a rally call for the cases of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace (who died in 2014) who remained locked up.

BD: In my picture, the farmers market is ongoing in the foreground, so if you want, there’s connections to the central valley to be made. And to ethnic communities. I’m not sure if the viewer will pick that up but that’s the thing I think about when I’m making the work.

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Binh Danh. ‘The Palace of Fine Arts, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Binh Danh. ‘The Women’s Building, 18th Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Binh Danh. ‘B and C Laundromat Barbary Coast Trail, Chinatown, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

PP: Do you have a favored image?

BD: The city hall image is my favorite image. I photographed a lot. I made all the images over the summer. I must have made 300 exposures and then I narrowed that down to 50 plates and the gallery selected 20.

PP: 300?!

BD: Not everything turns out, you know. I’d make 10 in a day and maybe one would hold a standard that I’m happy to share. Everyday I was driving from San Jose and up to the city making photographs.

BD: Almost all the people I encountered don’t understand the process, so to us it is a very foreign process. I think we take photography for granted so I hope I can help people think about image-making more. Maybe people will stop snapping away and take it slow?

PP: How did you learn the process?

BD: I learned just on my own. I found a 19th century manuscript and kept practicing and experimenting. Perfecting over the years. I began in 2001. Gave up and returned to it in 2009. Through the years I’ve made slow progress. I own the equipment, I make everything from scratch. I coat the copper plate in my studio and buff it. I’ve a van in which process on location. Back then, the daguerreotype was hard to do outside of the studio. That’s why most daguerreotypes are portraits. Cityscapes were rare — then and now.

PP: Thanks, Binh

BD: Thank You, Pete.

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Binh Danh. ‘Sutter and Grant Streets, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Two years ago, I walked out of Chris Fraser’s In Passing, installed in Portland’s Disjecta gallery, and resolved that it was the finest contemporary art I’d seen in the town. In Passing drew your attention to colour, light and line. The sensory experience, for me, put Chris Fraser slap-bang-wallop between Bridget Riley and James Turrell. In Passing was a strict coda delivered to fondle the eyeballs.

What was you ask? I was simply an enclosed corridor around three walls of the gallery. Into the walls, at random moments were slits that ran from floor to corridor ceiling, on the inside-wall. Three bulbs — one R, one G, and one B — hanging from the roof beams dangled in the centre of the gallery and dispersed low level light to all corners of the room. So enclosed was the corridor, that the low level light sliced the darkness in thin rainbow strips. At one end of the corridor the gaps became larger and light as a result became more diffuse and reflected off the walls in a palette closer white light.

Why I a wittering on about this so long after the fact? Well, next week, SF Camerawork opens with Revolving Doors, which is effectively a site specific camera obscura installation.

Note: All images here are of In Passing. Still a week out, I haven’t the foggiest what Revolving Doors looks like.

Fraser says that gallery goers can manipulate the walk in sculpture:

“Visitors will rearrange the space as they move through it, altering the architecture for future patrons,” says Fraser.

They’ll do that by altering the maze-like configuration that mimics the internal mechanisms of a camera.

“The structure and its design stand as a metaphor for the rapid demographic changes in SF Camerawork’s immediate Mid-Market neighborhood,” says SF Camerwork press release.

“The rich and well connected are moving in,” explains Fraser. “The poor and disenfranchised are being kicked out. A city must change to remain vital. But this transition seems particularly cruel. My hope is to highlight this disparity through an architectural intervention.”

Honesty and captivating beauty with a political edge, it seems. If Revolving Doors is even fractionally as accomplished as In Passing it’ll be one absolutely not to miss.

Revolving Doors is on view February 5 – March 21, 2015. The opening reception is this coming Thursday, February 5, 2015, 6-8pm

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Tracey: “I lost my family. I lost my job and I lost my home. I spent 14-and-a-half years in the Department of Corrections.”

PUSHED TO THE MARGINS

What do you do when you law prohibits you from living within a reasonable distance of any of society’s communal spaces and social services? That’s the question thousands of sex offenders find themselves with, and the perpetually-liminal existence they inhabit.

ABSENT DEBATE

I’ve not written about sex offenders — imprisoned or otherwise — very much on this blog. This is due in most part because I’ve not a wealth of knowledge. But it is also because it is an easy population to ignore. This is my failing. Sex offenders are a group that receive little-to-no sympathy or understanding. And, this, despite their crimes being massively different from one another and their pathologies and psychological profiles dictating their offence but not, by any means, their potential improvement and contributions into the future. Prison Photography has lazily sidelined the issue as to maintain a safe distance from one of society’s trickiest topics within criminal justice.

Sofia Valiente‘s photographs of ‘Miracle Village’ a community of registered sex offenders in Florida give me the opportunity to tackle this. Valiente has just released a book of the project with FABRICA and the work was featured on The Marshall Project this week.

Miracle village was founded in 2009 by Pastor Dick Witherow, whose ministry helps sex offenders reintegrate into society by providing them with onsite housing, employment, and counseling.

Valiente’s book contains writings by 12 sex offenders who live in the isolated community in West Palm Beach County, Florida.

A (VIRTUALLY) IGNORED ISSUE

Firstly, I should say that this is not the only work of this type. Danish photographer Steven Achiam made images of sex offenders in a trailer park, also in Florida. I’ve known this work for years but, again, never quite dared to bring it up.

Secondly, I will say that the laws against sex offenders living in proximity to children differ state-to-state, are almost arbitrary, mostly unenforceable and rarely consider whether the crime was against a child in the original case.

Furthermore, exclusionary zones put off-limits ludicrous amounts of roads and public thoroughfares. For example in Revere, Massachusetts, the Prison Policy Initiative mapped out what proposed laws would look like and found that 99% of the city would be off-limits.

Finally, I take my information from those I trust most. Laurie Jo Reynolds — an incredibly effective campaigner, serial grant winner, darling of the anti-prison movement, and hero of mine — has long argued against sex offender registries which put individuals on the list as risk and do not improve public safety. Reynolds also says that registries do not prevent crime only pile expensive punishment, admin and enforcement on top of a severely misunderstood problem.

All that said, we need to approach the issue of sex crimes with less fear and judgement and realise we have not yet found the most sensible, safe, restorative, economical or humane ways to deal with this tough, tough issue. Maybe Sofia Valiente’s images are an invitation to do so?

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Richard: “Up until the age of 18, I had a terrible stutter. I hated talking. I was always a good student and often knew the answers to the questions asked in class. However, I never raised my hand because I dreaded being called on. My stutter was bad, and when I was talking to a girl it was even worse. When I discovered Internet Chatt in 1988, and I could communicate without having to talk, it was the greatest thing ever.”
“Living in Miracle Village is quiet, peaceful, yet isolated. When people call me about jobs, they never know where Pahokee is.”
Paul on his porch. “I don’t know when I started making bad choices.”
Gene in his El Camino.
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Matt exercising in the back shed in the village with David and Lee. “Growing up with my mom was enough, I’m ready to move on. All I did was go to school and take care of the house. It was like living in boot camp. She was the one that called the cops on me in order to protect her job or so she said.”
Ben taking a walk around the sugarcane fields that surround the complex.
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Objects on Rose’s refrigerator include a photograph of her children (their eyes were obscured by the photographer to protect their identities).
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Lee laying down inside his room. Lee went to prison when he was 18 and served 12 and a half years of his 15 year sentence. He is serving the other 2 and a half years on conditional release. His restrictions include a 7pm curfew, no driving other than for employment purposes- not alone, no internet, monthly urinalysis, no contact with minors even family members, GPS monitoring and paying the cost of his supervision. He must register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life. “You can clean me up, put me in the ‘right’ clothes and give me an honorary membership, but I will still be that outsider and that is that.”
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Gene laying down with his dog Killer for a nap. “As a sex offender I can not trust anyone…. All they have to do is call 911 and say that a sex offender has bothered them and Bang! I am in jail. No questions asked.”
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Doug after a day of working outside. He helps out in the community by doing occasional lawn work and other maintenance jobs. Doug lived in a tent in the woods prior to coming to the village. Because of distance restrictions he was unable to go home after serving his time and had difficulty finding a place to live. “After I got into trouble I became homeless and couldn’t get a job so I lived 2,500 feet into the woods.”

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After stints at Haverford College, PA; Scripps, CA; and Rutgers, NJ, my first solo-curated effort Prison Obscura is all grown up and headed to New York.

It’ll be showing at Parsons The New School of Design February 5th – April 17th:

Specifically, it’s at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, located at 2 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011.

On Thursday, February 5th at 5:45 p.m, I’ll be doing a curator’s talk. The opening reception follows 6:30–8:30 p.m. It’d be great to see you there.

Here’s the Parsons blurb:

The works in Prison Obscura vary from aerial views of prison complexes to intimate portraits of incarcerated individuals. Artist Josh Begley and musician Paul Rucker use imaging technology to depict the sheer size of the prison industrial complex, which houses 2.3 million Americans in more than 6000 prisons, jails and detention facilities at a cost of $70 billion per year; Steve Davis led workshops for incarcerated juvenile in Washington State to reveal their daily lives; Kristen S. Wilkins collaborates with female prisoners on portraits with the aim to compete against the mugshots used for both news and entertainment in mainstream media; Robert Gumpert presents a nine-year project pairing portraits and audio recordings of prisoners from San Francisco jails; Mark Strandquist uses imagery to provide a window into the histories, realities and desires of some incarcerated Americans; and Alyse Emdur illuminates moments of self-representations with collected portraits of prisoners and their families taken in prison visiting rooms as well as her own photographs of murals in situ on visiting room walls, and a mural by members of the Restorative Justice and Mural Arts Programs at the State Correctional Institution in Graterford, PA. Also, included are images presented as evidence during the landmark Brown v. Plata case, a class action lawsuit that which went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, where it was ruled that every prisoner in the California State prison system was suffering cruel and unusual punishment due to overcrowded facilities and the failure by the state to provide adequate physical and mental healthcare.

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Parsons has scheduled a grip of programming while the show is on the walls:

Mid-day discussion with curator Pete Brook and Tim Raphael, Director, The Center for Migration and the Global City, Rutgers University-Newark.
Wednesday, February 4, 12:00–1:30 p.m.
Co-hosted with the Humanities Action Lab.

These Images Won’t Tell You What You Want: Collaborative Photography and Social Justice.
Friday, February 27, 6:00 p.m.
A talk by Mark Strandquist.

Windows from Prison
Saturday, February 28
A workshop led by Mark Strandquist. More information about participation will be available on the website.

Visualizing Carceral Space
Thursday, March 12, 6:00 p.m.
A talk by Josh Begley.

Please spread the word. Here’s a bunch of images for your use.

PARTNERS

At The New School, Prison Obscura connects to Humanities Action Lab (HAL) Global Dialogues on Incarceration, an interdisciplinary hub that brings together a range of university-wide, national, and global partnerships to foster public engagement on America’s prison system.

Prison Obscura is a traveling exhibition made possible with the support of the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, Haverford, PA.

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Sébastien van Malleghem has been awarded the 2015 Lucas Dolega Award for Prisons his four years (2011-2014) of reportage from within the Belgian prison system.

I’m a big fan of the work having previously interviewed Sébastien while the work was ongoing and applauded the time he spent three-days locked up in Belgium’s newest most high tech prison. That experience helped van Malleghem understand that there are some very thin but very significant thread that connect the cameras and lenses of security, with the cameras and lenses of photographers and journalists, with the cameras of news and entertainment.

In his formal statement to the Lucas Dolega Award, van Malleghem says:

These images reveal the toll taken by a societal model [the prison] which brings out tension and aggressiveness, and amplifies failure, excess and insanity, faith and passion, poverty.

These images expose how difficult it is to handle that which steps out of line. This, in a time when that line is more and more defined by the touched-up colors of standardization, of the web and of reality TV.

Always further from life, from our life, [prisoners] locked up in the idyllic, yet confined, space of our TV and computer screens.

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In an interview with Molly Benn, Sébastien (mashed through Google translate) says a couple of valid things. They answer key questions young photographers have, firstly about access, and secondly about behaviour in the prison.

No one will tell you up front “You should contact so-and-so.” I went to see the mayor of Nivelles. I forwarded to the director of the prison in Nivelles, who referred me to a government worker. Those exchanges took  8-months. Every time I was asked to re-explain my project. Eventually, I received written permission by email but, still, each warden could still refuse me if he wished.

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In prison, everything is constantly monitored. My first challenge was to get out from under the constant control. Upon entry into prison, you are immediately assigned an agent, supposedly for your safety but mostly to monitor what you’re doing.

But the prison officer ranks are often understaffed. I quickly noticed that they preferred to work their usual job than  be my baby-sitter. So. I asked questions, showed interest in their profession, and I gained their confidence. After this, they let me work quite freely. 

Basically, photographing in prison is a precarious exercise. I recall the words of one photographer who reflected on this best when he told me he never presumed he’d be let back in the next day or next week. He made images as if that day in the prison was his last.

Van Malleghem’s prison work follows on from years documenting Belgian police.

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LUCAS DOLEGA AWARD

Lucas von Zabiensky Mebrouk Dolega grew up between Germany – his mother’s homeland, Morocco – his father’s – and France. Never one to respect authority for authority’s sake, he needled the inconcstencies and the inbetween spaces of persons’ experience and identity. On January 17th 2011, in Tunis, Lucas died on the streets amid a riot. He was covering the “Jasmin Revolution” in Tunisia.

The Lucas Dolega Award honours Dolega’s spirit and contribution. The award recognises freelance photographers who take risks in the pursuit of infomration and informing the world. Previous recipients are Emilio Morenatti (2012), Alessio Romenzi (2013) and Majid Saeedi (2014).

TWEETBOXES

Follow Van Malleghem on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Mom Were OK, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

STRAUSS AT HAVERFORD

If you’re in the Philly area and you’ve got any sense, you’ll be making your way to Haverford College tomorrow for the opening of Sea Change, by Zoe Strauss.

Strauss will be there too. Talking and everything.

Friday, January 23rd.

Do it.

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Drying Money, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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TV on Second Floor, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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This is my hometown, Toms River, NJ, 2012. © Zoe Strauss.

PRESS BLURB

In Sea Change, Strauss traces the landscape of post-climate change America. In photographs, vinyl prints, and projected images, Strauss treads the extended aftermath of three ecological disasters: Hurricane Katrina in the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2005); the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Southern Louisiana (2010); and Hurricane Sandy in Toms River, NJ, and Staten Island, NY (2012). Lush and leveled landscapes; graffiti pleas and words of encouragement—Strauss’s camera captures lives decimated and dusting off: the fast and slow tragedies of global warming, the damage we can repair, and the damage we can’t.

THOUGHTS

I had no idea Strauss was working on a survey of disasterscapes in America. Following her 10 years of photographing in Philadelphia and celebrating the colours and characters of her beloved home city — and then presenting her photographs annually beneath Interstate 95 — it makes sense that Strauss would gravitate to the realest of struggles for real people at a time when real (climate) change is unleashing real events.

Sandy, Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophes left millions of Americans floundering, thousands dead, communities torn from the ground. In the immediate aftermath of such events, attention focuses on the official and governmental responses, but Strauss is more interested in the long tail of disasters and of informal vernacular responses. Strauss seems hell-bent on reminding us that after the camera crews leave, there’s still generations of rebuilding to be done (especially ecologically).

In Sea Change we see Strauss’ usual dark humor and restless documentation of the frayed edges of our nation. She’s holding up a mirror to the inconvenient messiness that we like to think we can deal with quickly and efficiently, but Strauss’ world is in a state of constant entropy, and it’s the invisible, the workers, the poor, the animal kingdom and the dissenters that lose out most when the shit hits the fan.

We all know that we’ve permanently altered our planet’s climate systems; we all know we’re on the hook. But we also know we can look anywhere-else, any time we want. And we know we don’t have to live on the Gulf Coast, or in the path of hurricanes. And we know that when things go south, we can turn our heads to the news and make a distant appraisal about whether the clean-up is happening quick enough or not, or watch some talking heads, or wag our finger at some government official.

Strauss’ victory in all her work — and particularly in Sea Change — is that she marries the visuals in her inquiries and her work so that they sync with her experience of the world. She is keeping herself honest through her photography. Perhaps Strauss can keep us honest too?

Foundational to Strauss’ work too is a deep respect. Zoe is irreverent, for sure, but she is also respectful of people. Entropy is going to happen; change is constant. People are going to win and people are going to lose, amidst change. That’s life. The degree to which people’s fortunes differ … and the degree to which people win and lose … and the degrees to which those statuses are kept permanent, that’s not just “life” though. It’s for us to decide how disaster will effect our collective in the long term. It’s for us to decide on the most equitable distribution of resources when many have literally been swept away.

When people fall down, we help them up. Rebuilding is everyone’s business. In Strauss’ world, love is the response to entropy and its disruptions.

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Running: January 23–March 6, 2015

Reception and opening talk with the artist: Friday, January 23, 4:30–7:30pm

PAPER

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication designed by Random Embassy, Philadelphia, featuring essays by artist Zoe Strauss; The New Yorker contributing writer Mattathias Schwartz; Helen K. White, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Haverford College; and a poem by Thomas Devaney, MFA, PEW Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry, Haverford College.

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Oiled Water Coming Inland, Waveland, Mississippi, Early July, 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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Billboard, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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We’ll Be Back, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

ANY QUESTIONS?

Contact (my mate) Matthew Seamus Callinan, Associate Director, Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and Campus Exhibitions

mcallina@haverford.edu

Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA 19041

Tel: 610 896 1287

Go see it.

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Don’t Forget Us, Mississippi Gulf Coast, July 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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A CARTOONIST GOES TO JAIL

In June 2014, Los Angeles-based cartoonist Elana Pritchard was arrested for violating a court order. When she bailed out on July 3, she had little-to-no money and an overworked public defender. Her prospects didn’t look great.

“I knew I’d have to serve time for my violation,” Pritchard wrote for LA Weekly. “That’s when my mentor, animator-director Ralph Bakshi, advised me to *document my exploits*.”

Pritchard was jailed in the Los Angeles County jail system for two months. First, she spent 5-weeks at Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF) in Lynwood, and closed out her remaining 3-weeks at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown L.A.

ACCESS, OBSERVING & DRAWING

As you know, I deal with photographic imagery mostly, but I am always eager to point out creative efforts in other mediums that illuminate critical criminal justice issues more efficiently, powerfully and intelligently than photography. Pritchard’s cartoons from jail are honest, wry and direct.

“Armed with nothing more than a golf pencil and whatever paper I could get my hands on, I drew the strange world into which I’d been dropped,” says Pritchard. This was the draughtsperson’s equivalent of a two-month photojournalist embed!

They get to the root of those daily indignities that establish power-relations between guards and prisoners. Simultaneously, those power-relations ratchet up tensions for everyone in the jail.

As you look through these cartoons, I ask you to wonder is the “strange world” Pritchard reveals  — of cold showers, dirty laundry, confiscated belongings, midnight cell-counts, competitions over basic sanitary products, food scarcity, sly put-downs and much more — one that we can accept, or one that we can ignore?

The unreasonable claustrophobia of the jail is made visceral in Pritchard’s drawings. I’d argue she conveys the experience of jail far better than many photographers can and have.

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I discovered the comics at the Prison Arts Coalition blog and hastily made inquiries as to whether I could repost the cartoons and Pritchard’s commentary here. Gratefully, I was given permission.

Scroll down, here, to read Pritchard’s reaction to the cartoons’ publication in LA Weekly. I also recommend you read the original LA Weekly article in which Pritchard explains the context for each image.

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“I Wanted To Remind Us We Were People”

Pritchard:

I couldn’t be more pleased with the response to my cartoons from Los Angeles jail system. People from all over the world have written to me expressing their support for what I have done and their contempt for inhumane practices for incarcerated peoples everywhere.

I have been in communication with the LA County Sheriff’s department and they have told me that due to these comics they have issued a new policy that all inmates must be given showers within 24 hours of entering the jail. We are scheduled to meet to discuss further improvements. And throughout all of this it seems the original, humble message of these comics is sticking: that we were people.

Even though we had a barcode on our wrist with a number and were called “bodies” by the staff, we were still people.

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Pritchard:

Many people in jail are still on trial and haven’t even been found guilty or innocent yet. Many people made mistakes that you or I have made before in private, only they got caught. There were mothers in there that missed their children. There were kind people in there that cared about the arts and cared about each other.

I drew these comics to make us all laugh and remind us that even though there was a whole group of of people with badges and better clothes than we had telling us we didn’t matter … we DID matter and we WERE PEOPLE.

In that the comics were successful, and for that I am proud.

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All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.

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ELANA PRITCHARD

Elana Pritchard is a cartoonist in Los Angeles. Before she landed in jail she worked as an animator on Ralph Bakshi’s film, Last Days of Coney Island.

She is currently raising money on Kickstarter to complete her animation, The Circus.

You can follow Pritchard on Twitter at @elanapritchard.

PERMISSIONS

All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.

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MLK

Only yesterday did I listen in full to MLK’s more-than-infamous I Have A Dream speech. Now I know that every American kid studies it in middle school, but I didn’t grow up in the U.S.

Not only did I listen, I watched. This animation — which was made in 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of MLK’s oration at the March on Washington in August 1963 — is just the most poignant and sensitive of treatments.

Take 17 minutes out of your day. Any day. But particularly this one.

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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