Frank Schershel. Photos licensed for personal non-commercial use only by LIFE

I was made aware of this set of photographs last week (sorry I forget the source!). They’re an interesting document of a bustling metropolis’ prison with an open program of movement, activity and an array of inmates.

The number of visitors and family members involved in many of the images leads me to think of this prison as an institution where people remained until the peculiarities of their situation could be agreed upon and then communicated to ensure release.

The social engagement of inmates with those from outside suggests to me (with an acknowledgement of harsh lockdown-modern-prisons) that the authorities of 1950s Mexico City either weren’t convinced of prisoners guilt, could be convinced otherwise, or simply didn’t map the denial of family-involvement on to the landscape of criminal punishment.

Frank Schershel. Photos licensed for personal non-commercial use only by LIFE

Frank Schershel. Photos licensed for personal non-commercial use only by LIFE

Schershel’s photographs recalled Richard Ross‘ image from Architecture of Authority. Schershel’s images doubled my visual knowledge of Mexican prisons, and so know I find myself in the unacceptable position that Mexican penitentiaries are – in my mind (at least temporarily) – the Palacio de Lecumberri … which means I have to do more research to get away from that inadequate knowledge base.

Palacio de Lecumberri (former prison) Mexico City, Mexico 2006. © Richard Ross

Until Schershel’s photo set, I had thought that Ross’ picture depicted a tower in the centre of a modestly-sized jail, but Schershel’s image puts the tower and rotunda into its larger setting (top left octant).

Frank Schershel. Photos licensed for personal non-commercial use only by LIFE

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