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Edmund Clark is cheeky, thoughtful and a bit subversive in his critique of institutional power. During his 10 days embedded at Bagram Airbase in October 2013, he realised most people there don’t ever get outside its confines.
But Bagram has nice paintings of murals to provide an idealised Afghanistan.
My latest for WIRED, The 40,000 People on Bagram Air Base Haven’t Actually Seen Afghanistan I consider his latest body of work and book Mountains Of Majeed:
Clark documented the infrastructure needed to support a military base that covers 6 square miles and employs 40,000 people. He photographed everything from the mess halls and laundry to the sewage treatment system, but the colorful murals and paintings dotting the base most intrigued him. They depict an idyllic, romanticized vision of the local landscape and Hindu Kush, one free of war. The reality, of course, was much bleaker, with the distant peaks of the mountains beyond Bagram riddled with conflict and danger.
Read the piece in full.
IS THE INTERNET BECOMING LESS SNARKY?
They internet, a space known to often bring out the worst in people has had a special place for trolls as far as images of American prison and prisoners are concerned. Often photographs themselves are bypassed in discussion in order for commenters to shortcut straight to their long held positions — by they left or right, sympathetic or not, nuanced or short-sighted, familiar or prejudiced. Prisons are a divisive issue and often people miss the point of prison photographers who, in the first instance at least, are merely trying to hold a mirror to a system. In this case, Davis holds a mirror to a nation that locks up 65,000 youth on any given night at a cost of $5billion per year.
In my own prejudice, I would’ve expected THE INTERNET + BUZZFEED + KIDS IDENTIFIED AS CRIMINALS would be an equation for vitriol. Not so.
Why would I be so pessimistic? Well, despite BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti’s insistence that serious, longform news can exist beside listicles — and despite recent pieces — on last meals of the executed, a trans-activist transforming a prison from within, reflections on wrongful conviction, and the shacking of women prisoners in labor — BuzzFeed content still leasn heavily on shock, innumerable pet vids, “27 things you only know if…” nonsense, and flashes of celeb flesh. The lowest denominators remain our and BuzzFeed’s bread and butter.
All that said, let’s just be thankful for this comment thread:
Some of these faces are so hard. Some are bewildered. And some are just heartbreaking. So beautiful and tragic.
Each one of these faces should never have ended up there. Their incarceration marks the failure of society to raise contributing citizens.
That would imply that society failed every person who has made bad choices. That’s simply not a generalization that pans out entirely. I don’t disagree that we have failed many of these faces as a society, just the generalization.
Look to the parents. Well, perhaps they are/were also incarcerated. Sad all around.
There needs to be a better solution to helping these kids achieve more in life. Yes punish them for their crimes but surely there is better way! Locking them up like this gives them no hope of something better! Nobody but them know the full story so why jump to saying they “deserve” it? some of these kids have been failed by family, peers, society which has resulted in this! Tragic!
I think we should look to the systems used in Scandinavian countries — humane prisons, lots of community service, a focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. …Or we could just stop monetizing the prison system, that would help.
The system makes money off of these children, and I guarantee you there is not one child in there whose parents have a little bit of money! Our prisons are filled with poor people! Justice is definitely not blind!
I can see where you’re coming from, but in my personal experience (two relatives that have been incarcerated both as youth and as adults), there are individuals who will, regardless of the number of chances given, continue to make the wrong choices. You can not force, coerce, or convince someone to act and live as you see fit. They will make choices of their own. These are individuals that do, in fact, deserve the punishments they receive. Like you said only they know the whole story, but regardless of that fact, there are some choices that incarcerated individuals have made that have impacted the lives of innocent people. Do those choices, then, not merit the fullest punishment?
I DO, however, believe there are also individuals who can be guided into a better life because they’ve only known one way. These are the individuals that CHOOSE to make themselves better, both in their own eyes and in societies eyes. They make the choice, and seek out those that can help guide them.
One summer in college, I had an internship in WA for an office of juvenile probation. I went to one of these places with one of the counselors because one of the kids was going to be getting out soon and heading home. This kid was probably 14 or 15 and I remember him sitting there crying because he didn’t want to leave. He had been in out of the system for years and I remember him telling us that no matter how bad it was there, he knew he was going to get fed and have a place to sleep. He told us that he was going to do something as soon as he got out that would send him back. It was tragic on so many levels. Everyone had just given up on this kid and he had pretty much given up on himself.
Locking up a young person in prison is always a shocking and sad thing, but what concerns me is people’s knee jerk reaction that all youth incarceration reflects society’s ultimate failure. Remember, most of you are also the same people who regularly rage against the violent and intolerable stories we read about rape and murder that we regularly see on this site. There are thousands of teenagers (perhaps some of the faces you are seeing here) who are guilty of these crimes. Are you saying that we needn’t incarcerate minors who commit violent crime? Should these individuals only be counseled then allowed to return into society? Despite the fact that several here have unilaterally declared that each of these incarnations are the wholesale fault of society’s failure?
But our prisons out not filled to the brim with people who have committed the kinda of crimes you speak of, and THAT is the failure.
I work in the teen department of my library system, and every librarian takes turns to go visit our JDC to talk to the kids there and find books for them in the collection we maintain at the facilities for them. It’s hard seeing them…especially when they’re super young (I swear a couple I’ve seen couldn’t be older than 11), or especially when you’ve helped them in your branch before. It sucks, and I just always hope that they can come around and learn from the experience and never become a repeat offender.
I have a serious problem with photographers leaving their [captioning on] photos blank when it comes to picturing at risk groups. Each has their own valuable story to tell and name. They are not just “black kids: or troubled youths or street punks etc…the categories that pop up due to the viewers own prejudices. We live in a fucked up world. Such photography should be there to give names to the victims and not participate in their being reduced to a number in the “incarceration game.”
Perhaps the Facebook-linked comment board has sophistication to remove idiot comments and promote those exhibiting most human thought?
Internet, you have my faith again.
Even the commenter that wonders about an anonymous portrait showing a youth with painted nails and foolishly labels the child as possibly “a fabulous homosexual” goes on to demonstrate a knowledge of the system that is unable to adequately care for LGBQIT youth; “In adult prisons obviously gay or transgendered individuals are usually put in solitary confinement for their own protection.” We know that is an unacceptable situation. LGBQIT prisoners are denied access to programming because prisons cannot guarantee their safety in general population.
Unfinished: Incarcerated Youth
Steve Davis is currently taking pre-orders for a book of his photographs from Washington State juvenile prisons, titled, Unfinished: Incarcerated Youth.
You can preorder with Minor Matters Books.
Nunn, an Englishman, has been hopping flights to Ukraine since 2006 — first with a Ukrainian a girl he dated at uni, and later to trace his roots.
In early 2013 and without a jot of the language he went in search of a connection to the country and its people.
To quote me:
“He had no idea that he was about to be wrapped up in a regional conflict that would draw the world’s attention. His photography became less a personal journey and more an accidental documentary of a nation in steady decline toward war.”
Nunn even ended up in camp with Ukrainian Army conscripts. His mix of portraits and environmental shots is quite poignant. I received an email from Nunn this morning:
“Donetsk. I had no idea at the time that I’d probably never be able to return there, as a normal civilian, [when I made the photos]. Maybe, now, only possibly with special press permission? It’s a mix of good and bad memories … which is true for Ukraine, in general, I think.”
Who knows what to think? With ceasefires crumbling, who knows what comes next?
Binh Danh. ‘The Transamerica Pyramid, 2014 Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 10 x 8 inches / Frame: 14.75 x 12.5 inches
A recent move makes San Francisco my new hometown. As is my wont, I’m out and about trying to figure what’s happening here in the city. Late last year, I saw Binh Danh’s exhibition This, Then, Is San Francisco at Haines Gallery.
A few things struck me.
– First, the sky blues and sepias of make the work just lovely to view.
– Second, there seems to be an increasing nostalgia toward the city of San Francisco right now which is reflected in art-makers and photographers trying to preserve a view of the city – be that in books, stubborn alternative processes, comparative views of the city as it once was, or flat-out direct denunciations of money-driven change.
– Third, the scenes captured by Danh cannot be random and in fact some of them look quite political.
I got Danh on the blower to ask him about how and why the work was made.
Scroll down for our Q&A.
Click any image to see it larger.
Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Prison Photography (PP): At first glimpse, the work seems as if it is about process and the joy of the surface. Does This, Then, Is San Francisco have the same level of political engagement typical in your other work?
Binh Danh (BD): You’re somewhat right. Of course, being an artists there’s always the joy of the image. But if you look deeply, there’s also some political messages. There’s pictures of gatherings and protest in front of City Hall.
PP: I saw the image of the rally held by mothers whose family members had been killed but their murderers never found.
BD: And even the photo of the city hall — on the lawn where people are sleeping, they look like dead bodies. Because of the medium, it looks like a civil war photograph.
PP: And the body shapes are identical.
Binh Danh. ‘City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘Hoa Phat, Little Saigon, Larkin Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
BD: I am alluding to these political spaces of the city.
PP: Did you grow up in San Francisco?
BD: No. I grew up in San Jose. For me, San Francisco was the place we went to for school trips. Even in adulthood, I see the city as a tourist. Each time I go there it is new. Every inch of the city is photogenic. And that goes way back. I enjoy the fact that This, Then, Is San Francisco is in conversation with those images from the nineteenth century when the city was being built.
PP: How does this relate to your previous work about Yosemite? It seems to make more immediate sense to use daguerreotypes to photograph Yosemite — what with the archives of Carleton Watkins and Edward Curtis. Their works were very political and tied to the myth of manifest destiny and ultimately controlling of the West.
BD: Both Carleton Watkins and Edweard Muybridge photographed San Francisco AND Yosemite. I’m walking in those giants’ footsteps. For me, San Francisco is the gateway to California – going as far back as the Gold Rush when people arrived, stocked up and then travelled on to the Sierra Mountains. Everything in Northern California flows toward San Francisco and into the Bay.
PP: One could conceptualize San Francisco as being at the foot of an elongated Yosemite Valley?! The Pacific Ocean is the terminus of the Sierra Mountains watershed.
Binh Danh. ‘Panoramic View from Corona Heights Park, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plates: 25.75 x 13.5 inches
BD: But also looking forward. San Francisco is tied to innovation, accelerated movement, change and speed. It always has been. Of course, now, those things are associated so closely with Silicon Valley and the South Bay.
PP: But for the purposes of the international community, San Francisco is the epicenter of that.
BD: I wanted to document San Francisco in this moment of change. I didn’t realize Haines Gallery wanted to do a show. They felt I had enough work. But the project is not complete; it’s ongoing. I expect in 30 or 40 years I’ll go back to some of the same streets to stand in the same locations and make the same pictures with daguerreotypes.
Binh Danh. ‘Rigo 23’s Truth Mural U.N. Plaza at the Civic Center, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5inches
Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco Camerawork, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall (Mother’s Day 2014) Rally for Black Youths Whose Killers Have Never Been Found by the San Francisco Police Department, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
PP: Why daguerreotypes?
BD: The daguerreotype results in a reverse image. So, the cityscape is familiar but it’s odd. I like the uncanny.
PP: The reversal makes the viewer look a little harder, which is I think what all photographers want go their images?!
PP: There’s no shortage of spots in the city. How did you choose sites? I’d like to ask, specifically, about the TRUTH mural.
BD: When you do work with a commercial gallery, they are trying to sell work they are trying to move work. So, a lot of the more iconic San Francisco scenes are a little more successful in that [marketable] way. Some of the quieter scenes that might make there way into a future show or book.
I’m happy Haines picked the TRUTH mural piece. Rigo23 did that piece and what I like about that mural is that it faces city hall and confronts power.
PP: It was made in 2002 to commemorate the 2001 quashed conviction of Robert H. King, one of the Angola 3, after 32 years of incarceration, 29 of which were spent in solitary confinement. It was also a rally call for the cases of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace (who died in 2014) who remained locked up.
BD: In my picture, the farmers market is ongoing in the foreground, so if you want, there’s connections to the central valley to be made. And to ethnic communities. I’m not sure if the viewer will pick that up but that’s the thing I think about when I’m making the work.
Binh Danh. ‘The Palace of Fine Arts, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘The Women’s Building, 18th Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Binh Danh. ‘B and C Laundromat Barbary Coast Trail, Chinatown, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
PP: Do you have a favored image?
BD: The city hall image is my favorite image. I photographed a lot. I made all the images over the summer. I must have made 300 exposures and then I narrowed that down to 50 plates and the gallery selected 20.
BD: Not everything turns out, you know. I’d make 10 in a day and maybe one would hold a standard that I’m happy to share. Everyday I was driving from San Jose and up to the city making photographs.
BD: Almost all the people I encountered don’t understand the process, so to us it is a very foreign process. I think we take photography for granted so I hope I can help people think about image-making more. Maybe people will stop snapping away and take it slow?
PP: How did you learn the process?
BD: I learned just on my own. I found a 19th century manuscript and kept practicing and experimenting. Perfecting over the years. I began in 2001. Gave up and returned to it in 2009. Through the years I’ve made slow progress. I own the equipment, I make everything from scratch. I coat the copper plate in my studio and buff it. I’ve a van in which process on location. Back then, the daguerreotype was hard to do outside of the studio. That’s why most daguerreotypes are portraits. Cityscapes were rare — then and now.
PP: Thanks, Binh
BD: Thank You, Pete.
Binh Danh. ‘Sutter and Grant Streets, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches
Two years ago, I walked out of Chris Fraser’s In Passing, installed in Portland’s Disjecta gallery, and resolved that it was the finest contemporary art I’d seen in the town. In Passing drew your attention to colour, light and line. The sensory experience, for me, put Chris Fraser slap-bang-wallop between Bridget Riley and James Turrell. In Passing was a strict coda delivered to fondle the eyeballs.
What was you ask? I was simply an enclosed corridor around three walls of the gallery. Into the walls, at random moments were slits that ran from floor to corridor ceiling, on the inside-wall. Three bulbs — one R, one G, and one B — hanging from the roof beams dangled in the centre of the gallery and dispersed low level light to all corners of the room. So enclosed was the corridor, that the low level light sliced the darkness in thin rainbow strips. At one end of the corridor the gaps became larger and light as a result became more diffuse and reflected off the walls in a palette closer white light.
Note: All images here are of In Passing. Still a week out, I haven’t the foggiest what Revolving Doors looks like.
Fraser says that gallery goers can manipulate the walk in sculpture:
“Visitors will rearrange the space as they move through it, altering the architecture for future patrons,” says Fraser.
They’ll do that by altering the maze-like configuration that mimics the internal mechanisms of a camera.
“The structure and its design stand as a metaphor for the rapid demographic changes in SF Camerawork’s immediate Mid-Market neighborhood,” says SF Camerwork press release.
“The rich and well connected are moving in,” explains Fraser. “The poor and disenfranchised are being kicked out. A city must change to remain vital. But this transition seems particularly cruel. My hope is to highlight this disparity through an architectural intervention.”
Honesty and captivating beauty with a political edge, it seems. If Revolving Doors is even fractionally as accomplished as In Passing it’ll be one absolutely not to miss.
Revolving Doors is on view February 5 – March 21, 2015. The opening reception is this coming Thursday, February 5, 2015, 6-8pm
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.
Mom Were OK, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
STRAUSS AT HAVERFORD
Strauss will be there too. Talking and everything.
Friday, January 23rd.
Drying Money, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
TV on Second Floor, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
This is my hometown, Toms River, NJ, 2012. © Zoe Strauss.
In Sea Change, Strauss traces the landscape of post-climate change America. In photographs, vinyl prints, and projected images, Strauss treads the extended aftermath of three ecological disasters: Hurricane Katrina in the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2005); the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Southern Louisiana (2010); and Hurricane Sandy in Toms River, NJ, and Staten Island, NY (2012). Lush and leveled landscapes; graffiti pleas and words of encouragement—Strauss’s camera captures lives decimated and dusting off: the fast and slow tragedies of global warming, the damage we can repair, and the damage we can’t.
I had no idea Strauss was working on a survey of disasterscapes in America. Following her 10 years of photographing in Philadelphia and celebrating the colours and characters of her beloved home city — and then presenting her photographs annually beneath Interstate 95 — it makes sense that Strauss would gravitate to the realest of struggles for real people at a time when real (climate) change is unleashing real events.
Sandy, Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophes left millions of Americans floundering, thousands dead, communities torn from the ground. In the immediate aftermath of such events, attention focuses on the official and governmental responses, but Strauss is more interested in the long tail of disasters and of informal vernacular responses. Strauss seems hell-bent on reminding us that after the camera crews leave, there’s still generations of rebuilding to be done (especially ecologically).
In Sea Change we see Strauss’ usual dark humor and restless documentation of the frayed edges of our nation. She’s holding up a mirror to the inconvenient messiness that we like to think we can deal with quickly and efficiently, but Strauss’ world is in a state of constant entropy, and it’s the invisible, the workers, the poor, the animal kingdom and the dissenters that lose out most when the shit hits the fan.
We all know that we’ve permanently altered our planet’s climate systems; we all know we’re on the hook. But we also know we can look anywhere-else, any time we want. And we know we don’t have to live on the Gulf Coast, or in the path of hurricanes. And we know that when things go south, we can turn our heads to the news and make a distant appraisal about whether the clean-up is happening quick enough or not, or watch some talking heads, or wag our finger at some government official.
Strauss’ victory in all her work — and particularly in Sea Change — is that she marries the visuals in her inquiries and her work so that they sync with her experience of the world. She is keeping herself honest through her photography. Perhaps Strauss can keep us honest too?
Foundational to Strauss’ work too is a deep respect. Zoe is irreverent, for sure, but she is also respectful of people. Entropy is going to happen; change is constant. People are going to win and people are going to lose, amidst change. That’s life. The degree to which people’s fortunes differ … and the degree to which people win and lose … and the degrees to which those statuses are kept permanent, that’s not just “life” though. It’s for us to decide how disaster will effect our collective in the long term. It’s for us to decide on the most equitable distribution of resources when many have literally been swept away.
When people fall down, we help them up. Rebuilding is everyone’s business. In Strauss’ world, love is the response to entropy and its disruptions.
Running: January 23–March 6, 2015
Reception and opening talk with the artist: Friday, January 23, 4:30–7:30pm
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication designed by Random Embassy, Philadelphia, featuring essays by artist Zoe Strauss; The New Yorker contributing writer Mattathias Schwartz; Helen K. White, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Haverford College; and a poem by Thomas Devaney, MFA, PEW Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry, Haverford College.
Oiled Water Coming Inland, Waveland, Mississippi, Early July, 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
Billboard, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
We’ll Be Back, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
Contact (my mate) Matthew Seamus Callinan, Associate Director, Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and Campus Exhibitions
Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA 19041
Tel: 610 896 1287