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“By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.”
— Albert Camus.
Photographer Tomas Van Houtryve puts the above quote top and center of his most recent artist statement. He believes that human activity becomes increasingly absurd and dangerous when it loses empathy.
Researching my latest WIRED piece Here’s What Drone Attacks in America Would Look Like about Van Houtryve’s Blue Sky Days, I was shocked by the number of civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
“The Obama administration doesn’t release a lot of details, so firm figures are hard to come by. But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates unmanned aerial vehicles have killed between 2,296 and 3,718 people, as many as 957 of them civilians,” I wrote.
President Obama’s Drone War is not widely discussed. Drones operate remotely and forge the very distance that prevents a critical look at their continued use. Drones dismantle empathy.
If a technology with extremely powerful spying and killing capabilities is shielded from public scrutiny there is bound to be abuse,” says Van Houtryve.
WHAT’S IN OUR WORLD?
Art can foster empathy. At least, that’s an aim of political art, no? There are many worthy projects that have co-opted and subverted drone visuals:
Jamie Bridle traces drone shadows in the streets and launched Dronestagram to populate social media with satellite views of drone strike sites; John Vigg surveilled drone research labs and airports; Trevor Paglen photographed drones at distance; Josh Begley’s App MetaData alerts users to drone strikes; and Raphaella Dallaporte took a drone to Afghanistan to do some archaeological surveying.
Most recently, a JR-inspired Inside Out project named Not A Bug Splat is tweaking the consciences of drone “pilots” by laying massive pictures of children in strike zones. However, the novelty (still) of these projects suggests we are not well-versed in drone operations.
WHAT’S IN A WORD?
Furthermore, I worry about how the definition of the word “drone” is shifting. When we hear “drone” do we think about military-grade killer robots or about newer domestic-use quadcopters?
The photo and video world has embraced smaller, non-lethal drones — we oohed and aahed at this aerial surf video and we protested when the police forced down a drone flown over a traffic accident by an off-duty photojournalist.
Soon, a small drone will be a part of every photographers kit.
Also, new legislation is being written to catch up with the technology and the proliferation of public drone ownership and operation. The FAA had self-appointed itself as the authority on drone use and looked disapprovingly at Joe Public sending lil’ aircraft up in the air. So, the FAA started sending out cease and desist letters and $10,000 fine threats.
The recipients — commercial photographers — weren’t threatening homeland security; they were mostly using camera-mounted drones to map agriculture, oil fields and the like. One commercial drone user, Raphael Pirker, challenged his fine in court. He won and nullified the FAA’s authority over him or any other drone operator.
“Pirker’s attorney maintained that the FAA could not simply declare a regulation without having a public notice-and-comment period. His argument went like this: Congress has delegated to its bureaucracy the authority to make rules, but when new regulations have a substantial impact on the general public, the government must have hearings and take comments,” wrote David Kravets for WIRED.
Until those hearings, it is a free-for-all. We must just hope that creepy idiots who want to spy through windows are the exception.
There’s a third player in the mix though. Between the everyday citizen and the military industrial complex are corporations. Who would bet against Amazon actually delivering your slippers by drone? Or Facebook delivering WiFi via drones to the entire globe in the next decade?
Overall, we hope that citizens retain access to the use of drones just as corporations and the state do. We hope citizens’ drone use is protected by laws similar to those allowing street photography on public thoroughfares.
NEW WORDS IN OUR WORLD
‘Drone’ is a new word in photography. ‘Selfie’ is a new word in photography too. In fact, the emergence of the two words was almost parallel.
The earliest usage of the word selfie can be traced to an ABC Online Australian internet forum, on 13 September 2002. Just seven weeks later, on November 3rd 2002, the first ever lethal U.S. drone strike hit Yemen, killing six.
At the turn of the millennium neither the words drone or selfie, as we know understand them, were in our lexicon. I’d argue the definition of both terms is ongoing apace, but for different reasons. Drone visuals and facts are obscured; we must search them out. Selfie visuals, on the other hand, are impossible to avoid.
At some level, the selfie provides the everyday citizen a type of agency and incorporates our foibles, connectedness, and our awkward relationships with social media. Selfies may not be inherently humanizing but they are individually created and do reflect human idiosyncrasy.
By comparison, drone scopes reduce humans to video-mediated targets. Drone visuals eradicate individuality and of course, very literally snuff out human life. The selfie is, spoken of at least, as a completely controllable form, whereas the drone is an apparatus of control. It’s bottom-up liberation vs. top-down oppression.
The drone and the selfie inhabit different ends of an image spectrum. Both in terms of production and consumption, the selfie is all us and the drone is all them. We know us well. We don’t know them at all.
That these are two of the main new words we are processing together as a culture is intriguing to me.
These are just thoughts out loud and may or may not lead to more fleshed out criticism, but the near-simultaneous emergence and widespread use of the words “drone” and “selfie” alongside their contrasting correlation to human consciousness in our remotely-networked globe might provide fodder for further investigation.
Usually when we hear of a photographer in jail we fear the worst. A foreign correspondent imprisoned; a street photographer detained in violation of civil liberties; a protest photographer swept up in riot police mass arrests.
Belgian photographer Sebastien Van Malleghem went to prison of his own free will. In fact, he was invited. Early this year, the authorities were preparing to open Beveren Prison, a new facility in the north of the country designed for 312 prisoners. Prior to the opening, the authority invited members of the press and criminal justice professionals to experience life inside. Joining Sebastien Van Malleghem in the temporary prison population were reporters, a TV crew, lawyers, a judge and even some prison guards. Collectively, they were guinea pigs to ensure the smooth running of the new state-of-the-art systems … which were not always smooth.
“We underestimated the influence of technology on the daily scheme of the prison,” said Beveren Prison spokesperson Els Van Herck. “Yesterday, it started already with the discharging of a visitor, a prison cell that wouldn’t open, and a lock that we had to drill out, as well as intercom systems that didn’t work thoroughly.”
Van Malleghem was locked up for three days. We talked. He recounted his “weird feelings.”
Prison Photography (PP): You were on assignment?
Sebastien Van Malleghem (SVM): Yes, for De Standaard, a Flemish newspaper. I made 45 photographs and they published 10.
PP: You’ve photographed in prisons before.
PP: How did Beveren compare?
SVM: There are many fences. Many doors. You can’t have clear vision, you can’t see any landscape. Vision is limited to, maybe, 15 meters. It is not going to be especially better for the minds of the prisoners. So I’m ambivalent about it.
SVM: I took the option to do something really cold, clear and disturbing. To get at people’s emotion. In the beginning [my fellow prisoners] were smiling and I watched them to see how they would be after five hours being in a cell of 8-meters square. Obviously they were looking a bit stressed and tired.
My point of view was a tiny bit different from the others guest-prisoners because I had press authorization, so the door of my cell was a open a bit more to let me shoot some pictures.
PP: What was your goal?
SVM: I was thinking about the prison riot. And why. The punishment of prison is to deny freedom. The punishment is not to give no freedom to your mind or to let you live inside these cold buildings without anything. Why not let prisoners have something more comfortable? They’re already outside of society.
You’re already inside of a prison with a full range of walls and a huge perimeter boundary with razor wired and electric fences. So, why not put inside something more human? That’s exactly what I’m fighting for.
PP: Better conditions?
SVM: There is no emotion. You go into a closed square, and then another one, and then another one. Squares and squares and squares. I’m not sure that prisoners will see more psychologists or people like that to help them [at Beveren].
PP: It’s a tightly controlled, sterile, modern prison. Small, clean boxes.
SVM: Why must we — in the 21st century — have jails like those in the middle ages. So small. When you need to eat and get your plate you just don’t have space to move your arm, space to turn around. You cannot open the window. There is a security system. You turn a button to get fresh air from outside but you can’t open the window. Suddenly, you just feel like you don’t even have space to fall forward.
While I was sleeping, the guards would come by every two hours. There is no agenda; they just come and check, open the little hatch in the door. You have no privacy.
PP: How many people from the media went inside the prison?
SVM: I was with a writer, there was another photographer/writer team, two teams from a TV channel. Maybe, ten media persons.
It was training for the guards, to see what was wrong inside the prison. A journalist wrote that there were real problems.
PP: What is Prison Cloud?
SVM: There is a flat screen in each cell. In this new prison they wanted to try new “modern” things. Prison Cloud is a basically a kind of internet designed for prisoners. Keyboard, flatscreen, and the mouse. Prisoners can order a tiny bit more food or cigarettes and pay. Stuff is a bit more expensive but it’s easier for the prisoners to order through the computer. Also they have very restricted access to internet — only a few pages that they can go to such as the employment office, government websites. They can also order and pay for movies to watch.
When men enter inside the prison, they are fingerprinted and given a USB key where all their personal information is recorded. They need to put the USB key in the computer to gain access. The prison checks everything they’re doing on there.
PP: It sounds oppressive, but we’d expect that, no?
SVM: I deeply believe that a cell of 8-meters square makes you nervous and/or lazy. When you’re locked up, your thoughts turn quickly: “What’s my option in here?” You can struggle to stay in shape doing some exercise, reading books and keep your mind busy with some crazy plans that only your brain can imagine or just lose it all and spend your time laying on your bed.
From your cell, you can hear what’s happening in the wing, but you can’t see it and so you start to play stories in your head. The sounds of the voices and the steps of the guards are like an echo in your head. Always a background noise that could be compared to the type of headache that you catch when you’re tired.
PP: Your overall thoughts from the experience?
SVM: In this prison, it is as if the point of punishment is not only to separate a prisoner from freedom, but to box the prisoner in the smallest and the most claustrophobic space possible.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Srey Neth and Lia move into the STAR House, a secondary transition home designed to help victims of sex trafficking to learn the skills to reintegrate into society without falling back to sex work. The teenagers are residents of Transitions Global and have experienced horrific physical and mental abuse largely at the hands of their fellow Cambodians. Photo: Tim Matsui, 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant Winner
The Alexia Foundation has opened its call for entries for the 2014 Women’s Initiative Grant.
There’s a lot of grants out there but the Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant is one of the best. Why? Firstly, it’s a large amount of money: $25,000. That’s the type of money needed to get at an issue in any depth. Secondly, the expectations are high. The winner has six months to produce the work and then is encouraged to plug in the product (and the lessons within) to a host of diverse media outlets. Thirdly, it is about women and their needs. When U.S. females earn 77 cents for every dollar a male earns; when women are trafficked worldwide; when women are bearing the brunt of holding together families and communities in the face of the prison industrial complex; when women face issues such as these and others which are part of routine gender violence, the Alexia Foundation is making it’s contribution to bring these issues to the table.
I am also a big fan of journalist Tim Matsui who was awarded the 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant. His project Leaving the Life is about domestic juvenile sex trafficking. Latest update here. A trailer for a film ‘The Long Night’ which accompanies the project and produced by MediaStorm can be viewed here.
Photojournalists worldwide are encouraged to apply to the Women’s Initiative Grant. Deadline: June 30, 2014.
From the press release:
Unlike the first Women’s Initiative grant, which specifically focused on abuse of women in the United States, this call for entries is intended to permit the photographer to propose a serious documentary photographic or multimedia project encompassing any issue involving women anywhere in the world.
While considering the idea of women’s issues, several themes have been suggested, including femininity and the culture of abuse; women making a difference, leading, changing things for the better; gender inequality; the direct connection to women and education, and the impact on birth rates, health of children and the productivity of the women; gender discrimination, women in leadership, women in the military, mental health issues. They are by no means intended to influence proposals, but they may help photographers start thinking about this topic.
The Alexia Foundation’s main purpose is to encourage and help photojournalists create stories that drive change. While our traditional grant guidelines put no limits on the subject matter for grant proposals, a number of proposals about women’s rights in the last few years have been so powerful that we have been compelled to create a grant specifically on issues relating to women.
Winner announced Sept. 1, 2014.
Winner has six months to complete project, by March 1, 2015.
Contact Eileen Mignoni at email@example.com with any inquiries.
Yesterday, I listened to Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project, describe the “living nightmare” on Mississippi’s death row in 2002. Her words were visceral and painted an image, but of course no images exist.
On that death row, cells had no power. Men languished in “perpetual twilight without enough light to read.” Radios were silent. Summer temperatures soared to a life-threatening 120 degrees fahrenheit. Year-round, mosquitos from the surrounding swamps filled the cell-tiers at dawn and dusk. No toilets worked. The stench was unbearable. Every sense was under constant assault. Prisoners’ shrieks, sobs and babbling filled the air. Suicides and self-harm were routine and the prison officers maintained order with the deployment of pepper spray. The majority of the prisoners had severe mental illness, and of those that arrived in the unit sane, few were lucky to have the strength of mind to remain so.
If an individual treats an animal this way, they’re punished by law and yet in America our law sends people to wallow in such conditions and worse.
Attorney Winter explained that court-orders often provide legal professionals access into prisons that the media has been denied access for years, even decades. Class action litigation alongside advocacy and responsible reporting all contribute to a reliable view of prisons for the tax-paying public. That such deplorable conditions could exist in America in the 21st century surely makes the case for robust and independent monitoring of America’s prisons.
Winter and ACLU only became aware of the abuse after they received letters from dozens of men on death row. As I listened to Winter’s account, I thought back to a day earlier when I’d asked the same audience to consider not only what images they see of prisons, but also the images they do not see.
Right now, Oklahoma is making a case-study of itself. Under the orders of new Dept. of Corrections Director Robert Patton, Oklahoma prisons now allow journalists to enter only with pen and paper. Apparently, the OK DOC has been “slammed” by over a dozen media requests. Slammed!?!? How low is the bar? No cameras or audio recording devices inside Oklahoma prisons.
Unsurprisingly, Patton cites security reasons. Who are we to argue? What do we, the uninformed public know about security? The tone is patronising. A healthy relationship between the press which serves the public and the administrations in control of our tax funded institutions would make me feel safer. This stinks.
The Tulsa World reports that Patton believes that the requirement to search the camera equipment diverts staff resources and time. He also fears images of sensitive security equipment wouldn’t end up in photos or videos.
“It is very staff intensive to process this type of equipment in and out of a facility. More importantly, we need to ensure that any security function not be recorded or filmed in a way that may jeopardize the safety of our facilities,” says DOC spokesman Jerry Massie.
All of this smacks of an institution stretched, stressed and flailing. And indeed it is. The Oklahoma prison system is overcrowded. To add to the pressure, OK has the lowest levels of staffing of any state. Moral is low and pay is lower. Oklahoma has created a tumorous prison machine that does not rehabilitate but just churns up prisoners and staff and spits them out the other side.
No one is doubting Patton’s job is tough, but making adversaries of the press is not any type of solution. If anything he should be using the press more to expose the fractured department and broken lives he’s having to manage.
Unfortunately, some panicked lawmakers in Oklahoma think more private prison contracts are the solution. Private prisons use under-qualified staff, warehouse prisoners for longer, cut corners, and treat humans as commodity. They are based on efficiency models. Trying to make prisons more efficient IS the problem. Patton and Oklahoma’s only solution is to rely on incarceration less. Patton must establish community supervision programs for those prosecuted by law — they are cheaper and more effective.
I urge Patton not to listen to calls for extended privatisation and to put human needs ahead of budget needs. If he doesn’t, he’ll exacerbate the problem and fail the people of Oklahoma to whom he is (theoretically, at least) in service. By banning cameras and story-telling equipment, Patton will only succeed in alienating Oklahomans further.
This Tulsa World editorial hits the nail on the head: “This is no way to treat taxpayers who pony up a half-billion dollars annually to keep their prisons operating.”
FIRST HAND ACCOUNT
If I cannot convince you, perhaps a concerned Oklahoman might? I recently received this email from the loved one of a man imprisoned in Oklahoma.
“I’m aware that a camera inside, in the hands of a loved one, a visitor, is never going to happen. But journalism? Journalism is a must. I recently sent my loved one an article in print. It was about a prizewinning author who is incarcerated for life. The prison mail-guard and the contraband review board withheld that piece. Destroyed it. When I pressed, the reason given was that it contained a photographic image of a prisoner!
Photography is powerful. I imagine what my partner would capture if I could give him a camera — the haunted and defeated look in the eyes, the conditions inside the giant quonset hut housing 66 men in 33 bunk-beds.
Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and one of the highest uses of for-profit prisons. And now no one can take a photo inside? Dangerous stuff.”
This source asked to remain anonymous in order to protect her partner from any punitive response by the DOC.
Image: Seniors Walking Across America.
For 12 years every spring, women incarcerated at Estrella Jail in Maricopa County, Phoenix, AZ, have convened to create, prepare and perform a theatre production. The six-week program — that culminates in a public show — is called Journey Home.
Photographer Aaron Lavinsky, now based in Grays Harbor, WA, was in attendance for the finale 2012 performance and photographed it for The State Press — the Arizona State University (ASU) student paper. Not satisfied with only a single afternoon’s access, Lavinsky decided to return in 2013 to document rehearsals and to dig into the personal stories of two participants. It is Lavinsky’s photos from Feb/Mar 2013 presented here.
The Journey Home program adopts a different theme each year, but in every case attempts to “enable women to discover a personal sense of constructive identity through movement, visual arts, creative writing and storytelling.” Journey Home is made possible through efforts of committed instructors (in 2013 by storyteller Fatimah Halim; movement specialist Teniqua Broughton; psychotherapist Imani O. Muhammad; and others) and supported by sponsorship from the ASU Herberger Institute for Design ant the Arts.
Estrella Jail, under the administration of controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio presents itself as a case-study of contradiction for us if we are to be responsible consumers of images. Lavinsky’s pictures are hopeful but the carceral backdrop to them less so.
Arpaio has been pursued by the Federal authorities for unconstitutional jail conditions and racial profiling. Arpaio’s use of striped uniforms and pink underwear serves to both manipulate visual readings within the public sphere and to humiliate prisoners. If you need anymore convincing that Arpaio is a special case, look no further than his questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate (although it could just as easily be a calculated publicity stunt).
I’ve written before about how Arpaio’s jails may be the most photographed of any jails or prisons in the nation. His facilities are a media circus often.
Before we get into the Q&A with Lavinsky, I think it is worth us bearing in mind two things — 1. Journey Home is a laudable, but not necessarily typical program. I mean, what happens the other 46 weeks of the year for these women? And 2. All of these women are wearing uniforms branded UNSENTENCED. This means each woman is awaiting trial; in the eyes of the law, they are not guilty. It might also mean they are kept incarcerated because they can’t meet bail. Everyday, tens of thousands of people wallow behind bars because they are too poor to afford bail. I don’t know what proportion of Maricopa County prisoners are in such a penury situation as bail differs county to state; and judge to courtroom.
Instead of spending too much thought on Arpaio as overlord-to-one-of-America’s-most-shameful-systems-of-detention, I think it’s more responsible meditate on the successes of the women when viewing Lavinsky’s images. And, of course, to hear Lavinsky’s first hand observations.
Scroll down for the Q&A.
Prison Photography (PP): Why this story?
Aaron Lavinsky (AL): Journey Home presented enormous potential, but I wanted to go beyond the one-hour performance performed for the public. In 2013, I was interning for the Arizona Republic and looking for a story that could push my abilities as a visual journalist. I decided to cover Journey Home again, but with extended access. I visited back and forth for a month during classroom sessions, the performance, and then follow-ups with two women around whom the story was centered.
PP: Do theatre and dance workshops such as this occur regularly at Estrella jail?
AL: Not to my knowledge. Journey Home is an annual workshop and while there are other classes, they are more geared toward substance abuse counseling. I’m sure there are elements of creative expression but not on the same level as Journey Home.
PP: As this is a county jail, I anticipate these women were serving relatively shorter sentences. What sort of transgressions were these women locked up for?
AL: Most of the prisoners in the program were there for substance abuse related crimes, which is the case with most prisoners at Estrella. Some of them were serving short sentences while others were waiting for or in the midst of trials that could send them to prison. Both the prisoners I focused on, Renata F. and Robina S. were facing prison sentences of 1-3 years if convicted. Because of their pending trials, I was unable to publish their full names which was one of the stipulations of covering the program.
PP: I’m gripped by the wide smiles in your photos. The women seem to be in the midst of huge enjoyment and heartfelt emotion. Such animation is rare in prisons and jails and rarer still in photographs of prisoners.
AL: I think photographers, for most prison and jail stories, try to illustrate how rough incarceration can be for those inside. I’ve had to make “prisoner behind bars” type photos before for other assignments and they kind of all feel the same looking back. Journey Home is unique in that there is a genuine sense of happiness and camaraderie among the women. I imagine that jail is extremely stressful and Journey Home gave these women an opportunity to let their guard down and be people, not just prisoners.
PP: Did you meet Sheriff Joe Arpaio?
AL: I’ve met and photographed Sheriff Joe a number of times. There is definitely a cult of personality surrounding him in Phoenix and beyond. You see it right when you walk in to Estrella with a portrait of him hanging high on the wall — just out of reach to those hoping to deface it.
Last summer, I photographed Tent City’s 20th anniversary and the entire thing was a bit of a set up. As Arpaio spoke to the media, there were about 30 or 40 prisoners lined up behind him smiling and gesturing to the camera. He served prisoners cake, coffee, candy cigarettes as well as home living magazines with false Playboy and Hustler covers on them. He kind of just let photographers and videographers walk around and shoot whatever we wanted. Arpaio, however controversial he may be, is a smart guy and he knows that we’re on a 24-7 news cycle and if he invites us, we’ll probably show up.
I definitely knew exactly what I was going into whenever I stepped foot in the jails in Phoenix. That being said, certain programs like Journey Home and ALPHA, a drug prevention and counseling program, are genuinely there to help prisoners and aren’t just for the cameras.
PP: What were the women’s thoughts on the jail? How was it serving their rehabilitation, thinking, emotions, family life etc.?
AL: Jail is a rough experience for just about everyone there — prisoners and guards. Nobody I spoke with had particularly nice things to say about their experiences at Estrella. It separated them from their family, homes and freedom. I spoke with one woman in 2012 who was thankful for her incarceration, since she was on a downward spiral with alcoholism, but I got a sense that she was appreciative more of her forced separation from alcohol than with the jail’s rehabilitative resources.
The prisoners really did love the workers who came in to lead workshops like Journey Home. Fatimah, Teniqua and Imani were the leaders of the program and I have no doubt that they made positive, lasting influences in the lives of some of the women who were more engaged in the program.
PP: Was the Estrella Jail Rehabilitation through the Arts program successful?
AL: I think any program, which seeks to positively influence the lives of prisoners instead of simply punishing them, is on some level successful. Something isn’t working since there are more people in the system today then ever before. Any attempt to decrease the odds of people ending up back in jail or prison is a step in the right direction. One of the complaints I received though is that the program was only 6-weeks long. If it’s going on its 12th year, they must know that it’s successful. So why not extend the program for women who are showing positive signs? Or create other programs like it for the vast majority of prisoners who didn’t have the opportunity to take part?
PP: What were the women’s reactions to you and your camera?
AL: At first, there was a ton of camera awareness. Most people aren’t used to having their picture taken by a photojournalist so their first reaction is to smile for the camera. Some of the girls were a little flirty when I pointed the camera in their direction too. By the second day there, I was a complete fly on the wall and was able to move in close without getting stares and smiles in every photo. They seemed thankful that I was there telling their story and covering the program.
PP: What was the staff’s reaction to you and your camera?
AL: Highly professional. I had very good experiences with the staff at Estrella and they didn’t seem to mind me taking their photos one bit. The jail staff were barely interacting with the women when I was there working other than to transport them to and from the classroom we were all in. They seemed to understand what I was trying to do and respected my right to be there taking photos.
PP: Anything else you’d like to add?
AL: Having the opportunity to photograph and observe Journey Home was an eye opening experience. I’m thankful that I was able to document one of the positive initiatives that our penal system is pursuing toward helping prisoners so they don’t make the same mistakes again. I just wish that there were more programs like it and more options for prisoners other then being locked up for a pre-determined period of time, especially for drug offenses. I’ve had enough experience dealing with people with substance abuse issues to know it’s a disease, and should be treated like one to a reasonable degree. I don’t think anyone in there really wants to be addicted to meth or pills or alcohol. I wish the government did more to help people with drug problems instead of just locking them up. It’s not working.
PP: Thanks Aaron.
AL: Thank you, Pete.
Aaron Lavinsky is an visual journalist based in Grays Harbor, Washington. He is currently a staff photographer at The Daily World in Aberdeen and produces daily and long form photo and multimedia stories. Lavinsky’s work has appeared in The Seattle Times, The New York Times, National Geographic, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Denver Post, The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle and others. Find him on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.
The project is “a series of interviews and photographs documenting the stories of immigrants who have been ordered deported from the U.S. as well as their family members — often, American citizens — who suffer the consequences of harsh punishment of exile. The stories illustrate the wide range of people locked up while caught up in deportation proceedings: not just individuals who crossed the border illegally but asylum seekers, legal permanent residents and immigrants trapped int he bureaucracy of adjusting a visa.”
Immigration and deportation, are arguably, one of the most pressing human rights issues on American soil. Many people subject to immigration and deportation proceedings are not hardened criminals, they are not violent, nor are they a threat to public safety. The long reach of ICE can collar Green Card holders who have lived in the U.S. for years or decades and who have raised families, paid taxes and abided the law. It can take only a small misdemeanor. Frequently, there is no recourse. Loving spouses are separated and society is asked to assume responsibility for children whose parents are sent half-way across the globe. The collateral effect of inflexible deportation laws on families and communities is considerable. MacIndoe and Stellin’s subjects have lived firsthand at edge of legal territory where resources are squeezed, timelines are shortened and due process is compromised; it is here where we can fathom our health, or lack of it, as a just nation.
Stellin and MacIndoe are both seasoned storytellers and their fusion of text and image is a huge advantage when making connection with audiences. The work is needed and it will shock you.
I’ve barely talked about Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) prisons here on the blog because they are very, very rarely photographed. ICE detention facilities are as unseen as ICE surveillance is broad.
Due to extended legal definitions and new laws, President Obama is deporting more people than any previous president. ICE facilities are often strategically hidden, nondescript buildings in urban hinterlands. ICE facilities also oversee near-permanent media shut out. With access so problematic, Stellin and MacIndoe’s decision to meet, interview, photograph and tell the stories of those who’ve been imprisoned is both wise and practical. The prison conditions will be described through first-hand testimony as opposed to literal photographic description. MacIndoe’s respectful and intimate portraits are our starting point.
Stellin brings years of reporting experience which has recently turned toward stories about Homeland security, border technology & search and the legal grey area for Green Card holders with minor offenses.
KNOWING YOUR SUBJECTS
MacIndoe was once subject himself to the Kafkaesque immigration and deportation system. I contend that from personal insight may grow public awareness.
Stellin and MacIndoe have already met, photographed and interviewed subjects. Many are fearful to go public. Scottish-born MacIndoe understands why non-citizens may be reticent but he has the personality to reassure, and understands the small margins on which our comfort rests. MacIndoe has become a friend and mentor to some of the family members he has met in the preliminary stages of the work. He understands that current immigration policy – in it’s inability to be flexible case-by-case — impacts step-children, the poor and the already marginalized more than other groups. He knows that gay couples have not the same legal qualification and therefore protection. MacIndoe and Stellin are looking to hold a mirror to everyday people that have been harshly punished by very new laws. The laws are young, somewhat clumsy, inelegance and overly punitive.
The tumorous growth America’s prison industrial complex goes back four decades whereas the focus of The UnAmericans: Detained, Deported and Divided – the establishment of an extended archipelago of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities — is a much more recent, post 9/11 phenomenon. MacIndoe and Stellin’s work is utterly contemporary and it meets the desperate need for journalism that probes ICE procedures.
All images: Graham MacIndoe
Photobook “Best-Of” lists sprout like wild-cakes this time of year. Among selections, we are not always guaranteed variety, but we are guaranteed quantity.
Aperture tends to preempt many of the main runners and riders in the autumn with its shortlists for the Aperture/Paris Photo Book Awards (30 books total). Then the deluge beings.
A deluge that which Photolia has made an inventory. It’s a list of Photobook “Best-Of-2013″ lists; a list of 80+ lists!
Furthermore, QT Luong at Terra Galleria has taken all the individual titles of those 80+ lists, broke down the votes and constructed a meta-list that cumulates each book’s number of votes. Some titles have votes in double figures, and the “winner” Lieko Shiga’s Rasen Kaigan has 22 votes.
By years end, Best-Of lists had been written and checked twice by Wired, American Photo, Time, Mother Jones, New York Times, Dazed Digital, Lens Culture, Washington Post, Brain Pickings, Tom Claxton, Microcord, Eric Gundersen, Conscientious, Tim Clark, Monsters & Madonnas, Valerian and Discipline and Disorder just to name a few.
The Guardian made two lists — one for best indie books and one for offerings by established photobook publishers. Not to mention Alec Soth and Martin Parr‘s eagerly anticipated annual dispatches. Roger May shifted the formula and picked his favorite book purschases . The Artists Book Cooperative maintained their cheeky approach with the year’s worst photobooks.
So what does all this mean? Head to Blake Andrew’s analysis of the best of the “Best-Of photobook lists. Hilarious.
Well, who am I to reject this ubiquity of Photobook “Best-Of” lists? A few weeks ago, I was asked by Photo Eye to name my highlights for the PhotoEye Best Photobooks 2013 feature. I picked seven titles. Here they are. And, below they are.
Bumbata, Cosmin Bumbuţ (Punctum)
Beyond the prison subject matter which is, of course, very appealing to me, Cosmin Bumbuţ’s book is the best of design with beautiful binding, a punctured front cover, and thoughtful essay. Those elements compliment pictures that are, frankly, some of the closest, least judgmental I have seen of incarcerated peoples. Bumbuţ spent 3 years visiting a single prison. The portrait he paints is of a closed but relatively stable environment with equal representation. Staff and prisoners feature in similar amounts. The variety and color is something beyond that of most American prison photographers. Here is a documentarian who has worked hard to form an understanding with his subjects.
In December, I spoke at length with Bumbuţ about his project and the book.
Tales From The City Of Gold, Jason Larkin (Kehrer Verlag)
It is astonishing that with such a distinct and consistent approach to image-making that this is Jason Larkin’s first monograph. His work seems so familiar. Once more, the Englishman Larkin has entered (with his 4×5) a peculiar faraway place with peculiar and depressing social and environmental history. Johannesburg is one of the world’s most successful mining cities but waste dumps litter the landscape. South Africans have built communities in the mines’ hinterlands. The price of gold is spiking and the lives of people who live and work in the region is tied to our global commodities market. Larkin casts a curious but not a judgmental eye over our priorities at the dusty and noisy point at which commerce and daily life intersect.
Photojournalists On War, Mike Kamber (University of Texas Press)
End of year lists often prioritize photo books with fancy design elements; books that are small run, hand-sewn delicate things. But what about those books about photography that are a bit bigger? What about books put out by a large press, such as UT Press, say? And what about books with more text than image? Photojournalists On War is a brick of a book. Mike Kamber interviewed 89 photographers who covered the War on Iraq. If we are to understand the nature of that flawed conflict then we should pay attention to the journalists whose activities were meant to makes sense of it at the time; make sense of it for us. But, what sense do they make of it now? By virtue of the breadth of opinion and depth of questions, Photojournalists On War is THE reference book for any discussion of the War on Iraq and photography. In much the same way as Photographs Not Taken in 2012 delivered us personal reflections and new entry points to photographic thinking, so Photojournalists On War in 2013 surprises and delights with the first-hand and imperfect narratives. Truth is not usually found in a photograph, but perhaps it can be found in a photographer’s words?
Swell, Mateusz Sarello (Instytut Kultury Wizualnej)
Sea foam smells, threatening birds, big clouds. Swell is a rough experience. As was Mateusz Sarello’s break-up. This book is in two halves. Each half is a visit to the Baltic Sea — the first with his girlfriend, and the second without as part of some therapeutic turn. So different are the images and mood of the images it’s effectively two books in one. Both books’ exposed spines reflect the vulnerability Sarello has embraced in creating a book about his crushed love-life. 88 pages of fragile hand-made loveliness. Handle with care. Given the proliferation of east-of-Western-Europe sea photography projects (think Petrut Calinescu, Rafal Milach, Mila Teshaeiva, Mikhail Mordasov and even Rob Hornstra), it’s tricky to do something novel in this sub-sub-genre, but Sarello pulls it off with focus on the hyperpersonal. And he’s not afraid to use Instax Fujifilm either. I was skeptical at first, but later blown over by the earnestness of the well-edited and understated grouping of images.
Rasen Kaigan, Lieko Shiga (AKAAKA)
Between 2006 and 2012, Lieko Shiga lived and worked in the region of northeast Japan worst hit by the 2011 Tsunami. Shiga is part photographer and part conceptual artist, so it makes sense that these images (many of which abandon formal photographic considerations) look nothing like the photojournalism we saw in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Darkness, hard-flash, plants, flowers, sweaters, sand and minerals. It’s all very earthy … and strange. But then again, that region is a geography and a collective psychology transformed. Despite Shiga’s camera experiments, we are still presented images of Japanese communities on the mend, making do, building up, tilling the land and doing the simple things that they must. Big disasters are met with small victories. Shiga’s volatile approach is a reminder that the uncomplicated things she photographs only exist because of massive tectonic force.
What might be otherwise read as an assault on the senses is a celebration of the senses — a celebration of life and of living.
Control Order House, Edmund Clark (HERE Press)
The images are boring; but the concept is exhilarating — which is exactly the point. Edmund Clark photographed the interior of a “home” inhabited by a UK terror suspect under house arrest. A dull suburban 3-bed semi in no-name Britain. Clark worked within pre-agreed, tightly controlled parameters set out by the UK Home Office. Clark and HERE Press include scans of his contracts and official correspondence. The act and the access is more important than the images; the images are only evidence that Clark made a sortie into this never photographed territory before. (In April, I wrote about Control Order House for Wired.)
So many projects these days comment on control from the outside, but here we see images from from within, and according to, control.
Two Rivers, Carolyn Drake (Self-published)
Carolyn Drake’s photography has long impressed me, so I’m not surprised her first book is a triumph. Dutch book-designer Sybren Kuiper brought considerable style to Two Rivers. Apparently, it was Kuiper who proposed starting the book’s sequence at where the two rivers appear to end versus Drake’s original idea to begin where the rivers originate high in the mountains. Drake has visited the vast expanse of central Asia that lies between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers 15 or more times in recent years. Judging by the images, it remains a region that beguiles Drake. Two Rivers abandons traditional documentary sequencing and reveals the creators own feelings, uncertainties, awe and brief encounters. One slimmer book is words and notes for the chapters in the other larger book containing pictures of fuzzy narrative, refused objectivity and love. The wrap of images around the Japanese style bound pages is stunning.
Sisters Faisa Farole, 33, left, and Jamila Farole, 28, are among women trying to preserve female-only swim times at the Tukwila Pool. Photo: Erika Schultz / Seattle Times
I’m a week late on sharing this. But it is important. Fox News made unauthorised use of Erika Schultz‘s Seattle Times double portrait. Fox News did so to push a disgusting Islamophobic story about “the rise” of Sharia Law in America. Schultz made her image in the suburbs of Seattle. Fox were commenting on events in Minnesota.
On the Seattle Times website, Schultz made this classy response:
Using my photo to illustrate a story on a swimming program in Minnesota, under the title “Sharia Law: Swim Class for Somali Muslim Girls,” is unfair to the young women in the photo and misleads viewers.
For years, photographers on our staff have worked to develop contacts, trust and story ideas within this region’s many communities—including the East African community. Photographs can be extremely sensitive, but I’ve seen access increase over the years due to positive response to our stories and photo projects.
An incident like this has the power to intrude into those relationships and our future coverage. People may not want to work with media outlets for fear of being portrayed inaccurately.
This out-of-context and misleading use of this image reaffirms the importance of ethical, contextual journalism.
I appreciate the Farole sisters for the courage to stand up for their beliefs, and their willingness to share their story with the larger community to which they belong.
Erika is one of the most responsible journalists I know (we’ve worked together here, here, here and here). Erika works, with sensitivity, on her relationships with subjects over long periods. Fox News is an arrogant and racist idiot-giant that crushes anything that is nuanced or beautiful.
This is a sad turn of events for any photojournalist and for his or her subjects, but it’s particularly frustrating for a professional as diligent as Erika.