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Martin-Kollar3

You gotta love Martin Kollar. He just won the 2015 Prix Elysée. I was cheering for Mari Bastashevski, but I can’t complain with the ultimate choice of Kollar. His work is dark and hilarious. Kollar freezes awkward. In his world, military men are less heroic, stunt men are suicide cases, and practice makes imperfect. Is this shit even real?

Kollar travels through research labs, checkpoints, sports events, training scenarios, parliaments, dentists, barrios and wheat fields. He isolates people from context and time to create solitary and uncanny moments. The list of photographers interested in documenting simulation and facade is long — Lisa Barnard, Paul Shambroom, Yann Mingard, Richard Barnes, Max Pinckers, An-My Lê to name a few — so it is a little surprising Kollar’s work stands out for me and truly strikes a chord. I reckon this is because his work is consistently good. And by good, I mean convincing. I am convinced he has looked really hard to find these scenes. I am convinced he is a good editor, or has good editors around him. I am convinced of his skill because it’s hard to make this look so easy. Check out his notebooks.

Photography is “an intermediary stage, a kind of transitional memory between two times” says Kollar who, according to the Prix Elysée, “belongs to the temporary generation, moving from job to job, from apartment to apartment, relationship to relationship.”

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Originally from Slovakia, Kollar’s projects build upon ideas from the previous. He constructs huge stepping stones and jumps from one to the next when he feels he’s considered the ideas central to each project from all angles. “Then the next idea comes, which usually corrects the previous one,” he says. “My projects are generally linked to limited territories and spaces, whether it be Eastern Europe, the European Parliament or Israel.”

Kollar’s photographs evoke a certain amount of wandering and wondering. For Prix Elysée, Kollar took a geographically unspecific overview.

Provisional Arrangement, conceived in the spirit of a road movie, aims to capture those moments when the permanent becomes provisional,” says Prix Elysée.

Again, not an easy task. To locate and understand the gaps you’ve got to have a good grasp on what the formed and formal landscape of knowledge is for a places … or in Kollar’s cases many (unidentified) places.

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In the Museum of Military History in Dresden, he photographed an installation showing pigeons wearing tiny cameras during the Second World War.

“They evoke today’s drones. In this case, photography is an intermediary stage, a kind of transitional memory between two times. That’s what I want to work on, filling the void, building something in the interstices,” says Kollar. “I wanted to do work that isn’t linked to any place, which revolves around temporality and provisionality.”

In winning the Prix Elysée, Martin Kollar won 80,000 Swiss Francs. He has one year to make an exhibition and a book which extends Provisional Arrangement. It’ll go on show at at Museum Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland in September 2016. We already know he has a wit when it comes to installation.

Good luck Martin.

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I just published What’s a War-Torn African Nation Got To Do with Editing DNA?, a piece on Vantage about Wired Magazine’s choice of a Richard Mosse photograph Myths Of The Near Future (2012) for the cover of its August issue.

The photograph was made as part of Mosse’s series Infra about the ongoing civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the story is about the science behind– and the copyright battles over–Crispr-Cas9 a genetic engineering technique. The gulf between the original subject matter and the nature of the story raised some questions for me.

I must mention that, in light of 5.4 million deaths in DRC, the line “And the end of life as we know it” emblazoned in 48-font on the front cover, seems a little clumsy, but I’m too clueless about the magazine world for that to be my line of main inquiry. Someone else can muse over those loose words if they think there’s anything more in them than a disconnect between packaging and content typical of the marketplace.

[…]

Perhaps I am so discomfited because Mosse’s work makes so much more visual sense being bent ever-so-slightly for this futuristic narrative, than it does for its original intended political purpose?

Mosse pitched in on Twitter with the following three comments, they’re part of a longer back-and-forth with a couple of threads between Ed Brydon and I. Chase those threads if you can.

Read the full piece and see what you think.

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This weekend, the BBC ran a piece about a pinhole photography workshop in a women’s prison in Argentina. I greatly admire pinhole photography in prisons.

The images are atmospheric – retro, a little blurred and with almost fish-eye perspective in some. They look like stills from some 90s skate video or something (I don’t know why that matters). They are awash in color, not unlike every hipster’s favorite, the aura portrait (not sure why that matters either).

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Maybe it was precisely because these images didn’t look like a prison that I was attracted to them. If they weren’t the feature of an article about prison and rehabilitation, they’d have scuttled right by during my day of contestant image flow. naturally, I wanted to know more about their production.

[ SEE MORE OF THE IMAGES HERE ]

They were made during a workshop offered YoNoFui, a organization that provides teaching, community, skills, personal development to prisoners. The organization was founded by Maria Medrano who believes prisons can become productive places for women, cultivating their individuality, esteem and confidence. Currently, they offer nothing of the sort. Medrano has ben recognized as an esteemed Ashoka Fellow and upon the Ashoka website we can find out more about her and YoNoFui’s philosophy.

“Convinced that the prison is the last link in a chain of exclusion and disenfranchisement that ensnares poor women, Medrano pioneered a relationship-centered continuum of education and engagement for women prisoners and ex-convicts to create concrete opportunities for women out of prison and to change the mindsets of prisoners, their families and communities,” it reads.

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YoNoFui (translated as “It wasn’t me) also offers courses in poetry, journalism, textiles, bookmaking and carpentry. It’s providing a “holistic approach to transform the way the criminal justice system conceives of and treats women prisoners, making it a productive and more nurturing place. […] Maria’s program deals with the root problems affecting the women, including their lack of labor skills, emotional marginalization and poor self-confidence.”

Some of this language is familiar to us, but a lot of it has not been implemented in Medrano’s home country.

“Women prisoners are the most marginalized segment of Argentine society,” writes Ashoka. “The vast majority are mothers and housewives from very low economic segments of society. 90% of them also come from broken and dysfunctional families, with abusive or drug-addicted husbands and children—whom they often bore while in prison. Many come from two or three generations of women who have been unemployed, and who lack formal education and the social customs that familiarized them with a culture of work. Most never learned the values a healthy workplace inculcates, such as personal responsibility and self-respect. The children of these women are often either neglected or abandoned outright, sent to live with a relative or put into state institutions. About 41% of these women are immigrants with few connections to the local society, having migrated on their own without official papers to seek a better fortune in Argentina, or who were victims of transnational trafficking rings.”

Women end up committing low-level crimes and misdemeanors in Buenos Aires, more out of desperation or necessity rather than from a pathological sense of criminality. However, once sentenced the path is predictable. Argentine prisons reflect upon the most disenfranchised exactly what they had experienced in free society – social exclusion, and permanent second class status. The effects of this exclusion are ben more pronounced upon immigrant women. The majority of people in Argentina are unsympathetic to female prisoners unaware of the complex web of causes to their situation.

Rehabilitation has not been the way.

“Prisons in Argentina function in a militarized way, due to a law passed in 1973 under the military dictatorship. They bear very little emphasis on policies and practices that help support reinsertion of men and women into the labor and social mainstream, leading to high rates of recidivism—although the public ministries do not even care to record the exact figures,” says Ashoka.

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Until Medrano’s efforts, reform efforts were largely absent. Focuses first on building individual relationships, belonging and interdependence, Medrano hopes to break the cycle. It’s hard for us to believe but many women in prison have not been exposed to, shared in, or shown how to believe in themselves.

Medrano is going further than just offering classes; she is tying all education into self-improvement and cultivating buy-in from all constituents. Only with the support of the authorities is she implementing cultural change.

“Success for the effort requires a complex series of negotiations with multiple ministries whose support will be required,” says Ashoka. “Negotiations have already begun with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labor, where YoNoFui is holding workshops. By developing broad constituencies among multiple ministries, Medrano is beginning to overcome bureaucratic intransigence, while also shifting the program’s dependence on the penitentiary system, which is part of the Justice Ministry, to other ministries with less of a “law-and-order” stigma attached.”

YoNoFui is working in two of the five federal prisons in Argentina, both in Buenos Aires, with some 600 women prisoners each. Medrano plans to scale up and move into other facilities.

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Financial support comes a number of governmental departments astutely identified by Medrano — subsidies for micro-enterprises through the Social Development Ministry; job training grants through the Ministry of Labor; seed capital from the Ministry of Industry. YoNoFui connects women with housing and jobs subsidies.

What they begin in the prison they continue outside. YoNoFui also works with agencies for Social Issues, Prisons, Migrants and Gender Issues, with the Secretariat for Children, Youth and Families — both of which have responsibilities related to the young people whose mothers are incarcerated.

Former prisoners return to the jails to work as teachers, and they are new positive role models to the women inside. Relationships are key. Skills ALONGSIDE psychological and emotional health. Arts and trades continue outside of the penal institutions — carpentry, bookbinding, textile design, textile machinery, weaving, graphic design, silkscreen, photography, poetry and journalism.

The organization is young but Medrano wants a permanent, staffed, full-time “School for Work” inside the prison. In the way, YoNoFui considers young people too in helping them re-establishing their bonds of family, re-adapt to society, YoNoFui can be though of as akin to The Harlem Childrens Zone. Targeting both the practical and the attitudinal is key, that is to build key skills but also to shift the mindset of an entire downtrodden group.

[ SEE MORE OF THE IMAGES HERE ]

Inspiring stuff. Now, aren’t you glad you took a closer look? I am.

The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, 2013 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

There’s something about Simon Roberts’ photographic surveys of England that leave me feeling a little uneasy. This is not a bad thing; better to feel something than nothing at all when encountering art.

I published a piece Very English Tourism Spots are Just Intensely Managed Distractions on Medium dealing with my hesitations.

I think my unease stems from the fact that while Roberts is critiquing the quirks of the English and riffing on nostalgia (certainly) and cliche (probably) there remains space in his work for massive misunderstanding — massive under-estimation to be precise.

Roberts’ work could be read as uncritically nationalistic by those who are already that way inclined. Although the ironic title of his latest series National Property: The Imperfect Picturesque directs people away from simplistic and politicised readings of the photographs, the scenes he captures are nonetheless relatively bucolic. They smack of the quaint English countryside and of honest folks at leisure (which they are) but they leave so much of England and experiences of people in England out too.

Trough House Bridge, Eskdale, Cumbria, 2014, 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

I’m hesitant to frame this even as an argument. It’s hardly fair to critique something on that which it is stated not to be. And Roberts, nor any other photographer, can be held accountable for the jingositic readings of work by pockets of distant audience.

Many English photographers (Parr, Dench, Stuart) hold a mirror up to their nation with biting snark. Roberts’ mirror is little more removed, less in your face and returns images that are not immediately or obviously critical.

All of these are still forming thoughts. It is one of the luxuries of being a blogger, that with enough caveats, you can share early thoughts and canvas response. So, what do you think?

Read Very English Tourism Spots are Just Intensely Managed Distractions.

Willy Lott’s House at Flatford, East Bergholt, Suffolk, 2014. 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

Penshaw Monument, Penshaw, Tyne and Wear, 2013. 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

State Business-Chapter III

Verint Israel and NICE System Monitoring Center, Astana, Kazakhstan 2014.

Much of my weekend was spent putting a final editing-touches on the latest Vantage article Panopticon For Sale. The piece, details trade between authoritarian regimes (such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and others) and corporations that manufacture and maintain cyber-surveillance.

The author, Mari Bastashevski, spent 12 months researching this shady industry —  trailing paper work, filing FOIA requests, interviewing and protecting sources, and corroborating statements. Many previously unreported (but commonly suspected) business relations uncovered by Bastashevski have been confirmed by information included in the July 5th hack of Hacking Team (a company that manufactures surveillance technologies) when the identities of its clients were posted online.

As Bastashevski writes in her closing statements:

Companies like NICE, Gamma Group, Verint, and Hacking Team, who sell this power to governments for which “watched a YouTube protests video” constitutes criminal behaviour become co-arbiters of what is and isn’t a “wrong act”. Yet for the companies, much like for their clients, their own secrecy remains absolute and proprietary: not something for press consumption, researchers, or advocates.

Private corporations are facilitating the unfettered surveillance of citizens by paranoid rulers.

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NICE Systems HQ, Ra’anana, Israel 2014.

The comparatively unregulated republics in the post-Soviet region are proving grounds for the shit that the power hungry can get away with.

I’ll stop yelling now, encourage you to read Bastashevski’s #longread, and leave you with an my editor’s foreword to further convince you to take in Bastashevki’s text and images.

This is a narrative built upon information that’s incredibly difficult to verify. Outside of the community of privacy advocates and cyber-surveillance researchers, no-one really saw this story, or necessarily knew what it was or why it mattered. That’s because everything that Bastashevski was looking at — or looking for — is invisible, confidential or both.

When Hacking Team was itself hacked, Bastashevski felt vindicated. Not only did the hack confirm the presence of Hacking Team in countries she investigated, it also confirmed the presence of other companies she knew were providing surveillance to those countries. The lies and questionable dealings of a catastrophic industry were laid bare.

“To photograph or to look at what exists on the verge of catastrophe,” critic Ariella Azoulay once wrote, “the photographer must first assume she has a reason to be in the place of the nonevent or event that never was, which no one has designated as the arena of an event in any meaningful way. She, or those who dispatch her, must suspend the concerns of the owners of the mass media regarding the ratings of the finished product and with her camera begin to sketch a new outline capable of framing the nonevent. Photographing what exists the verge of catastrophe thus is an act that suspends the logic of newsworthiness.”

By virtue of hackers’ actions, and not the logic of the news industry, I find myself in a position to publish Bastashevski’s remarkable findings. A condensed version of this work was exhibited at Musee de Elysee and published in the Prix Elysee catalogue (Musee de Elysee, December 2014). It has since been expanded to include a review of targets and surveillance in Azerbaijan, and cross references of the recent evidence obtained through Hacking Team leak.

This is not a photo essay but rather an essay with photos. Bastashevki makes photographs, in many ways, to show her stories cannot be photographed. These images are way-markers along roads of discovery.

Read the full piece Panopticon For Sale and see more large images.

State Business-Chapter III

Ministry of Communication Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2014.

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SNB lunch spot, secure Gazalkent district, Tashkent Uzbekistan. 2014.

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Monitoring centre (roof) -Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 2014. Location where data obtained with Hacking Team, Nice Systems, and Verint Technologies is analysed and processed.

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PU-data collection point Kazakhtelecom-Almaty, Kazakhstan, 2014.

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Presidential Palace and MNS HQ, Baku, Azerbaijan 2013.

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Inside Verint Israel HQ, Herzliya Pituach, Israel 2014.

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Transaction — Dedeman Silk Road Radisson Blu, Tashkent ,Uzbekistan. 2014.

All images: Mari Bastashevski

“If a book can have a trailer, I guess this is sort of that,” wrote Steve Davis in his email this morning.

Me Steve have a long history* but that in no way discredits what I am about to say. Whether I am biased or not (I am) this video absolute nails it. Why? The process of image-making is often messy. It get messier the more people are involved. Making photographs inside a prison — for Steve and his students — involves local authorities, management and staff. Everyone thinks they have a say or a role. If everyone is a photographer, then everyone is a photo-critic, or worse, everyone is the Photo Police.

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Steve saw nice things and he saw absolutely devastating things. He met kids raised to be racists and they were very personable. He encountered kids stuck in the system and devolving to the oppressed and hardened personalities required for survival. He met staff who were moving heaven and hell to give these troubled kids the best shot at the rest of their lives, and he met adults who had already written them off and goaded the kids.

As Steve says, layers of contradictions and complex challenges exist in juvenile detention facilities. These images will not give you any easy answers; they will probably throw up more questions.

This is the best, quickest and truest introduction to Steve’s series Captured Youth that currently exists. If you like what he says an dyou like the images then pre-order the book of this work Unfinished at Minor Matters Books.

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*Steve Davis was my first ever interview on Prison Photography. That happened because he was geographically the closest when I started the site. He didn’t have to say yes to the interview but he did. I must have done something right because a year later he invited me to his class to give a lecture. Steve Davis’ student were the first college students I ever presented material to. Years ago, when I was going through a really hard break-up and needed to get out of town, I headed down I5 and crashed on Steve’s couch for a couple of nights. Photographs made by incarcerated boys and girls who were students in his workshops feature in Prison Obscura. Next year,  Prison Obscura will be shown at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Steve is the coordinator of the photography program at Evergreen and introduced the show to the gallery’s curator. Steve is a friend.

Reentry in Los Angeles

Darlene Escalante with her grandmother, Veronica, she is on a home visit that she earned at Walden House. Darlene talks about how both parents were in prison and affiliated with gangs. As young girl, she remembers going to Chino State Prison to visit her father. When her mother went to prison too, Darlene’s grandmother took her to make visits. “Both my grandmother and my mother were drug addicts. In 1989, my dad died after he changed his life, he was a nurse. He was gunned down and shot nine times. I want so much to change my life now, that’s why I came to Walden House. I don’t want to continue this horrible legacy that has existed in my family.” Los Angeles, 2008. From the series Re-entry.

IN CONVERSATION WITH JOSEPH RODRIGUEZ

A long time ago Joseph Rodriguez and I chatted. An edited version of the conversation just made the webs.

If you know Joe, you know he’s not short of words. We covered a lot, but given Mark Ellen Mark‘s recent passing, I wanted to highlight this anecdote with which Joe closed the interview.

I was shy. I gotta tell you. I did it at ICP. Going to school there was amazing. I remember Salgado looking at my pictures, and all I could do was photograph my life as a taxi driver. I was really very shy, and I just I wound up shooting through the windows a lot—stuff on the street. It was pretty cinematic, but he saw the pictures, and he didn’t say anything. I fucking blew it. That killed me!

Then I took a workshop with Mary Ellen Mark, and she was the one who really kicked my ass. She said, “You don’t believe in who you are.” I got defensive and said “What do you mean?”

“Well, you don’t believe in yourself as a photographer,” she said. So, she gave me this exercise. “When you get up in the morning in your underwear stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself you’re a photographer for 15 minutes.”

Doesn’t that sound a little hokey to you? Believe it or not, your boy did it, and I began to slowly believe more in myself as a photographer.

Now, I tell my students the same. If you don’t go out with reverence when you say you want to photograph somebody, they’re not going to take you seriously. You’re going to get a snapshot, nothing more.

I found photography in a very amateur way; it gave me happiness, gladness, and made me want to produce something that I was interested and excited about. To this day, though, I’m still nervous when I’ve got to go out and photograph.

Read the full conversation at the ICP website.

L.A.P.D.

Homicide Detectives Dobine and Cedric Pacific Division. From the series LAPD.

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The Quiles family at home. Ramiro and Danny from Marianna Maravilla, with their mother Aida, and sister Maria. East Los Angeles, CA, 1993. From the series East Side Stories.

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Rampart Officers search the house of a family of a man who was shot by a gang member in his living room. They check the building for the suspect. From the series LAPD.

East Los Angeles, CA, 1993.

Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, CA, 1993. From the series East Side Stories.

Boyle Heights

A Clarence Gang member is hit with five bullets from an automatic weapon on the night of a gang truce in East Los Angeles. His fellow gang members rush him to the hospital. From the series East Side Stories.

From the series Juvenile.

L.A.P.D.

Rampart Division Officers detaining an arrested woman. From the series LAPD.

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A family gathers the round of the coffin of Thomas Regalado III, who was killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting. East Los Angeles, CA 1992. From the series East Side Stories.

Officers responding to a domestic violence call.

Officers responding to a domestic violence call. From the series LAPD.

The minors are leaving the facility and are chained down for transporting. San Jose Juvenile hall. San Jose, California 1999. From the series Juvenile.

From the series Juvenile.

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A Portrait Of A Bankrupt City

My latest for Vantage:

When Stockton filed for bankruptcy in 2012, it was the largest city in US history to do so. Kirk Crippens has spent the past three years photographing its residents.

It seems unlikely Kirk Crippens’ portraits are really going to affect the lives of the residents of Stockton, California. It is their portraits that make up his series Bank Rupture. Rather, it will be food banks, loan relief, and Stockton’s fiscal restructuring that will deliver much more direct — negative and positive — effects.

Grand statements and big claims aren’t Crippens’ style. Modest and curious, Crippens uses image-making to investigate and connect with the world. He photographs to establish relationships beyond his immediate working and daily experience. It might sound trite, but Crippens employs photography to show he cares. Having interviewed Crippens numerous times I’m confident in the claim.

“I served as witness. I immersed myself for a time and took some photographs along the way,” says Crippens.

Read the full piece and see a larger selection of images larger.

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