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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:
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.
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.
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.
For the Winter Issue of Actually People Quarterly (APQ), I interviewed college professor Nigel Boyle who played the beautiful game in circumstances that most would consider unlikely. Nigel explains, however, that football is a way of life among the Ugandan prison population who welcomed he and other educators with untold warmth.
The theme for the Winter APQ Issue was ‘Triumph.’ Nigel had a good game.
It’s great to publish the APQ article, in full, here on the blog. Thanks to my friends over at San Francisco’s Carville Annex for ongoing collaborations.
Nigel Boyle is a bit like me. He’s English, he’s quite white, he can’t control his bigger smiles, and he’s a mad football fan. Earlier this year, before I visited Nigel’s hometown of Claremont, California, I contacted him because he had been teaching in his local prison. I wanted to know more about that.
I did not know he had taught in a prison in Uganda this summer, too. Nigel invited me to a soiree at his house. It was a reunion of the faculty, students and administrators involved in the Uganda prison teaching program as well as directors of partner organizations. I was made to feel very welcome.
Nigel supports Aston Villa, who play in claret and blue. They’re based in Birmingham, have existed since 1874, and were one of the 12 founding teams of the English Football League. I support Liverpool who play in red and, down the years, have won more trophies than Villa. Neither team haven’t won many titles in recent decades.
Nigel is one of those lucky people that has managed to merge his passion for a particular sport with his professional pursuits. He has taught seminars on the history and political economy of football and once delivered a conference paper titled “What World Cup and Champions League Soccer Teaches Us about Contemporary Europe.” Before he moved to California to teach at Pitzer College, Nigel taught at Duke and Oxford universities.
During his party, Nigel entered the kitchen clasping a photograph. In it, he was pictured with teeth and fists clenched, in mid-sprint in front of a crowd of onlookers. It looked like he had just kicked a ball. He explained that the onlookers were prisoners in the Luzira Upper Prison, in Uganda. Naturally, I had questions.
Q & A
Prison Photography (PP): Why were you in a Ugandan prison?
Nigel Boyle (NB): I was there as a volunteer with the Prison Education Project (PEP), a California program founded by my colleague Professor Renford Reese. PEP had been invited by a Ugandan academic, Arthur Sserwanga, who has been doing third-level education in Ugandan prisons.
PP: So football in prison?
NB: There are 10 “clubs” at the prison and they are all named after renowned European teams — Man United, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Leeds, Chelsea, Arsenal, Newcastle, Everton, Barcelona and Juventus.
NB: Really. A league structure is an organizing principle inside. They all have long histories and fan clubs. They adhere to league codes of ethics and conduct. They have transfer windows!
PP: Why were you playing?
NB: I watched several games at the prison – tournaments between a game between the Luzira Upper Prison Team and another prison team (Murcheson Bay Prison) and one between the Luzira Upper Prison Team and the prison staff team. I got antsy as a spectator and put together a team of U.S. students and students from Makerere University. Games are the primary entertainment at the prison, 3,000 spectators. I was not sure when the game was going to happen which is why I was wearing my “teaching kit” not my Villa kit. We were playing the Arsenal club team.
PP: How did the game go?
NB: Arsenal started off by scoring early and then went easy on us as we had some inexperienced players on the team. But then we started to play a bit, got an equalizer and the crowd really got into it. They were supporting us mostly (apart from the Arsenal fans, of course). The crowd was most delighted with the “the girl” on our team, a U.S. student called Ashley. That she could actually play well led to roars of approval. As the old Muzungu* on the field I also drew some cheers when I showed I knew how to kick a ball.
PP: Was it tense?
NB: It was the friendliest “friendly” game I have ever played in. In fact all games at Luzira are played in a very gentlemanly fashion – the prison soccer association constitution demands it and sets explicit standards for player and fan behavior, above anything FIFA* can manage.
PP: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
NB: I’m your basic Brummie* parks player. Good in the air, poor control, good passer, slow. I played at the back most of the game, with 10 minutes to go it was 3-3 and I moved up front.
PP: That’s when your moment of glory came?
NB: I scored with a sidefooted shot from 15 yards out, with only 8 minutes of the game to go. The crowd which was about 3,000 roared.
PP: A crowd of 3,000!?!?
NB: My childhood fantasy came true. Then I scored again. I was through on keeper, chasing down a clearance. We won the game. Being “interviewed” about my performance in this game only adds to the sense of my childhood dream coming true at the age of 53! After the game there were speeches (there always are after Luzira UP games). I thanked the Upper Prison Football Association, and it’s president-prisoner Opio Moses, whom I’m proud to call a friend.
PP: Will you ever play in front of a crowd that big again?
NB: Only if I get back to Luzira again, and I would love to do that.
PP: Are you at all tempted to retire on a high?
NB: I know guys in their 60s still playing pick-up soccer and I intend continuing as long as my knees hold out. But this is the story I will be telling my grandchildren.
PP: What’s football got to do with education?
NB: I’ve taught a course on comparative political economy through football (or soccer/futbol/fussball) eight times, at three institutions: Pitzer College, the University of Landau in Germany, and at California Rehabilitation Center, which is a prison in Norco. Is there a better lens for understanding contemporary globalization out there? Certainly not one that engages students the way the beautiful game does.
PP: How do Uganda prisons differ from those in the U.S.?
NB: U.S. prisons use vast human and financial resources to dehumanize prisoners and deny them the ability to function as social beings. I’m only familiar with Level 2, medium-security prisons in the U.S., but these are militarized holding pens.
Luzira Upper Prison is the top maximum security prison in Uganda, but staff carry no weapons, look prisoners in the eye, and treat prisoners as potential co-managers of the prison, not as human refuse. Resource starved Ugandan prisons allow prisoners to organize themselves into a civil society behind walls, and it’s through the football clubs and the Prison Football Association that prisoners have organized and bargained with prison staff.
Upper Prison Luzira was a colonial prison designed to incarcerate and punish men who threatened British law and order. In the last 20 years, this colonial shell has been allowed to sprout prisoner-led education (literacy through degree levels), and sports and cultural organization that provide a training in how to be a productive citizen. U.S. prisons talk about “rehabilitation” but appear to be designed to induce PTSD.
PP: Thanks Nigel.
NB: Thank you, Pete.
A GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Brummie = a person born in Birmingham, England.
Muzungu = Swahili word for white man.
FIFA = The International Federation of Football Associations, known most recently for its bloated coffers, back room deals, golden handshakes and rampant corruption.
I wrote about the Greenpoint Glass Selfie Window for Vantage, on Medium — All Of Us, Looking at You, Looking at You.
“Molly’s living room window — Greenpoint’s own ‘Selfie Window’—is a local landmark. Over the past year, a small patch of Brooklyn pavement has become a haven for impromptu portraits, in-jokes among friends and street performances.”
Follow @greenpointglass on Instagram — they’re one of my favourites.
Photographer unknown. Group holding cages, C-Yard, Building 13, Administrative Segregation Unit, Mule Creek State Prison, August 1, 2008
The coalition activist groups Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) are doing tremendous work at tracking was is said as compared to what is done by the Golden State’s politicians. Governor Jerry Brown has been particularly adept at appeasing the centrist and liberal leaning electorate without ever taking bold action to reduce California’s reliance on incarceration.
This morning, Gov. Brown announced an increase in spending on corrections at the state level. Not acceptable.
You may wonder why I focus on California so much. Well, aside of the fact it is my home state, California is often a bellwether for actions in other states. California was the first to enact Three-Strikes-And-You’re-Out Laws in the mid-nineties and it was the first to repeal them at the ballot in 2014.
California is a massive economy — bigger than most nations — and yet inequality in the Golden State has never been more stark. California tells itself it is a global leader. However, if that were true it would be spending less money on cages and more money on education, rehabilitation, and initiatives to build healthy communities.
Today’s announcement from the Governor’s office simply is not good enough. Here’s CURB’s response:
CURB PRESS RELEASE
California Governor Jerry Brown Backslides on Corrections Budget, No Substantial Reductions to the Prison Population Except Costly Expansion
Gov. Brown’s 2015-16 Budget, released this morning, defies comments earlier this week that the administration is committed to shrinking California’s over-sized prisons by increasing prison spending by 1.7%, bringing the total Corrections budget up to $12.676 billion.
“If the Governor believes that ‘we can’t pour more and more dollars down the rat hole of incarceration’ and has actively attributed the voice of the voters in this decision, then why is he increasing spending on corrections, planning for more prisoners rather than fewer and defying the demands of the Federal Court to further shrink the prison system?” asked Christina Tsao of Critical Resistance. The proposed increase of funding for corrections is partially due to 13 new reentry hubs.
California’s overwhelming passage of Prop. 47 was widely recognized as a mandate from voters to further reduce the prison population. County officials in Los Angeles have estimated an annual reduction of 2,500 in their jail population, however today’s budget predicts that in 2015-16 only 1,900 people will be released from state prison under the proposition. The budget highlights the release of people from prison as a result of the expansion of good-time credits (4,418) and elder parole (115). The budget does not outline any further plans to expand these efforts.
“Today’s budget shows the success of parole and sentencing reform measures in beginning to reduce crowding in California’s bloated prisons,” said Diana Zuñiga, Statewide Organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Then why is Governor Brown still spending millions of dollars to open thousands of new prison beds, instead of implementing even more aggressive population reduction reforms?” asks Zuñiga. The budget anticipates that 2,376 new state prison beds will open in Feb. 2016 at 3 different locations.
“Today’s budget maintains California as #1 in poverty and #1 in prison spending. This is not an accident, “ said Vanessa Perez from Time for Change Foundation. “This morning Brown applauded the legislature on a balanced budget but we need to tear down the wall of poverty and invest more into vital programs and services that will lift the most vulnerable in our community out of poverty and stop wasting money on building new prisons walls. That is something that will be worthy of an applause”.
After years of cuts, today’s budget includes an increase in spending on K-12 and higher education. Education advocates, particularly in the UC system would like to see even further increases to prevent tuition hikes. “Higher educations in California has needed more funding for years. As we see tuition hikes happening for UC students across the state, here in San Diego they are building new prison beds at Donovan State Prison,” says Allyson Osorio a student working in External Affairs at UC San Diego. “We should support the students in California and stop wasting precious funding to increase incarceration.”
CURB Press Contact
Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator, Californians United for a Responsible Budget
1322 Webster St. #210
Oakland, CA 94612
Art For Justice has a new exhibition opening in Philadelphia.
Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (Between 19th and 20th Streets on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
Jan. 12 – Feb. 15, 2015
Stuart Griffiths was a kid when he went to Northern Ireland, in 1988, as a fresh recruit of the British Army. His first Christmas as an adult was spent on base. He dropped a tab of acid.
In the book Pigs’ Disco, Griffiths details his time serving for queen and country, his fear, boredom and struggle see what could possibly follow. I wrote about the body of work for Vantage, the new photography “collection’ published by Medium.
“At the turn of the nineties, Britain reveled in rave culture. From Bognor to Bangor, loved-up youth danced until dawn in clubs and beyond. A decade before cell phones, pill-popping kids were convening mass-raves in farmers’ fields and empty warehouses by word of mouth.
If there was one place you’d think this euphoric wave could not breach, it’d be the barracks of the British Army. But you’d be wrong. Pigs’ Disco details Griffiths’ drug addled misadventures from 1988 to 1993 while stationed, for the most part, in Northern Ireland as a paratrooper with Her Majesty’s finest.”
Read the full story: Tripping On Acid While In Her Majesty’s Service (Medium)
The book Pigs’ Disco, by Stuart Griffiths is published by Ditto Press.
It was a double whammy this week. Everyone noticed the 6,000 page report into CIA torture. Many won’t know that today was the day that Justice Department attorneys presented the Obama administrations rationale for suppressing over 2,100 photos and videos of torture by American military personnel in Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Since 2009, the Obama administration has argued that releasing them would inflame anti-American sentiment abroad and place Americans at risk. Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is not so easily convinced and wants the government to explain, photograph by photograph, how each might pose a threat to national security. The fight to release these photos dates to 2004, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
David Levi Strauss has tracked these developments from the very beginning. Several chapters in his new book is Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow (Aperture, 2014) deal directly with the war over control of torture photos.
Strauss and I, for WIRED talked about state secrets, how the brain is wired, the political power of images and whether or not photos of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse actually exist.
WIRED: Why has the release of 2,000-plus remaining images and videos made by US military personnel in Abu Ghraib not been resolved?
Strauss: Because of the effectiveness of the images. They became the symbol of the change in US policy to include torture. Images are very powerful. That’s why the US government has become very afraid of the effects of these images worldwide.
The other amazing thing about the Abu Ghraib images was that they crossed the boundary between private and public. That is unusual. It changed things for photojournalism, for the military, certainly, and for the public at large. Prior to the release of the Abu Ghraib images, the military was handing out cameras to soldiers so that they could use photos to stay in touch with their families, and to be used operationally.
Read the full conversation: The War Over the US Government’s Unreleased Torture Pictures.
[All images for this Prison Photography post via Salon]
HERE PRESS has done it again; it has produced a book that allows us an irresistible glimpse into foreign space and psychology. 2041 is a collection of self-portraits, made by a man, donning makeshift burqas and niqabs, in his home in England.
The title 2041 refers to the name by which the man is known. “2041” made thousands of images with the express intent to share them online with fellow full-coverage enthusiasts.
“Using the camera to articulate a passion he has secretly indulged for decades, the artist appears dozens of times without ever disclosing his image or identity,” says the HERE press release. “Long before 2041 bought his first real burqa online, he began crafting his own versions from draped and folded fabrics in a rich array of textures and colours … ranging from the traditional to the theatrical.”
2041 is part of a connected online community of men and women from across Western Europe and the Gulf States. They are Christians, Muslims and without religion.
This is a gripping book and look into a world that cannot be fully known, nor can be fully verified. What is interesting, therefore, is that without identifiable subjects, the veracity of photography collapses. Or, at the least, we have to completely shift our expectations about what photography provides. The book 2041 is working on, and with, many levels. There’s a motivation by HERE to celebrate photography by revealing its limits and capacity. Despite a reliance on images to connect themselves, 2041 and his cohorts are inhabiting the unphotographable.
As such, 2041 is a playful but earnest exposé of the photographic medium as much as it is this small web of like-minded folks.
A similar type of mood persists in previous titles by HERE. Harry Hardie and Ben Weaver skirt the outer territories of our photo-landscape and delineate the edges. Edmund Clark’s Control Order House took us inside the ordinary domestic spaces of a terror suspect under house arrest. Power was described precisely by what was not photographed. Jason Lazarus’ Nirvana took us into grunge-infused personal histories; the photographs were just a foil to get subjects feting up about beautiful and traumatic pasts.
I, for one, am getting quite excited by HERE’s growing catalogue of ever-so-slightly-disconcerting photobooks.
Between the internet and the veil 2041’s anonymity folds and billows. He remembers the enveloping cassocks and cottas he wore as a choirboy. As an adult, he moved toward total covering. In the early millennium, 2041 his bought his first computer and plugged into an online community that shared his passion.
“What almost all [of the people covering themselves] seem to crave is transcendence of the physical self – or at least being judged on the physical – coupled with the excitement of observing the world unseen, safely cocooned in luxuriant fabrics,” says HERE. “This is the burqa seen in a celebratory light.”
Naturally, I have lots of questions so I dropped Harry at HERE PRESS a line. He put me in touch with Lewis Chaplin who is co-founder of Fourteen Nineteen, but more importantly co-editor of 2041.
Scroll down for our Q&A
Prison Photography (PP): Where did you first see and hear about 2041’s photographs?
Lewis Chaplin (LC): I first found these images almost four years ago, while researching emergent subcultures of fetishists/obsessives who were finding community and likemindedness through the internet. Many of these people use Flickr in particular to indulge in their private desires, and it was here that I found 2041’s images. I was struck by the rigidity, flatness and compositional skills that his images had. Compared to most who used the image more as a byproduct or vehicle to access their fetishes, 2041’s images seemed more like the images were performed for the camera and the camera only, for the sake of documentation, rather than for anything else.
PP: Is the book 2041 made in collaboration with the subject? If so, how did you make contact, build trust, ensure discretion?
LC: Yes, it is fully collaborative. Contact was made initially by Harry Hardie , who introduced himself as a publisher, and then I was bought into the conversation. I began a regular correspondence with him, which culminated in a face-to-face meeting and then visits to his house, where we collaborated and photographed each other, and I went through his image archives.
PP: Have all the pictures been verified? Can we know it is the same person under the burqas and niqabs in all the pictures? Does verification matter? Is not knowing something in absolute certainty one of the facets of the images and their use?
LC: I can verify 90% of them through their EXIF data, as we have had access to raw camera files. However, it is not necessarily the same person concealed. I think it is this lack of verification that is the titilating point of these images. Beneath the veil, your physical identity shrinks into a few gestures and outlines, and you can take on the form and countenance of another.
Even now there are images which Ben Weaver (HERE PRESS) and I cannot decide whether they depict our protagonist or others. To be certain though – this form of image-making is a firmly social practice, one based around solid online and offline networks. A few images in the book give this away, and were you to find 2041 online you would find images of me concealed, for example.
PP: Why did you want to make this book?
LC: Because I think that unlike many of the images made by people with strange interests on the internet, these images say something very complex about photography. What I like about these images is that there is that they are purely performative gestures – but yet they give nothing away. They reveal the presence of an individual, but not their likeness, or an accurate representation. Something about the concealment of desire, or the hiding of the true likeness of an object in these images actually feels like a very nuanced statement on photography, that at no stage in the process ever actually tries to use the camera to bear any details, or describe anything accurately.
PP: How many potential subjects and/or images did you have to choose from in making the book? What makes 2041’s images special — some aspects of aesthetics, or merely their availability?
LC: It wasn’t so much a matter of choice, more that these images asked for some kind of sequencing and exploring. There is definitely an aesthetic dimension of these images that is appealing – the composition and contrast between flatness and texture, the shapes are unlike others I have seen – and there is also a lot of time and effort that has gone into these. 2041 is also an actor, and a painter. You can see the influence of classical painting on some of his poses and crops. He is also akin to humour and self-deprecation, you can see it sometimes.
PP: 2041 wishes to remain anonymous. Obviously, as the editor, you’re a legitimate proxy to whom I can talk. I want to ask what 2041 thinks of the book?
LC: Let’s ask him once he has seen it!
PP: What do members of the online burqa fetish community think? What do you think they might think?
LC: I don’t think it has made its way through to these channels, but I would hope that what they see here is that we are not trying to ridicule or pass judgement through our scrutiny. This book I hope comes off as a sincere tribute to photography being used in a genuinely interesting way that talks about self-perception, the way images are used on the internet and so many other things, through the prism of a very personal, domestic and specific application of the camera.
PP: Do we understand what the burqa is and what it does?
LC: In these images the burqa, niqab or any other Muslim garment is a means to an end in some way. You can see in some of 2041’s experimentations that it is just about complete coverage through any means. He is not wearing a burqa in most images, in fact. The removal of physical presence is the goal here – it is never about using the burqa in a subversive or political way.
PP: Thanks, Lewis.
LC: Thank you, Pete.
2041, the book
170 x 240mm, 120pp + 6pp insert
72 photographs + 1 illustration
Offset lithoprint on coated & uncoated paper Sewn in sections with loose dust jacket
Choice of 3 cover ‘photo insert’ cards
Text, illustration & photographs by 2041
Edited & designed by Lewis Chaplin & Ben Weaver Edition of 500.