In an email, Dustin Franz explained that his project Finding Faith is about those who find spiritual direction “be it in any religion, while incarcerated”. It was made at the Marion Correctional Institute and documents the activities of the Horizon program, a multi-faith religious initiative.
Dustin asked what I thought, so here goes. There’s a couple of strong images in among the series. I’ve selected my two preferred photographs (above): they closely approximate to the eerie weight of both incarceration and organised religion.
Like most others, Dustin is probably not aware of my aversion to shots of receding tiers! Same goes for barbed wire. So we’ll scratch those two.
His shot of the chapel congregation is forgettable, but most B&W documentary shots are these days – that’s just the way percentages play out. His two group shots (one is below) are strong and show the connection, commitment and concentration ongoing between participants and volunteers.
The two shots of Muslims in prayer are indicative, but I wonder today if there’s a danger of stoking irrational fear by showing Islam in prison without conscientious background information? This is a reflection of my caution more than the photographer’s skill. If we are going to understand why any religions persist in prisons then we should start with a basic appreciation of their history. As a critic, I’m never satisfied.
The series is a nicely edited mixture of compositions, but I’m left feeling I need more. So often documentary photography describes the scene but doesn’t grip the emotions. Audio is a great complement, so kudos to Franz for producing the accompanying multimedia piece Hope is on the Horizon.
The narrated slideshow opens with this quote from Jeff Hunsaker, Horizon program coordinator, “If you stop and think about it, prisons today have become human junk yards. This is where we throw away the people we don’t want.”
Bang. Done. I’m hooked.
Quickly following Hunsaker’s words are those of a prisoner explaining that it is not about Christian bible-bashing (Horizon is billed as an ecumenical program) but about taking responsibility. Basically, as we all know, situations peered upon by journalists are often better described by the subjects than the reporters. Franz and his co-producer, Angela Shoemaker, were wise to adopt multiple media to tell the stories at Marion prison.
Dustin Franz is the photo editor for The Athens News. In the past, he has worked for The Aspen Daily News, Colorado. He’s the latest in a long line of budding photographers from the photojournalism program at The School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. Others include, of course, Angela Shoemaker (whose work I’ve pointed out before) and Maddie McGarvey who just won the LUCEO Student Project Award and took Dustin’s bio portrait. Dustin lives and works in Athens, Ohio and blogs here.