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Srey Neth and Lia move into the STAR House, a secondary transition home designed to help victims of sex trafficking to learn the skills to reintegrate into society without falling back to sex work. The teenagers are residents of Transitions Global and have experienced horrific physical and mental abuse largely at the hands of their fellow Cambodians. Photo: Tim Matsui, 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant Winner

The Alexia Foundation has opened its call for entries for the 2014 Women’s Initiative Grant.

There’s a lot of grants out there but the Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant is one of the best. Why? Firstly, it’s a large amount of money: $25,000. That’s the type of money needed to get at an issue in any depth. Secondly, the expectations are high. The winner has six months to produce the work and then is encouraged to plug in the product (and the lessons within) to a host of diverse media outlets. Thirdly, it is about women and their needs. When U.S. females earn 77 cents for every dollar a male earns; when women are trafficked worldwide; when women are bearing the brunt of holding together families and communities in the face of the prison industrial complex; when women face issues such as these and others which are part of routine gender violence, the Alexia Foundation is making it’s contribution to bring these issues to the table.

I am also a big fan of journalist Tim Matsui who was awarded the 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant. His project Leaving the Life is about domestic juvenile sex trafficking. Latest update here. A trailer for a film ‘The Long Night’ which accompanies the project and produced by MediaStorm can be viewed here.

Photojournalists worldwide are encouraged to apply to the Women’s Initiative Grant. Deadline: June 30, 2014.

From the press release:

Unlike the first Women’s Initiative grant, which specifically focused on abuse of women in the United States, this call for entries is intended to permit the photographer to propose a serious documentary photographic or multimedia project encompassing any issue involving women anywhere in the world.

While considering the idea of women’s issues, several themes have been suggested, including femininity and the culture of abuse; women making a difference, leading, changing things for the better; gender inequality; the direct connection to women and education, and the impact on birth rates, health of children and the productivity of the women; gender discrimination, women in leadership, women in the military, mental health issues. They are by no means intended to influence proposals, but they may help photographers start thinking about this topic.

The Alexia Foundation’s main purpose is to encourage and help photojournalists create stories that drive change. While our traditional grant guidelines put no limits on the subject matter for grant proposals, a number of proposals about women’s rights in the last few years have been so powerful that we have been compelled to create a grant specifically on issues relating to women.

Apply here.

Winner announced Sept. 1, 2014.
Winner has six months to complete project, by March 1, 2015.
Contact Eileen Mignoni at with any inquiries.

© Aaron Lavinsky


For 12 years every spring, women incarcerated at Estrella Jail in Maricopa County, Phoenix, AZ, have convened to create, prepare and perform a theatre production. The six-week program —  that culminates in a public show — is called Journey Home.

Photographer Aaron Lavinsky, now based in Grays Harbor, WA, was in attendance for the finale 2012 performance and photographed it for The State Press — the Arizona State University (ASU) student paper. Not satisfied with only a single afternoon’s access, Lavinsky decided to return in 2013 to document rehearsals and to dig into the personal stories of two participants. It is Lavinsky’s photos from Feb/Mar 2013 presented here.

The Journey Home program adopts a different theme each year, but in every case attempts to “enable women to discover a personal sense of constructive identity through movement, visual arts, creative writing and storytelling.” Journey Home is made possible through efforts of committed instructors (in 2013 by storyteller Fatimah Halim; movement specialist Teniqua Broughton; psychotherapist Imani O. Muhammad; and others) and supported by sponsorship from the ASU Herberger Institute for Design ant the Arts.

© Aaron Lavinsky

Estrella Jail, under the administration of controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio presents itself as a case-study of contradiction for us if we are to be responsible consumers of images. Lavinsky’s pictures are hopeful but the carceral backdrop to them less so.

Arpaio has been pursued by the Federal authorities for unconstitutional jail conditions and racial profiling. Arpaio’s use of striped uniforms and pink underwear serves to both manipulate visual readings within the public sphere and to humiliate prisoners. If you need anymore convincing that Arpaio is a special case, look no further than his questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate (although it could just as easily be a calculated publicity stunt).

I’ve written before about how Arpaio’s jails may be the most photographed of any jails or prisons in the nation. His facilities are a media circus often.

Before we get into the Q&A with Lavinsky, I think it is worth us bearing in mind two things — 1. Journey Home is a laudable, but not necessarily typical program. I mean, what happens the other 46 weeks of the year for these women? And 2. All of these women are wearing uniforms branded UNSENTENCED. This means each woman is  awaiting trial; in the eyes of the law, they are not guilty. It might also mean they are kept incarcerated because they can’t meet bail. Everyday, tens of thousands of people wallow behind bars because they are too poor to afford bail. I don’t know what proportion of Maricopa County prisoners are in such a penury situation as bail differs county to state; and judge to courtroom.

Instead of spending too much thought on Arpaio as overlord-to-one-of-America’s-most-shameful-systems-of-detention, I think it’s more responsible meditate on the successes of the women when viewing Lavinsky’s images. And, of course, to hear Lavinsky’s first hand observations.

Scroll down for the Q&A.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky


Prison Photography (PP): Why this story?

Aaron Lavinsky (AL): Journey Home presented enormous potential, but I wanted to go beyond the one-hour performance performed for the public. In 2013, I was interning for the Arizona Republic and looking for a story that could push my abilities as a visual journalist. I decided to cover Journey Home again, but with extended access. I visited back and forth for a month during classroom sessions, the performance, and then follow-ups with two women around whom the story  was centered.

PP: Do theatre and dance workshops such as this occur regularly at Estrella jail?

AL: Not to my knowledge. Journey Home is an annual workshop and while there are other classes, they are more geared toward substance abuse counseling. I’m sure there are elements of creative expression but not on the same level as Journey Home.

PP: As this is a county jail, I anticipate these women were serving relatively shorter sentences. What sort of transgressions were these women locked up for?

AL: Most of the prisoners in the program were there for substance abuse related crimes, which is the case with most prisoners at Estrella. Some of them were serving short sentences while others were waiting for or in the midst of trials that could send them to prison. Both the prisoners I focused on, Renata F. and Robina S. were facing prison sentences of 1-3 years if convicted. Because of their pending trials, I was unable to publish their full names which was one of the stipulations of covering the program.

PP: I’m gripped by the wide smiles in your photos. The women seem to be in the midst of huge enjoyment and heartfelt emotion. Such animation is rare in prisons and jails and rarer still in photographs of prisoners.

AL: I think photographers, for most prison and jail stories, try to illustrate how rough incarceration can be for those inside. I’ve had to make “prisoner behind bars” type photos before for other assignments and they kind of all feel the same looking back. Journey Home is unique in that there is a genuine sense of happiness and camaraderie among the women. I imagine that jail is extremely stressful and Journey Home gave these women an opportunity to let their guard down and be people, not just prisoners.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

PP: Did you meet Sheriff Joe Arpaio?

AL: I’ve met and photographed Sheriff Joe a number of times. There is definitely a cult of personality surrounding him in Phoenix and beyond. You see it right when you walk in to Estrella with a portrait of him hanging high on the wall — just out of reach to those hoping to deface it.

Last summer, I photographed Tent City’s 20th anniversary and the entire thing was a bit of a set up. As Arpaio spoke to the media, there were about 30 or 40 prisoners lined up behind him smiling and gesturing to the camera. He served prisoners cake, coffee, candy cigarettes as well as home living magazines with false Playboy and Hustler covers on them. He kind of just let photographers and videographers walk around and shoot whatever we wanted. Arpaio, however controversial he may be, is a smart guy and he knows that we’re on a 24-7 news cycle and if he invites us, we’ll probably show up.

I definitely knew exactly what I was going into whenever I stepped foot in the jails in Phoenix. That being said, certain programs like Journey Home and ALPHA, a drug prevention and counseling program, are genuinely there to help prisoners and aren’t just for the cameras.

PP: What were the women’s thoughts on the jail? How was it serving their rehabilitation, thinking, emotions, family life etc.?

AL: Jail is a rough experience for just about everyone there — prisoners and guards. Nobody I spoke with had particularly nice things to say about their experiences at Estrella. It separated them from their family, homes and freedom. I spoke with one woman in 2012 who was thankful for her incarceration, since she was on a downward spiral with alcoholism, but I got a sense that she was appreciative more of her forced separation from alcohol than with the jail’s rehabilitative resources.

The prisoners really did love the workers who came in to lead workshops like Journey Home. Fatimah, Teniqua and Imani were the leaders of the program and I have no doubt that they made positive, lasting influences in the lives of some of the women who were more engaged in the program.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

PP: Was the Estrella Jail Rehabilitation through the Arts program successful?

AL: I think any program, which seeks to positively influence the lives of prisoners instead of simply punishing them, is on some level successful. Something isn’t working since there are more people in the system today then ever before. Any attempt to decrease the odds of people ending up back in jail or prison is a step in the right direction. One of the complaints I received though is that the program was only 6-weeks long. If it’s going on its 12th year, they must know that it’s successful. So why not extend the program for women who are showing positive signs? Or create other programs like it for the vast majority of prisoners who didn’t have the opportunity to take part?

PP: What were the women’s reactions to you and your camera?

AL: At first, there was a ton of camera awareness. Most people aren’t used to having their picture taken by a photojournalist so their first reaction is to smile for the camera. Some of the girls were a little flirty when I pointed the camera in their direction too. By the second day there, I was a complete fly on the wall and was able to move in close without getting stares and smiles in every photo. They seemed thankful that I was there telling their story and covering the program.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

PP: What was the staff’s reaction to you and your camera?

AL: Highly professional. I had very good experiences with the staff at Estrella and they didn’t seem to mind me taking their photos one bit. The jail staff were barely interacting with the women when I was there working other than to transport them to and from the classroom we were all in. They seemed to understand what I was trying to do and respected my right to be there taking photos.

PP: Anything else you’d like to add?

AL: Having the opportunity to photograph and observe Journey Home was an eye opening experience. I’m thankful that I was able to document one of the positive initiatives that our penal system is pursuing toward helping prisoners so they don’t make the same mistakes again. I just wish that there were more programs like it and more options for prisoners other then being locked up for a pre-determined period of time, especially for drug offenses. I’ve had enough experience dealing with people with substance abuse issues to know it’s a disease, and should be treated like one to a reasonable degree. I don’t think anyone in there really wants to be addicted to meth or pills or alcohol. I wish the government did more to help people with drug problems instead of just locking them up. It’s not working.

PP: Thanks Aaron.

AL: Thank you, Pete.

© Aaron Lavinsky


Aaron Lavinsky is an visual journalist based in Grays Harbor, Washington. He is currently a staff photographer at The Daily World in Aberdeen and produces daily and long form photo and multimedia stories. Lavinsky’s work has appeared in The Seattle Times, The New York Times, National Geographic, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Denver Post, The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle and others. Find him on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.

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Just a quick post to say …

It happened. Prison Obscura opened. With a fantastic turnout. Gallery was crammed for the curator’s talk and people said many nice things. I pulled my usual trick, clocking silly hours until the early hours most of last week during install. Matthew Seamus Callinan, the Associate Director of Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and Campus Exhibitions at Haverford College did the same. I cannot thank Matthew enough for his support throughout the creation of the show. Legend. More thanks to so many people.

I haven’t any pictures of the opening because my head was spinning. There’s some on Facebook. I’m sure others have some too (send ‘em over!) but I wanted to do a quick post with some installation shots. Taken at different points during the week during install and may not reflect exactly the final layout. (Buckets and hardware not part of the show).

Prison Obscura is up until March 7th at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, just outside Philadelphia, PA. All you need to know about the exhibit is here.

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I’m not the only one putting up a show (Prison Obscura) of imagery made in and about prisons. The Laband Gallery at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles opens its Voices Of Incarceration exhibition on Saturday 25th January.

It’s an interesting line up of artists that includes artists who are imprisoned and individuals on the outside who are making art about prisons. Laband says:

“Both groups bring to light the emotional costs and injustices of the Prison Industrial Complex. Voices of Incarceration also explores the rehabilitative arts programs in California prisons and the expression of the imprisoned artists’ strength and individuality through the creative process.”

KPCC, the Los Angeles NPR-affiliate has done a couple of programs recently about the small but important attempts to reintroudce arts education into California prisons:

Making Art in Prison

Efforts Emerging to Bring Arts Back to California Prisons

If you’re in L.A., go check it out. It’s open until the 16th March. One last note — it’s great to see in the mix Prison Photography favourites Alyse Emdur, Richard Ross, Michal Chelbin and Sheila Pinkel.


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It is with giddy, air-punching pride and mammoth-sized gratitude for those that helped me along the way that I announce the imminent opening of Prison Obscura.

This exhibition is my first solo-curating gig and reflects my thinking right now about images of and from American prisons. Prison Obscura includes works, approaches and genres that — after 5-years of looking at prison photographs — I consider most informative, responsible, challenging and useful.

Prison Obscura is on show at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery from January 24 through March 7. The CantorFitz built a remarkable Prison Obscura website to accompany the exhibition, at which you can find a lengthy 5,000-word essay as to why I have shied away from traditional documentary work and focused instead on surveillance, code, vernacular snaps, prisoner-made photographs and rarely-seen evidentiary images.

I posit that certain images can more accurately speak to political realities in America’s prison industrial complex. I also celebrate photographs that were made through processes of collaboration with prisoners and with intention to socially engage the subjects and educate audiences. I want you to wonder why you — a tax-paying, prison-funding citizen — rarely gets the chance to see inside prisons, and I want us to think about what roles existing pictures serve for those who live and work within the system.

Scroll down to learn more about the Prison Obscura artists.

Clinical contact holding cage, Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU), C-Yard, Building 12, Mule Creek State Prison, California. August 1st, 2008

Photographer Unknown. Clinical contact holding cage, Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU), C-Yard, Building 12, Mule Creek State Prison, California. August 1st, 2008. Used by law firms representing imprisoned plaintiffs in class action lawsuit against the State of California in the Plata/Coleman vs. Brown cases.
Group holding cages, C-Yard, Building 13, Administrative Segregation Unit, Mule Creek State Prison, August 1st, 2008
Photographer Unknown. Group holding cages, C-Yard, Building 13, Administrative Segregation Unit, Mule Creek State Prison, August 1st, 2008. Used by law firms representing imprisoned plaintiffs in class action lawsuit against the State of California in the Plata/Coleman vs. Brown cases.
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Suicide watch cell, Building 6A, Facility D, Wasco State Prison, California (August 1st, 2008). This photograph document was submitted as evidence in the Brown vs. Plata class action lawsuit (Supreme Court of the United States, May 2011). Photo: Anonymous, courtesy of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP.
Reception Center Visiting : Clinician Office Space, North Kern State Prison, July, 2008
Photographer Unknown. Reception Center Visiting / Clinician Office Space, North Kern State Prison, July, 2008. Used by law firms representing imprisoned plaintiffs in class action lawsuit against the State of California in the Plata/Coleman vs. Brown cases.


Alyse Emdur’s collected letters and prison visiting room portraits as well as Robert Gumpert’s recorded audio stories from within the San Francisco jail system provide an opportunity to see, read, and listen to subjects in the contexts of their incarceration.

Juvenile and adult prisoners in different workshops led by Steve Davis, Mark Strandquist, and Kristen S. Wilkins perform for the camera, reflect on their past, describe their memories, and self-represent through photographs.

Prison Obscura will also feature work made in partnership with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Men from Graterford Prison who are affiliated with both its own Restorative Justice Program and Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Group are collaborating to create a mural for the exhibition.

The exhibit moves between these intimate portrayals of life within the prison system to more expansive views of legal and spatial surveillance in works like Josh Begley’s manipulated Google Maps’ API code and Paul Rucker’s animated videos, which offer a “celestial” view of the growth of the prison system.

Prison Obscura builds the case that Americans must come face to face with these images to grasp the proliferation of the U.S. prison system and to connect with those it confines.

Scroll down for media, details and events.

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Mark Strandquist. Pocahontas State Park, Picture of the Dam. One Hundred and Thirty Days (top); text describing the scene written by a Virginia prisoner (bottom). From the series Some Other Places We’ve Missed.
Josh Begley Facility 237. From the series Prison Map.
50 of the 5,393 facilities imaged by Prison Map, a data art project which automatically “photographs” every locked facility in the U.S. by gleaning files from Google Maps with use of code modified from the Google API code by artist Josh Begley.
Josh Begley Facility 492 From the series Prison Map.
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Photographer unknown. Incarcerated girls at Remann Hall, Tacoma, Washington, reenact restraint techniques in a pinhole camera workshop, 2002. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Davis.
Photographer unknown: Untitled, Green Hill School, Chehalis, WA. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Davis.
Photographer unknown: Steve Davis Untitled, Green Hill School, Chehalis, WA. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Davis.
David Wells, Thumb Correctional Facility, Lapeer, Michigan. From the series ‘Prison Landscapes (2005-2011).’ Photo: Courtesy of Alyse Emdur.
Alyse Emdur. Anonymous Backdrop Painted in Woodbourne Correctional Facility, New York. From the series ‘Prison Landcapes’ (2005- 2011)
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Robert Gumpert. Tameika Smith, 9 July 2012, San Francisco, CA. From the series ‘Take A Picture, Tell A Story.’
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Robert Gumpert. Michael Johnson, 15 August, 2009, San Francisco County Jail 5, San Bruno, CA. From the series ‘Take A Picture, Tell A Story.’


Kristen S. Wilkins. Supplication #17 (diptych). “It might be hard to find, but it’s called Trapper Peak near the Bitterroot Valley.” From the series ‘Supplication.’


Kristen S. Wilkins. Supplication #17 (diptych). “It might be hard to find, but it’s called Trapper Peak near the Bitterroot Valley.” From the series ‘Supplication.’


I’ll be giving a curator’s talk in the gallery on Friday, January 24, 2014, 4:30-5:30pm, followed by the opening reception 5:30–7:30pm.

Additionally, poet C.D. Wright will be on campus for a Tri-College Mellon Creative Residency in conjunction with the exhibit, and on January 31, at 12 noon in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Wright and I will host a dialogue about Prison Obscura.


Prison Obscura is presented by Haverford College’s John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities with support from the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

Part of the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and located in Whitehead Campus Center, the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesdays until 8 p.m.

Haverford College is located at 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA, 19041.


View and download press images here. For interviews or variant images contact me. Here’s a big postcard.

For more information, please contact myself or Matthew Callinan, associate director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and campus exhibitions, at (610) 896-1287 or

Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery on Facebook (including installation) and Twitter.
Haverford College on Twitter.
Hurford Center for the Arts on Twitter.


Poster showing the statistics and aesthetic of ‘Proliferation’ an animated video of prison construction in the United States (1776-2010). Image: Courtesy of Paul Rucker.
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Graphic design for Prison Obscura by Ellen Gould.


“I want this thing off today … this fucking thing is an invasion of privacy, and goes against my well-being,” said the young boy about his ankle bracelet. He was speaking to Zora Murff, a BFA photography student at the University of Iowa and also a Juvenile Tracker for the Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services (JDDS) of Linn County, Iowa.

It was only when Murff heard this complaint that he began to wonder if he and his camera could interrogate the issue of control.

“He was angry,” recalls Murff. “The more I thought about his anger, the more I pondered the concepts of privacy and control in the juvenile corrections system and the role that I play inside of those concepts. I interact with these youths at a critical point in their lives where control is an integral part of the day-to-day. My job is to be a consequence, to insert myself into their lives [...] while the adolescents themselves are struggling to exert control over their development.”

Linn County JDDS provides monitoring and rehabilitation services to youths on probation. Murff has been in the job eighteen months. In mid-2013 he began to photograph his employment and construct a project for submission as part of his studies.

The resulting series Corrections is made up of: photographs of locations of interaction with accompanying narratives about the transgression that took place there (images below with captions); anonymous portraits of the youths; handwritten reflections of the youths; and official paperwork and service documents.

Murff published his notes during the series on the Corrections Tumblr. He has self-published a limited edition book (Murff welcomes interest from publishers to do a larger run). Murff is taking a temporary hiatus from the project. Last week, my Wired colleague Jakob Schiller wrote about Corrections in the piece Peering Into the Digitally Tracked Lives of Youths on ProbationI wanted to do a bit more digging and ask Murff about the logistics, motivations and relationships inherent to the work.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

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Three youths broke into an abandoned home on the northeast side of Cedar Rapids. When Cedar Rapids Police responded to the scene, two of the youths surrendered themselves, while the third attempted to hide in the basement. Officers sent in a K-9 to retrieve him. Each youth was charged with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct.



Prison Photography (PP): Can you start by describing your work?

Zora Murff (ZM): Tracking is one of the diversion programs that JDDS offers. Diversion refers to the youth being able to stay in the community, rather than being placed in detention or in a different type of placement like residential treatment. My primary responsibility is monitoring youths on probation. I have face-to-face contact with youths on a regular basis to ensure that they are complying with the expectations of their probation. This may entail electronic monitoring, urinalysis, school follow-up, transportation to therapies (substance abuse, sexual offense, anger-replacement), and other things like completing community service hours. My caseload fluctuates – I believe the lowest number I had was nine youths and I have had up to twenty-one.

PP: Would you have managed to gain access if it weren’t for your job?

ZM: When I pitched the idea to my supervisor, she was very intrigued, but being an insider definitely gave me a leg up, and I was very lucky to have that level of access. My supervisor had a few specific guidelines, but gave me free reign, so I had a wide creative space to work with. I think there was a level of trust there, which made Corrections possible.

PP: How did you come to be studying photography if you’re also a probation service employee?

ZM: I started my degree in psychology. My professional background in human services started when I replied to an ad on a campus bus. I needed a job. I started in disability services working with a wide population of people. Those experience helped me get a job with juvenile criminal justice. I didn’t necessarily have a desire to work in this specific area, but it has been a great experience to watch the youths grow throughout the probation process.

I love my work but I have always felt I was missing out on a need to create, a desire to teach, and a love of the photograph. That is where my education in photography comes into play.

PP: Juveniles under the control of the state are vulnerable young adults. What sort of assurances did you have to provide for your employer, the children and the parents/guardians?

ZM: I have noticed that when working with any population in human services, it all comes down to trust. The real question is how do you build that trust with the people that you serve. I think that this can vary with any worker, but I usually broach this by being available and consistent. Having trusting relationships with the youths that I photographed was key to working on this project.

The biggest assurance that I had to provide was anonymity. It was also important to explain my project to them, which isn’t always easy to do, especially when I was starting out because I wasn’t sure where the project was taking me.





PP: Is Corrections about delinquency or about control; about youth or about state?

ZM: All of the above. The youths do delinquent things that warrant some type of intervention and I wanted to document their experiences once they become a part of the juvenile corrections system. Youths are attempting to control their lives while workers are trying to exert some sort of control over it for them. There’s a dynamic at play between the two.

The use of narratives and documents add context to the project. I felt that portraits of the youths, while the most important component of Corrections, would have told an entirely different story if they were to stand alone.

PP: Is Corrections a voice for you or for your subjects?

ZM: I wouldn’t say that Corrections is my voice personally. The youths are allowing me to show them through their portraits and through some of their writing. My intent was to approach it from an ‘anthropological’ standpoint if you will, almost as if I am a recording device. I felt that it was important to provide a window into this world without editorializing, even though I am embedded in the system.

I feel that when it comes to children on probation a lot of stereotypes are thrown around and it would have been easy to fall into tropes. I want viewers to see inside of the system and draw their own conclusions.




While hanging out with friends, a youth started verbally harassing a peer walking home from school. The youth started to follow the peer and punched him from behind in the side of the face. The youth continued to assault his victim until a car pulled up in the alley. While fleeing the scene, the youth kicked his victim in the head. The youth decided to turn himself in when the story aired on the local evening news, and told Cedar Rapids Police that he had no justification for the assault, that he was just, “mad at the world.” The victim was hospitalized for two days with a broken jaw, two teeth knocked out, and a severed facial nerve. The youth was convicted of felony charges and placed at the Eldora State Training School.

PP: How has the project effected your relationships?

ZM: In human services, the work is about the person that you’re serving, not about you, and typically sharing personal information is discouraged. However, I feel that opening up about my passion for and education in photography bought me a little more trust with some of the clients. It was kind of odd, really. The kids were either totally interested and invested in the project, or completely indifferent. When I walk through the detention center, one or two kids will ask if I’m still working on the project or what was my grade in my photo class. I have also earned the moniker, “that guy with the camera.”

PP: Any particular stumbling blocks?

ZM: My biggest barrier was not being able to photograph faces – I didn’t want to blur out faces or put bars over them. It almost became a game figuring out how to make faces unidentifiable and have the photographs be meaningful.




PP: Any pleasant surprises?

ZM: A number of the compositions happened by accident – a kid blocking the sun from his eyes, or deciding to sit in a certain spot. There is one photograph of a youth playing guitar in his bedroom. While we were taking the photograph, the youth’s friend came to the bedroom window and had a perplexed look on his face when he noticed me with the camera. The youth told his friend that he had just been signed to a record label and that I was from Rolling Stone Magazine. We all had a good laugh about that – and it was a welcome change from the more difficult interactions that I have.

PP: What has been the reaction so far to the work?

ZM: So far, reactions have all been pretty positive. I was part a group exhibition for the class Corrections was completed for, and a number of people drew some sort of sentiment from the photographs. I also had a portfolio review at Midwest SPE last year, and the project was received well. However, I understand that working with a vulnerable population, specifically youths, can be a contentious territory so I have been a pretty hard critic on myself about the work.






PP: Do you plan to continue photography and/or work in criminal justice?

ZM: I would like to teach photography as a means of creative expression to youths at the detention center, but that is just a lofty idea at this point.

PP:  It would be wonderful if you could achieve those types of workshops.

ZM: There are definitely some barriers. The biggest obstacles would be finding the time to teach a course, funding for materials, developing a curriculum, and figuring out when it would work into the residents’ schedule as their day at the detention center is very structured.

PP: What makes you think photography is useful for the youths? What skills does it teach? What can be achieved with photographic education, particularly to at-risk youth?

ZM: Any creative outlet is useful to children. I remember having a drawing journal when I was a teenager, and the amount of things I was able to work through by drawing.

Photography could be a good outlet for youths in the detention center as I feel that visually investigating their surroundings would allow them to build a sense of self-awareness, getting them to really consider where they are in life and where they would like to go.

Also, with the concept of control again, a number of the interactions that I have are usually based upon the youth feeling that they don’t have a say with what is going on in their lives and they are being told all of the things that they cannot do, the places that they cannot go, the people that they cannot hang out with. My hope is that by introducing them to photography this will provide them with a chance of self-expression – they can decide what they want to photograph and how they want to photograph it, getting some semblance of control back.

PP: What else are you up to?

ZM: I’ll continue Corrections until I reach a place where I feel that it is as complete as possible, but I am taking a break from it for the time being. I have an idea for a more intimate project, a case study of sorts, following the story of one individual on probation. I’m gearing up to start shooting for this project in the next few months, and have a youth interested in being a part of it, so I’m ironing out details.

PP: Is the camera a security device or an artistic tool?

ZM: Part of my statement for Corrections is how I, as a Tracker, am required to impose on these youths. This was problematic for me at times because by pointing my camera at them I was imposing upon them in an additional way, but it is important to understand the difference. The cameras that we use to surveil youths are all there in a reactionary capacity in order to provide some sort of control. With my camera, I too am recording, but my camera is there in a collaborative capacity – I feel that the youths have taken back a level of control as they have allowed me to portray them and document their experiences.

PP: Thanks Zora.

ZM: Thank you.




Fatoumata, The Bronx, NYC. 2013

Last week, photographer Graham MacIndoe and writer Susan Stellin were awarded a $20K Alicia Patterson Fellowship for their joint project The UnAmericans: Detained, Deported and Divided.

The project is “a series of interviews and photographs documenting the stories of immigrants who have been ordered deported from the U.S. as well as their family members — often, American citizens — who suffer the consequences of harsh punishment of exile. The stories illustrate the wide range of people locked up while caught up in deportation proceedings: not just individuals who crossed the border illegally but asylum seekers, legal permanent residents and immigrants trapped int he bureaucracy of adjusting a visa.”

Immigration and deportation, are arguably, one of the most pressing human rights issues on American soil. Many people subject to immigration and deportation proceedings are not hardened criminals, they are not violent, nor are they a threat to public safety. The long reach of ICE can collar Green Card holders who have lived in the U.S. for years or decades and who have raised families, paid taxes and abided the law. It can take only a small misdemeanor. Frequently, there is no recourse. Loving spouses are separated and society is asked to assume responsibility for children whose parents are sent half-way across the globe. The collateral effect of inflexible deportation laws on families and communities is considerable. MacIndoe and Stellin’s subjects have lived firsthand at edge of legal territory where resources are squeezed, timelines are shortened and due process is compromised; it is here where we can fathom our health, or lack of it, as a just nation.

Stellin and MacIndoe are both seasoned storytellers and their fusion of text and image is a huge advantage when making connection with audiences. The work is needed and it will shock you.



I’ve barely talked about Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) prisons here on the blog because they are very, very rarely photographed. ICE detention facilities are as unseen as ICE surveillance is broad.

Due to extended legal definitions and new laws, President Obama is deporting more people than any previous president. ICE facilities are often strategically hidden, nondescript buildings in urban hinterlands. ICE facilities also oversee near-permanent media shut out. With access so problematic, Stellin and MacIndoe’s decision to meet, interview, photograph and tell the stories of those who’ve been imprisoned is both wise and practical. The prison conditions will be described through first-hand testimony as opposed to literal photographic description. MacIndoe’s respectful and intimate portraits are our starting point.

Stellin brings years of reporting experience which has recently turned toward stories about Homeland security, border technology & search and the legal grey area for Green Card holders with minor offenses.


MacIndoe was once subject himself to the Kafkaesque immigration and deportation system. I contend that from personal insight may grow public awareness.

Stellin and MacIndoe have already met, photographed and interviewed subjects. Many are fearful to go public. Scottish-born MacIndoe understands why non-citizens may be reticent but he has the personality to reassure, and understands the small margins on which our comfort rests. MacIndoe has become a friend and mentor to some of the family members he has met in the preliminary stages of the work. He understands that current immigration policy – in it’s inability to be flexible case-by-case —  impacts step-children, the poor and the already marginalized more than other groups. He knows that gay couples have not the same legal qualification and therefore protection. MacIndoe and Stellin are looking to hold a mirror to everyday people that have been harshly punished by very new laws. The laws are young, somewhat clumsy, inelegance and overly punitive.

The tumorous growth America’s prison industrial complex goes back four decades whereas the focus of The UnAmericans: Detained, Deported and Divided – the establishment of an extended archipelago of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities — is a much more recent, post 9/11 phenomenon. MacIndoe and Stellin’s work is utterly contemporary and it meets the desperate need for journalism that probes ICE procedures.


All images: Graham MacIndoe

Carlos Javier Ortiz has been documenting the effects of gun violence on young people in Chicago for over seven years on a project called Too Young To Die. He is currently crowdfunding support to bookend, literally, the work.

We All We Got will be a photography book that brings seven years of Ortiz’ images together with interviews from parents and students from across Chicago and texts by Alex Kotlowitz (producer of the The Interrupters), Luke Anderson (teacher, North Lawndale College Prep) and Miles Harvey (assistant professor, DePaul University) among others.

Ortiz isn’t a flashy guy; he just gets the job done. He’s not only photographed for an extended period in the community but he’s also got involved directly with local organisations. It’s something he’s done for a long time. He’s thinking about solutions to gun violence among youth, which is one of the toughest issues in America.

The project deserves support. I think it’ll get the funds. I hope it does. Spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, Instah.


We All We Got has already had deserved coverage on NPRNew York Times LensCBS Evening NewsChicago Ideas WeekMuseum of Contemporary PhotographyLeica BlogPulitzer Center On Crisis ReportingCNN blog; and CBC radio


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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