I grinned ear to ear yesterday when Foto8 In & Out the Old Bailey ran Ben Graville‘s work of remand prisoners (and security guards) in reaction to the press camera up against reinforced glass. It is a novel, clear and entertaining project. Why did it take someone so long to put a series like this together?
If photography is – in cases – intended to plumb the human soul and aggressively seek out human frailty, pride, conversion, obstinacy, etc., then the back of a cop-van is probably a good place to start. Folk on their way to trial are going to have a lot to say about a) their charge b) their case c) everything else that the first two don’t cover.
James Luckett over at consumptive coined the term “Photo booth from Hell” and he’s right on the money. They sit in a big white box subject to a camera behind a small glass rectangle. The environment is claustrophobic, impersonal and germy.
If a prisoner has the forethought or experience they may ready him or herself for the photograph. If not they’ll be captured on film anyway.
How balanced is the interaction between camera and subject? The image will serve the media more than it will serve the balance or accuracy of the court case. But this is a truism.
Graville is interested in state enforced anonymity and the effect it has on mystifying and intensifying understanding;
The long process and dark grim historical nature of criminal law was the starting point of these pictures, highlighted through the anonymity of the remand prisoners hidden away from public view – not through choice but a decision made by authorities to potentially alienate the prisoners further from society. You can often hear remand prisoners banging on the window of the van to attract attention. This desire to be heard or seen is manifest in these photos, showing how the processes of criminal law mystify and intensify situations as the prisoner travels between the remand prison and the Old Bailey.
It should be no shock that many prisoners perform, gurn and address Graville’s camera directly; they are – literally and legally – in a transitory, undecided state. If I was in this same situation, I think it would be a natural reflex-come-obligation to self-represent to the camera. These prisoners may not have chosen to have the camera in their space, but they have the choice of how to address it.
… and of course there’s always a security guard who gets in on the action.