You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Opinion’ category.

KatePeters copy

© Kate Peters

Here we are at the end of the first week of 2016. How’s it going so far? I spent the holidays lying in, reading stuff and watching my team Liverpool at silly hours of the morning. When at my desk, I was putting together a series of year end proclamations for Vantage.

It was a marathon, and by marathon I mean a six-parter. Still, that was more than 10,000 words and scores of images.

Part 1: The Best Nature Photos of 2015

Part 2: The Best Photobooks of 2015

Part 3: The Best San Francisco Street Photographer of 2015

Part 4: The Best Portraiture of 2015

Part 5: The Best GIFs of 2015

Part 6: The Best Photography Exhibition of 2015

Are these actually the best of the year? Are these the most watertight objective statements? Of course not, and I admit as much in the pieces. What they are though is my strongest arguments as to why these projects and ideas are more relevant, caring (even), fruitful and connecting.

Put your feet up. Have a glance.

93 copy
© Thomas Roma
ALAN POWDRILL copy
© Alan Powdrill
IMG_8625
© Troy Holden
Opton, Suzanne - Birkholz copy 2
© Suzanne Opton
102 copy
© Thomas Roma
pc1
© Vicente Paredes
Book cover of Vicente Paredes’ Pony Congo
Tauszik
© Brandon Tauszik
terry_pg03_10w
© Sara Terry + Mariam X
Scan-141203-0010
© Troy Holden

turd2

“Being calm in pink and blue will deliver us from evil. Carefully-selected colour swatches, if only some paint-God would reveal itself, are the antidote to war, global warming and bigotry.”

Last week, I went all Beautiful Mind on the Pantone Colour of the Year announcement, specifically its 55-second video accompanying the announcement. Here’s my rant.

turd1

I put together a play-by-play of the vid. It was excruciating work. But the world needed to know.

Read the full piece: The Pantone Color of the Year is a Big Steaming Pile of Turd. 

turdy

rajashree

Rajeshree Roy with Carolyn Miller, a close friend, on a visit at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).

IN SOLIDARITY

Something very significant is brewing in California right now. Female prisoners in the Yuba County Jail are organising in solidarity with immigrants in detention.

Yesterday (Monday 14th December) a group of women began a hunger strike, joining hundreds of other detainees taking part in hunger strikes at facilities across the country.

You may or may not have heard about the fasting and hunger strikes going on in immigrant detention facilities across the country. Up and down the country–in the Hutto Immigrant Detention Center in Texas; in an immigrant detention center in the high desert city of Adelanto, California; in the Krome Service Processing Center in Florida; and in Alabama, in El Paso, Texas and in Lasalle, Louisiana, too.

Vikki Law has covered these as a trend. And they are. Collectively, the strikes are known as the #FreedomGiving Strikes and they were launched on Thanksgiving by hundreds of South Asian and African detainees at three separate facilities. The movement has grown.

Never before (to my knowledge) has the political resistance of detained immigrants run in cohort with the political action of citizens in county or state facilities. The Yuba County Jail rents space to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain people. For the first time, women in criminal custody are fasting with detainees in immigration custody as an act of solidarity. Phenomenal. Principled. Inspiring.

The Yuba Co. Jail hunger strike is led by, and in support of, Rajashree Roy (above). You can read a longer detailed account of Roy’s journey here.

To be brief, Roy faces deportation back to Fiji where she has not lived since she was 8-years-old. As a child, Roy suffered sexual abuse and upon relocation to the United States never received counseling or help. By the time she was in her teens she was both attempting suicide and robbing and beating people. She was very troubled and the undelrying causes had never been addressed.

Sentenced as an adult at age 16, Rajashree spent 17-years at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). Nine years later, struggling to survive and feed her children while in an abusive relationship, she stole a garden hosepipe from a store, a misdemeanor petty theft.

Due to her priors, the District Attorney set bail at $1million and offered a 25-to-life sentence. In 2011, Roy accepted a plea bargain of seven years. In November 2014, she qualified for release under Prop 47. When Rajashree Roy stepped foot out of CCWF, she was picked up by ICE and slated for deportation back to Fiji, away from her children.

After years of silence due to shame and stigma as an abuse survivor and ‘criminal’, Rajashree Roy has gained confidence through peer and advocacy support and decided to be public with her story and fight for herself and others.

“We are locked up together and refuse to be divided into immigrants and citizens. None of us belong in this cage separated from our families. We join the brave immigrant hunger strikers across the country in fasting to force recognition of our humanity,” says the staement of Roy and her fellow hunger strikers at Yuba County Jail.

WHAT TO DO

  1. Join community organizers at ASPIRE, the nation’s first pan-Asian undocumented youth-led group, at a fast in solidarity outside Yuba County Jail.
  2. Support the #FreedomGiving strikers by signing the petition.
  3. Help raise funds for Rajashree’s $10,000 bond.
  4. Write letters of support to the women on hunger strike:

Rajeshree Roy
Booking No. 229860
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Jessica Bullock
Booking No. 235161
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Tisha Sartor
Booking No. 233892
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Kyra Beckles
Booking No. 234664
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Juanita Thomas
Booking No. 235553
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Ana Marquez
Booking No. 235550
Yuba County Jail
P.O. Box 1031
Marysville, California 95901

Gary Younge nails it again. This time on Donald Trump’s appeal among a scarily significant portion of Americans:

Trump articulates the frustration and bewilderment of that section of uneducated, unskilled, low-paid white America, whose wages have stagnated and social mobility has stalled that is nostalgic for its local privileges and global status. In recent times, they have lost wars, jobs, houses and confidence.

So when he brands Mexicans “rapists”, Chinese “cheats” and all Muslims potential threats he gives free rein to their insecurities about an increasingly cosmopolitan and less predictable world they feel they have been excluded from.

To that extent, his base is not too different from that of the Front National, which just triumphed in the French regional elections, Ukip or any of the range of far-right parties currently making headway in Europe.

Full article: Donald Trump shows hate speech is now out and proud in the mainstream

oct23_openengagement_image

OPEN ENGAGEMENT 2016

If you’re not going to Oakland for the Open Engagement (OE) conference in April 2016, you’d better have a good excuse. It”ll be great. it’s on the theme of POWER, Angela Davis and Suzanne Lacy are the keynotes and a call for proposals is now open.

“Local, national, and international artists, activists, academics, cultural producers, administrators, curators, educators, writers, thinkers, doers, and makers of all ages are encouraged to propose programming,” says OE.

Proposal deadline: November 2, 2015.

OE is an annual conference about socially engaged art. I’ve been to a couple of past iterations and I recommend.

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) hosts OE 2016, April 29–May 1. Additional sites throughout the Bay Area will also be satellite venues.

“Power is the ability to make desired results happen,” says René de Guzman, OE 2016 curator. “We invite participants to explore this concept broadly and expansively. What is power in the present age? How do we effectively demand it—and how we create it for ourselves? What are the innovative strategies for empowerment before us? What are the mechanisms by which we ensure fair and equitable distribution of power for all? How do we conceive of ourselves and how do we share power with others?”

“Founded in 2007, OE is the only conference on this subject of this scale that operates on an inclusive open call model that supports emerging and established artists and collaborates closely with national institutions,” says OE.

They’re asking for proposals for presentations, panels, discussions, workshops, events and interventions. Logistical support projects and social gatherings are also welcome.

You also win points if your proposal is site specific or in some way reflexive. In plain language, get to know Oakland and Oaklanders. Better still, propose collaborations with some locals.

OE wants you to know that “OMCA brings together collections of art, history, and natural science under one roof, featuring indoor venues with capacities ranging from 6–260, including a hot tub lounge and a partial airplane, and outdoor spaces that can accommodate 50–500, including the garden and Peace Terrace.”

PHOTOGRAPHY + SOCIAL PRACTICE

A good resource to plug your photo-brain into the prerogatives of OE is Photography As A Social Practice. I am an occasional contributor. Also, check out the recent projects sponsored by the Magnum Foundation’s Photography Expanded program.

Please take a peek at my review of the exhibition Social in Practice: The Art of Collaboration, curated by Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas.

Finally, you cannot miss the e-book Wide Angle: Photography As A Participatory Practice edited by Terry Kurgan and Tracy Murinik.

 

IN THE ARENA

The Prison Rodeo at Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka Angola Prison) is a controversial event. Is it an opportunity for the prisoners to be more than invisible bodies and maligned felons, or is is gladiatorial and the worst of capitalist exploitation? I veer toward the latter but I’m not inclined to yell too loudly at those that err toward the former. Indeed, as Lee Cowan find out for CBS, even prisoners hold conflicting views.

I’m posting this here because I think in 8-minutes Cowan is about as fair as fair can be on this topic.

ARCHIVE

Articles on Prison Photography about Angola, the prison I contend is the most photographed in the United States.

My own visit: The Visual Culture of Angola Prison

hurford

FOLLOW HCAH ON INSTAH

I’m being facetious of course. Playful, yes. And earnest, oh yes.

Love the Hurford Center for Arts and Humanities (HCAH). Over at HCAH, they’ve got Matthew Callinan the hardest working man in the Greater Philadelphia area and the fellow who gave me my big break.

FOLLOW HCAH ON INSTAH

Callinan, the campus exhibitions coordinator at Haverford College, builds four shows every year, from the ground up. He’s interested not in the big names per se but the emerging ideas of curators, artists and collectives who’ll connect Haverford students to the world as it is now.

And there’s a good amount there for photo-lovers, too. For example, the recent The Past is a Foreign Country a solo show for François-Xavier Gbré and Possible Cities, curated by Ruti Talmor including the work of photographers Sammy Baloji, Pieter Hugo, Salem Mekuria, Sabelo Mlangeni, Guy Tillim and IngridMwangiRobertHutter.

Check out the archive. There’s Zoe Strauss and Hank Willis Thomas, too.

Oh, and how could I miss the current show?!?! The Wall In Our Heads is a themed show about the Berlin Wall, curated by the legendary Paul M Farber who has written extensively on the TV show, The Wire. Do not miss Farber’s paper The Last Rites of D’Angelo Barksdale: The Life and Afterlife of Photography In The Wire.

How better to follow this hotbed of innovation than through the Instah?

FOLLOW HCAH ON INSTAH

1

A 1916 American Mug Shot

For anyone who thinks photography has only recently been abducted by state and corporate power for the purposes of control, think again. For anyone who thinks that high-tech-surveillance was the birth of photography being used to discipline and order humans, think again. Cyborgology recently had a great piece by Liam French lecturer in the Journalism and Media Department at the University of St. Mark & St. John, about the historical connects between image-making and criminal justice. French writes:

The relationship between visual technologies and the criminal justice system can be traced back to the emergence of photography and the invention of the camera as a tool for documenting ‘reality’ in the nineteenth century. The camera was widely believed, even more so than today, to be able to objectively and truthfully record social reality. A photograph was perceived to be like a window on the world – a mechanically produced, impartial and literal representation of the real world.

One such photographic taxonomy was produced by the Italian physician Cesare Lombroso who drew ink portraits depicting ‘criminal types’. Lombroso’s work is an exemplary case of the rise of positivist criminology in the nineteenth century. He argued that criminals possessed more ‘atavistic’ features and shared more characteristics with our evolutionary ancestors than more law-abiding citizens.

Most Wanted: Cameras, Criminal Justice and the Persistence of Vision argues that the breadth of surveilling techniques and technologies has extended to the Internet.

Still and moving ‘visual evidence’ is stored in state archives, used in courtrooms as evidence, and disseminated across almost every major media platform: from the printed press to the World Wide Web.

French references both a 2006 article about Mark Michaelson’s book and collection of mugshots and last years viral pic of Jeremy Meeks‘ mugshot to raise the idea that law enforcement photography (mugshots included) have transcended their forensic roots.

Take, for example, the posting of the police mug-shot of criminal Jeremy Meeks on Stockton Police Force Facebook page resulted in his image going viral and concluding with the offer of a quite lucrative modelling contract. What is interesting about the Jeremy Meeks mug-shot story is that once his photograph was displayed outside of the authoritative domain of the police archive and publicly circulated across different social media platforms and networks it accrued different sets of meanings (sexy, hot, good-looking) along the way despite the attempt to officially encode (or fix) the meaning (criminal, dangerous, wanted by the police) of the photograph.

Furthermore, French argues, that John Fiske’s theory that dominant power uses system to segregate and dominate apply here. Fiske says that authority will rely upon systems and “improve” them all the while facing resistance from the lesser power. Crucially, the lesser power uses the same systems to subvert and counter dominate. Sometimes the lesser power is successful and sometimes the larger power replaces old systems with new ones of greater efficiency or new tactics. In any case there is always a push and pull.

Jeremy Meeks

Booking photo of Jeremy Meeks, 30. (June 18, 2014). Credit: Stockton Police Department

 

So in the case of mugshots, there has always been inherent control attached to state-dominate manufacture and exchange of mugshots. Until social media found a way to interrupt that exchange.

Even Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s mugshot of the day website and the countless mugshot magazines like Busted were examples of larger authorities using the mugshot to their own ends. Arpaio’s use served not the general fraternity of law enforcement but his own ego. Busted wanted to bend the use of mugshots to its own profitable ends but interestingly did so without inconveniencing the state’s power; to the contrary dollar-mugshot magazines enhance the states criminalisation of individuals.

Fiske’s theory was formulated in the late 1980s and so pre-dates the emergence of web 2.0 and social media but his model of culture (and popular culture) does have a resonance with the ways in which social media tools and platforms further open up the terrain of culture for struggles over meaning, semiotic productivity and popular resistance. Imposing official (or dominant) meanings is now much more difficult because there are so many opportunities for contestation.

It would be naïve to cite the Jeremy Meeks example as some kind of paradigm changing moment or as the empowerment of the masses but it does offer an insight into the ways in which the potential for popular resistance is always possible and can surface in the most unlikely of places.

From dusty archives, to venerable vernacular objects, to art-world comedy-fetish, to online consumable, we need to consider deeply our relationship to mugshots. And to the criminal justice systems from which they emerge. Especially as one week we’re approaching them as shallow entertainment and the next we’re demanding a right to them in order to confirm or dispel controversy and conspiracy surrounding in-custody death.

Read French’s full piece Most Wanted: Cameras, Criminal Justice and the Persistence of Vision here

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

Prison Photography Archives

Post Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,012 other followers