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Isolation exercise yard, Security Housing Unit, Pelican Bay, Crescent City, California, a supermax-type control, high security facility said to house California’s most dangerous prisoners. © Richard Ross
Solitary confinement is in the news … for lots of reasons – a lawsuit brought by prisoners against the Federal Bureau of Prisons; a lawsuit brought by 10 prisoners in solitary against the state of California; a June Senate hearing on the psychological and human rights implications of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons (which included the fabrication of a replica sized AdSeg cell in the courtroom); an ACLU report pegging solitary as human rights abuse; a NYCLU report showing arbitrary use of solitary, a NYT Op-Ed by Lisa Guenther; the rising use of solitary at immigration detention centres; and the United Nations’ announcement that solitary is torture.
Recently, journalists from across America have contacted me looking for photographs of solitary confinement to accompany their article. I could only think of three photographers – one of whom wishes to remain anonymous; another, Stefan Ruiz is not releasing his images yet; which leaves Richard Ross‘ work which is well known.
Stefan Ruiz’ photographs of Pelican Bay State Prison, CA made in 1995 for use as court evidence. (See full Prison Photography interview with Ruiz here.)
With a seeming paucity, I went in search of other images. I found an image of a “therapy session” by Lucy Nicholson from her Reuters photo essay Inside San Quentin. A scene that has been taken to task by psychologist and political image blogger Michael Shaw.
Rich Pedroncelli for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Pelican Bay has been hosting media tours and welcoming journalists in the past year – partly due to public pressure and partly through a strategic shift by the CDCR to appear to be responding to public outcry. Maybe the courts have had a say, too?
© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters. Prisoners of San Quentin’s AdSeg unit in group therapy. (Source)
© Shane Bauer. Pelican Bay SHU cell. (Source)
© Shane Bauer. CA CDCR employees show investigative journalist Shane Bauer the Pelcian Bay SHU “Dog run.” (Source)
Correctional Officer Lt. Christopher Acosta is seen in the exercise area in the Secure Housing Unit at the Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011. State prison officials allowed the media to tour Pelican’ Bay’s secure housing unit, known as the SHU, where inmates are isolated for 22 1/2 hours a day in windowless, soundproofed cells to counter allegations of mistreatment made during an inmate hunger strike last month. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP/SF (Source)
The amount of visual evidence still seems limited. It’s not that reporting on solitary confinement is lax or missing. To the contrary, I’ve listed at the foot of this piece some excellent recent journalism on the issue form the past year. We lack images.
Look Inside A Supermax a piece done with text and not images is typical of the invisibility of these sites. National Geographic tried a couple of years to bring solitary confinement to a screen near you. ABC News journalist Dan Harris spent the “two worst days of his life” in solitary to report the issue.
Why do we need to see these super-locked facilities? Well, depending on your sources there are between 15,000 and 80,000 people held in isolation daily (definitions of isolation differ). My conservative estimate is that 20,000 men, women and children are held in single occupancy cells 23 hours a day.
Gabriel Reyes, prisoner at Pelican Bay SHU writes about his experience for the San Francisco Chronicle:
“For the past 16 years, I have spent at least 22 1/2 hours of every day completely isolated within a tiny, windowless cell. [...] The circumstances of my case are not unique; in fact, about a third of Pelican Bay’s 3,400 prisoners are in solitary confinement; more than 500 have been there for 10 years, including 78 who have been here for more than 20 years.”
Solitary confinement is a “living death”; an isolating “gray box” and “life in a black hole.” Imagine locking yourself in a space the size of your bathroom for 23 hours a day. As James Ridgeway, currently the most prolific and reliable reporter on American solitary confinement, writes:
“A growing body of academic research suggests that solitary confinement can cause severe psychological damage, and may in fact increase both violent behavior and suicide rates among prisoners. In recent years, criminal justice reformers and human rights and civil liberties advocates have increasingly questioned the widespread and routine use of solitary confinement in America’s prisons and jails, and states from Maine to Mississippi have taken steps to reduce the number of inmates they hold in isolation.”
The over zealous and under regulated use of solitary confinement to control risk and populations within U.S. prisons is a cancer within already broken corrections systems. I’m posting a few more image that Google images afforded me – but I urge caution – these are just a glimpse and may not be indicative of solitary/SHU conditions. Windows are a rarity in solitary despite three images below showing them.
The main reason I’m posting here is to ask for your help in sourcing all the photography of U.S. solitary confinement we can. Please post links in the comments section and I’ll add them to the article as time goes on.
© Alice Lynd. Front view of cell D1-119. Todd Ashker has been in a Security Housing Unit (SHU) for more than 25 years, since August 1986, and in the Pelican Bay SHU nearly 22 years, since May 2, 1990. “The locked tray slot is where I get my food trays, mail.” (Source)
A typical special housing unit (SHU) cell for two prisoners, in use at Upstate Correctional Facility and SHU 20.0.s in New York. Photo: Unknown. (Source)
Bunk in Secure Housing Unit cell, Pelican Bay, California © Rina Palta/KALW. (Source)
Solitary Confinement at the Carter Youth Facility. Since the arrival of the girls’ program at Carter, the administration has created a new seclusion cell. This cell contains no pillow, sheet, pillow case or blanket. In fact, there is nothing in the cell other than a mattress, which was added after numerous requests from the monitor. Girls are routinely placed in this room for “time out.” Photo: Maryland Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit. (Source)
© Rina Palta, KALW. “More than 3,000 prisoners in California endure inhuman conditions in solitary confinement.” This photo, taken in August 2011 of a corridor inside the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, illustrated Amnesty’s report. (Source)
© National Geographic. In Colorado State Penitentiary 756 inmates are held in “administrative segregation” alone in their cells for 23 hours a day. 5 times a week they are allowed into the rec room where they can exercise and breath fresh air through a grated window. (Source)
Eddie Griffin, prisoner in s Supermax prison in Marion, IL writes about “Breaking Men’s Minds” [PDF.]
Boxed In NYCLU campaign and report with resources and video against use of solitary confinement. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Gray Box, an investigative journalism series and film about solitary across the U.S., by Susan Greene. (Dart Society) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
ACLU – Stop Solitary Confinement - Resources - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
ACLU _ State specific reports on solitary confinement
Andrew Cohen’s three part series on “The American Gulag” (Atlantic)
Atul Gawande’s take on the psychological impacts of solitary confinement (New Yorker)
Sharon Shalev, author of Supermax: Controlling Risk Through Solitary Confinement, here writes about conditions. (New Humanist)
The shocking abuse of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons (Amnesty)
SOLITARY ELSEWHERE ON PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY
Interview with Isaac Ontiveros, Director of Communications with Critical Resistance, about Pelican Bay solitary and community activism.
The invention of solitary confinement.
RIGO 23, Michelle Vignes, the Black Panthers and Leonard Peltier
Chilean Miners, Russian Cosmonauts and 20,000 American Prisoners
Robert King, of the Angola 3, writes for the Guardian
‘Steph’ © Tony Foushe
There’s two things I hope you’ll carry away from this post. Firstly, the importance of Live Through This a photo series resulting from a-two year collaboration between Tony Fouhse and Stephanie. Secondly, that Tony has established Straylight Press to get limited-edition books and zines in the hands of photo-lovers. Live Through This is Straylight’s first publication.
To regular readers, Tony Fouhse will not be a new name. I’ve always admired Tony’s honest, weekly updates about his ongoing work, emotions and process. In my capacity as a Wired.com blogger, I recommended his blog drool as a top read.
LIVE THROUGH THIS
Four years ago, Tony began shooting USER, portraits of crack and heroin addicts on a single Ottawa city block. During that time, he met Stephanie, noticed something different about her, and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?” She said she wanted help getting clean.
From that point it’s a long story of great-strides, trauma, dope sickness, humour, sunlight and friendship. Often photographers may distance themselves from the world by saying they’re mere observers. In the case of photojournalism, so-called objectivity sometimes excuses camera-persons from getting involved in even small practical ways to help those they photograph.
Tony is not a photojournalist and he is no hero either; he’s a guy that offered to help someone whose needs were greater than most. If you want to venture into the drool archives, Tony has told the story in great detail. Alternatively, Tony wrote a five-part series about his and Steph’s journey for the ever-excellent NPAC blog [one, two, three, four, five].
In December, Steph had a wobble and ended up in jail. In January, when I read Steph’s words about her court hearing it was clear that Tony has had a life-changing effect on her life:
When I went to Halifax I sat in front of the judge and the crown was asking for 4-6 months and my lawyer asked for probation and sure enough I got it. Then, when I went to Pictou courts my lawyer asked for 6 months house arrest and he got it too […] if it wasn’t for my lawyer in Halifax I would of been fucked. He fought for me to do house arrest because I did so much in the last year, like, he brought up how when I lived in Ottawa I met this man named Tony Fouhse was gonna help me get into a rehab called the R.O Royal Ottawa but I never came to the rehab because I ended up growing a cyst on my brain and how Tony ended up helping me ween from using Heroin to 1 4mg dillie (Dilaudid) a day and sent me home to my family where I could sober up and become a clean mom and we did a project of my life on the street.
It’s a bit embarrassing it’s taken me six months to share my wonder. As well as being photo-rich, Steph and Tony’s journey is a really compelling story. Live Through This is one of the most interesting photography projects I’ve followed in recent years.
Live Through This is all the more impressive because Tony and Steph have taken it upon themselves to promote, produce and distribute it. Tony describes Straylight Press as a “vehicle to produce and disseminate printed photo matter.”
Future projects include the unflinching work of Scot Sothern and Brett Gundlock’s Prisoners (which I saluted in the past) so it is exciting times. The idea is that the success of one project feeds the next, so if enough copies of Live Through This sell then profits go into producing the next photographer’s book. It’s a pre-sales fundraising model. In addition, Straylight zines are fairly inexpensive and the intent is to produce 3 or 4 each year.
“Straylight is kind of like a Kickstarter, but with more long-term commitment to projects that aren’t just my own,” says Tony. “Kickstarter projects, while a good and interesting idea, seem to me to be too much about the individual. Not that I have anything against that, after all, you need an ego to be a photographer. But …”
Last month, Tony talked with the Ottawa Citizen about Straylight: Tony Fouhse opens photo-book publishing house – and web gurus be damned.
Tony is flogging prints, books and workshops to raise money for Straylight projects.
From the inbox:
“Prison Photography will be honored with a 2011 Photo Blog Award from LIFE.com.
This is the first annual Photo Blog Awards from LIFE.com and this year the editors have selected 20 blogs. To determine the 2011 honorees, LIFE.com editors considered nearly 300 blogs that count photography as central to their mission. Winners range from major news organizations to individual enthusiasts who are transforming the ways that photographs are made, shared, and discussed.”
So that’s unexpected and quite a lovely way to start the week. Chuffed to be on a list with so many other great blogs I read and respect – 500 Photographers, A Photo Editor, aCurator, American Suburb X, Bagnews Notes, Burn, Conscientious, Feature Shoot, New York Times’ Lens, NPR’s The Picture Show, PDN, The Sartortialist, TIME.com’s Lightbox, What’s the Jackanory?
To celebrate, my housemate made a rhubarb-sprinkle-surprise-sponge-cake, which is just about the best cake there is.
Carl Court / AFP – Getty Images; Dan Kitwood / Getty Images; Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
Graville’s In & Out The Old Bailey caused some controversy drawing accusations of exploitation. Do we feel Assange is being exploited here? I don’t really think so. Assange is well aware of media praxis and photographer protocols for winning that shot. By his direct eye contact, it would seem he’s putting on a show for these photographers? Or maybe it’s just the edit?
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RED?
You could run hog wild with reading the colour here, but I won’t. I’ll just mention, witch-hunts, the Hunt for Red October, Red Letter Day, the commies, the Reds, blood on “their” hands, whoever they are, the Scarlet Pimpernel, drive by night tactics, sex by surprise, red light districts and the red ink of Top Secret papers. All collapsing on top of this portrait of a man, still widely misrepresented.
Lots of lists of photobooks cropping up for different reasons.
To close out the remarkable efforts of Jonathan Worth’s experimental open-sourced, web-based, free Photography and Narrative (#PHONAR) course offered through Coventry University, the #PHONAR course closed with a bevvy of recommended readings.
The following photographers, writers, teachers and journalists made picks:
Alec Soth; Andy Adams; Cory Doctorow; Daniel Meadows; David Campbell; Edmund Clark; Fred Ritchin; Geoff Dyer; Gilles Peress; Grant Scott; Harry Hardie; Jeff Brouws; Joel Meyerowitz; John Edwin Mason; Jonathan Shaw; Jonathan Worth; Ken Schles; Larissa Leclair; Ludwig Haskins; Matt Johnston; Michael Hallett; Miki Johnson; Mikko Takkunen; Nathalie Belayche; Peter Dench; Pete Brook; Sean O’Hagan; Simon Roberts; Stephen Mayes; Steve Pyke; Todd Hido
As a contributor, I picked out three titles. Predictably, each dealt with photography in sites of incarceration:
Chris Verene‘s Family was a later addition.
It was a privilege to be asked to guest lecture on this pioneering educational model. Thanks to Jonathan, Matt Johnston @mjohnstonmedia (Chief Engineer) and students for their encouragement and engagement.
The #PHONAR list was spurred by Wayne Ford’s Photobooks and Narrative list.
JOHN EDWIN MASON
Following the #PHONAR list, contributor John Edwin Mason extended his selections. Mason’s Photobooks and Narrative: My (Slightly Flawed) Phonar List has an African and African American emphasis.
Tonight, Soth put forward his Top 10+ Photobooks of 2010. As ever, Soth is thorough, thoughtful and generous in response.
Jeff at 5B4 has picked out his 15 choices for Best Books of 2010. The comments section is lively and I don’t think being to conceptual (as Jeff is accused of) is a problem, even if it were a fair allegation.
Sean at the Guardian has selected 2010′s best photography books that you should put in someones stocking.
Niall has put together his Photobooks and Magazines of the Year.
“What is most troubling about D’Agata’s work is not specifically its content, but the rather trite assumption that life as a drug-addicted prostitute (in some conveniently distant place) contains more “truth” than that of, say, a suburban housewife or a plumber [...] It remains a tiresome (if quite familiar) misapprehension that extremes of living can bring us closer to the most fundamental aspects of what it is to be human – as though there were no other kinds of truth.”
“The “reality” that he frames as an existential crisis is in fact an economic one, so his rhetoric is more like a transparent pretext for the way he has chosen to aestheticise what he photographs – a denial of his implied privilege. [d'Agata's work] is beautiful and often daring, just not in the ways that he would have us believe.”
Well said Darren.
Put another way, and I heard this a few years back, “Oh d’Agata, he’s the Magnum photog who fucks and sucks his way around the world, yeah?”
UPDATE 11.12.2010, 12.30pm PST: Forsell didn’t win. Announced 11.12.2010 in Bristol, UK Yvonne Venegas won for her portrayal of Maria Elvia de Hank, millionaire wife of an eccentric former mayor of Tijuana. Julian Roeder and Rob Hornstra also made the final three.
This will not put me off making predictions in the future. I’ll just have to adopt unpredictable criteria and decision making to mirror the many diverse jury panels. And I stand by everything I said about Forsell’s ‘Life’s a Blast’.
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© Linda Forsell
I’ll admit to being rather deflated after looking over the shortlisted photographers for this years Magnum Expressions Award. Many of the portfolios of 15 images had only one or two photographs that held my attention.
The Magnum Expressions Award is in reaction to the brave new world photographers face; new communities, new audiences, new distribution channels and bold ways of working. It is an award designed – so it says – to reward young photographers surfing the shifting sands beneath the industries footings.
It should be said that most of the 19 shortlisted artists have hunted down engaging subjects. Bepi Ghiotti‘s Sources is an enigmatic thesis on man and nature. Yvonne Venegas’ fly-off-the-wall study of Maria Elvia De Hank wife of an eccentric millionaire and former Tijuana mayor bristles with ambivalence toward the subject.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the presence of two photographers who’ve briefly pricked my attentions. Anastasia Taylor-Lind and Irina Rosovsky both deliver strong entries. (On PP, Taylor-Lind, here and Rosovsky here).
These would be my 3rd through 6th placed finalists, but who’s listening to me, eh?
In at second is Jenn Ackerman. This high finish has little to do with my interest in photography that exposes the shortcomings of the US prison system and everything to do with the excellent way Jenn portrays the daily battles and extreme stress of a prison operating as a makeshift and unsuitable lock-up for men with severe mental health disorders – Trapped: Mental Illness in America’s Prisons. (I’ve featured Jenn’s work here on PP before.)
© Linda Forsell
‘LIFE’S A BLAST‘ BLOWS THE COMPETITION AWAY
And, winning by a country mile is Linda Forsell. Gold star.
Forsell’s Life’s a Blast is the sweetest, never-escaping-bitter view of Palestine, Gaza & Israel I’ve ever clapped my eyes on. It’s about family more than ideology, but it is never glib. It is work as conscious of history as it is the mores of fashion photography. It’s a slow-ride through the lives of people associated by a larger conflict but not solely defined by it; a stunning presentation of gazes drenched in humanity.
Against all odds, Forsell forces the viewer to think on the stories of her subjects; on the seconds before the shutter snapped and the years yet to come. I have not seen a single project that so swiftly dismantles many of the entrenched tropes of conflict photography. Life’s a Blast shifts perceptions like only the very best of photography can.
© Linda Forsell
The Oracle gathering? An International Mob of Mystery? Well, not exactly but given that Oracle is the main meeting of the world’s most influential people in the museum/fine art photography scene it is amazing the gathering flies under the radar year on year.
I’ve done some internet sleuthing to tell you some of what you need to know about the Bilderberg of the photography world.
Okay, it might not be so cloak and dagger as I have set it up, but The Annual International Conference for Photography Curators dubbed ‘Oracle’ has no web presence and no connection to the circles outside of the attendees. This (presumably intended) detachment is – simply put – a shame. Granted, these are people predominantly involved in museum curating, but still wouldn’t it be great to know what they are talking about when they meet each November?! Museums still feed into the photography ecosystem, and often define it.
Oracle began in 1982 as an informal gathering. In 2003, Deidre Stein Greben wrote, “Attendance at Oracle [...] has grown from ten to more than 100 over the last 20 years.”
With such an organically unhurried growth, why should curators care to share their dialogues? Hell, the week might be the closest thing many of them get to a holiday. Add to that the fact that there’s no external promotion or grand narratives to push, it makes sense that no-one would take on the extra workload of interfacing with the public and all that entails.
I also think of photography curators as a similar breed to university professors; the culture of research, writing and custodianship of department agendas does not dovetail with blogging the discoveries and knowledge from their daily work. (David Campbell summarises well how the reluctance of universities to adopt social networking is to their detriment.) It’s a shame. How good would a Sandra Phillips blog be?!
The 2010 Oracle is ongoing right now in Israel (Jerusalem, I think).
This is where my sleuthing gets patchy but other host institutions/cities have included; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1992); George Eastman House, Rochester (1993); Washington (1999); Finnish Museum of Photogaphy, Helsinki (2000); Goa, India (2003); Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2004); Artimino, Florence (2005); Prague, Czech Republic (2006); Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ (2007) and Paris, France (2009).
My guess is attendance is invitation only or some approximation thereof. Just because I gleaned a smattering of names, I’ll share them. Attendees have included Britt Salvesen, Director of photography and prints at LACMA; Doug Nickel, Professor of Photographic History at Brown University; Sunil Gupta, Artist, photographer, curator and educator; Allison Nordstrom, Curator of photography at George Eastman House; David E. Haberstich, Associate Curator of Photographs at the Smithsonian; Celina Lunsford, Director of the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt; Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, Director of the Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis; Dr Sara Frances Stevenson, Chief Curator of the Scottish National Photography Collection, National Galleries of Scotland (retired); Mary Panzer, freelance writer & curator of photography & American culture; Ms. Agne Narusyte, Curator, Vilnius Art Museum Photographic Collection, Vilnius, Lithuania; Shelly Rice, Professor of Arts at NYU Tisch School of Arts; Enrica Viganò, curator and fine art photography critic; Duan Yuting, founder of the Lianzhou International Photo Festival; Mark Haworth-Booth, Head of Photographs, Victoria & Albert Museum; Anne Wilkes Tucker, photography curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Sandra S. Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Quite the list. And I can think of many other photography curators who presumably would attend (Rod Slemmons, Anthony Bannon, Brian Wallis, Charlotte Cotton, Malcolm Daniel?) Who knows?
It’s not a totally closed shop though. Despite the 2006 shuttering of the Oracle listserv, some plucky “Independents” have set up a NING type forum, Oracle Independents. It is sporadically updated with links to articles and events about historically significant photography. Currently there are 40 members, some names recognisable. But this doesn’t get us to the meat of those dialogues currently ongoing in Jerusalem.
Last thing to say, is that the museum world is separate from the worlds of gallery, photojournalist, fine art, auction house, social documentary, magazine, fashion and art-school photographies. Even if we did have a line in on the world’s leading curators’ discussions, the information may have no bearing on our aims, art or careers. Heck, we might not even be interested. But it’d be nice wouldn’t it?
Not wanting to be pessimistic, but unable to help myself, consider this quote from Marvin Heiferman, freelance author, editor and curator and “champion of the blue-collar nature of the silent majority of photographs.” Bear in mind he’s talking about very early Oracle, but nonetheless, the quote highlights potential disconnects between different orbits of the photography world.
“When I started looking at this new [Postmodern] work, I loved its nonchalance, intelligence and cheekiness, the fact that it was interested in both seeing and seeing through images. The photo world, though, wasn’t as amused, and didn’t have a clue what the small group of us was getting so jazzed up about. Toward the end of my stint at Castelli in the early 1980s—and then when I went off on my own to work with photographers and artists and produce exhibitions—I attended some of the early annual meetings of Oracle. This was a conference of photography curators from around the world who gathered together supposedly to talk about the future of the field, and was funded by Sam Yanes at the Polaroid Corporation. Polaroid supported a lot of progressive photographic projects in the 1970s and ’80s. It was, to say the least, disappointing to me that most of the attendees were more excited to fuss over 19th- and 20th-century work and issues of preservation and storage. But there were a handful of us—including Andy Grundberg, who was writing for the New York Times, and Jeff Hoone from Syracuse—who did our best to raise interest in the new work we were so excited by. No one seemed to care.” (Source)