UPDATE 09.05.11 (11:45 PST): Sarah Hoskins emailed, “The warden who was there at the time, and allowed me access, had a lot of good programs for the girls. She told me once how many of them would commit crimes to actually get back in as it was often the only place where they were safe. I don’t know if you saw the stats in my overview regarding the abuse [“90% have been physically and/or sexually abused. The average age of first abuse is 9.83 years”]. Those numbers have always stayed with me. Especially as the mother of a daughter.”

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In June 2007, Sarah Hoskins photographed in the Southern Oaks Girls School, a detention centre for youth operated by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Girls School struggles with the limitations imposed by privacy laws disallowing the identification of minors. As a result we get interior architectural details, objects substituted for their makers and the backs of heads. This is no criticism of Hoskins as I’ve seen it many times before in photography of prison or jails where faces are off-limits to media.

This is a shame in one regard, Hoskins is shooting in a facility that houses youth with troubled lives and important stories, but looking through Hoskins’ lens we are made to feel outsiders. Maybe that’s a point that shouldn’t be dismissed? Maybe we need to accept photography in this instance for what it is – an act (and a product) that fully adopts and extends the poise, boundaries, prescribed separation of the site?

As compared to projects like Leah Tepper Bryne’s work from a NY State youth detention centre (I don’t know how Tepper Byrne negotiated permissions to show faces) Hoskins’ photographs leave you wishing for some more connection.

Of the portfolio, Girls School, I was most taken with the picture above and it is precisely because it bears a connection through eye contact. It’s an ambiguous connection to say the least; one might even argue it is a suspicious or patrolling look, but it is a look nonetheless.

Ed Kashi has recently confronted this same issue head on with Eye Contact an exhibition at the VII Gallery in Brooklyn and an interview with the New York Times’ Lens Blog in which he says:

“I think it’s because we don’t want to exist in our pictures. After 30 years of being a photographer, I don’t know if it’s a conceit. I don’t know if it’s self-delusion. But there is this idea that if somebody is looking into the camera, then somehow it’s inauthentic or it’s not a genuine moment. We don’t want anyone to think we were there.”

I’ve always been clear, as a viewer and a critic – I like collaborative photography in which the photographer is not stalking but engaging and discussing the ground they share with their subject. Photographers can’t disappear and there’ll always be images made that show that … often with the sharpest glance.

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