MLK

Martin Luther King faced criticism from clergy leaders in Birmingham Alabama for his direct actions in “their” town in April 1963. They saw him as an outsider (King was based in Atlanta, GA) and as an agitator. They asked him to refrain. He did not. He led a civil disobedience action against the businesses in downtown Birmingham and was arrested for it.

From jail, King wrote a letter explaining why an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It was a phrase he’d repeat many times. Letter From Birmingham Jail became one of the key texts of the Civil Rights Movement. Al Jazeera contends that the letter set the tone for the movement and paved the way for the March On Washington four months later, in August 1963.

In April, 1963, King wrote from jail:

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Read the letter in full here.

I did some internet digging and turned up these images of King’s 1963 arrest.

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King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy (left) led a line of demonstrators into the business section of Birmingham, Alabama on April 12th, 1963.

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Abernathy and King are taken by a policeman, Birmingham, Alabama, April 12, 1963.

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And then at Montgomery County Jail, this mugshot. You can see the date 4.12.63 in the lower right.

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And later in the jail.

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1958 + 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama

Sometimes the image below is thought to be from the same day. But it is in fact from 1958. The same Montgomery County and likely the same jail.

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King wore a white shirt on both occasions, in 1958 he also wore a tie, beige suit and hat. In 1963, King showed up (knowing he was going to be arrested) in jeans and a denim shirt over his white shirt.

As for the mugshot below, you’ve seen it … or at least versions of it. You may not be familiar with the exact version below which has been *vandalised* with a biro scrawl of the date of King’s death.

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This image here is a copy of the original file that was kept at the Montgomery Sheriff’s Department. In 2004, a deputy rediscovered the files of King and his fellow protestors from 1958. Therefore, prior to 2004, only unscrawled versions of King’s mugshot circulated.

When one pauses to think about this, it’s quite curious. And it’s quite perverse. Who scrawled on MLK’s mugshot? Someone on the Montgomery County Sheriff’s staff returned to the archive, ten years after the photo was made, to write upon the mugshot that the subject was dead.

Was this standard practice? I doubt it. Say for example, someone gets in a fist-fight, in some year in the late ’50s, in some part of Montgomery County, and was booked into jail. Then suppose, for arguments sake, that that same person died a decade later in another state. It’s not likely the Montgomery Sheriff would even know, let alone direct her or his staff to doctor an archived booking photo. Which leads me to believe that an employee took it upon themselves to return to the file to annotate the photo.

What a strange and disturbing act. Was it born of self-directed stupidity; a procedure by a bureaucrat going the extra mile to fill-in all known information in the crudest of manners? Does the act reflect a disdain for King? Keep guessing; it’s likely we’ll never know who scrawled all over this significant photographic document of the Civil Rights era.

ONE MORE THING

On today, Martin Luther King Day, may I also recommend Wil Haygood’s piece Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall and the Way to Justice.

In considering these two visionaries, Haywood outlines who then, now and our future relate. Amidst the current Black Lives Matter movement–when debate about the effectiveness (and speed) of change brought about by protest vs. legal process–is at the forefront, it pays to consider the lives of MLK, a non-violent and civil disobedient leader, and Marshall the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

I’M JUST GOING TO GO AHEAD AND CALL THIS CHILD ABUSE

I thought the video above was a fake at first. I thought that it was a satire made by green-screening the kids’ performance onto a backdrop of a Trump Rally. But it’s legitimate and just proves Trump can make our worst nightmares come true.

I can explain the headline by saying that today is Martin Luther King Day and I cannot think that this type of glitzy performance was the type of civic engagement for future generations that King had in mind when he urged a more equitable, caring and empowering society. The girls, an entertainment group named USA Freedom Kids, have been trotted out here by conniving, cynical adults. No-one should deny youngsters their wishes to dance, sing and move their bodies, but no adult should be filling children’s minds, lyrics and identity with partisan and jingoistic rah-rah. Shame on those adults.

Guy Debord is turning in his grave because even he, the infamous contrarian and vitriol-fueled leftie, has a heart. He’d see that the kids are victims here. He’d also identify this performance as the example par excellence of the Spectacle–human existence fully mediated by the image and diffuse within it. Ugh, such young lives crushed by the small-minded political fears of the parents’ generation. Identity squished into a For-Cable-TV skit. Self-esteem pulverized into the shape of a faux-patriotic act that exists for the entertainment of adults and at the expense of the children’s curiosity and development.

Johnson, Reagan and Eisenhower are turning in their graves because they are the presidents that did the most for education in the United States and they, from all sides of the political spectrum, would agree that children being primed for the stage of a racist, misogynist, xenophobic billionaire is child abuse at another order of magnitude. Shame on those adults.

I don’t think I’m getting old or jaded and I don’t think I have less optimism than I did than, say, when I was in my twenties. As best as I can evaluate, though, I think America is losing the plot more and more. Even after Bush Jr., Sarah Palin and the Tea-Partiers, the political intelligence of America continues to plummet. Along with it curiosity. And along with it, often, a sense of decency. Trump is a loathsome package. I take no pleasure from seeing the Republican establishment disrupted when the disruption comes from an arrogant, smarmy, full-of-hate loudmouth. Trump’s reckless disregard is no better summed up by this illustration and this politician’s reason.

Trump is disgusting. His rallies reflect that.

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Photo: Kristen S. Wilkins, from the series Supplication

Bit of housekeeping folks! I need to let you know three things about Prison Obscura:

  1. Prison Obscura is going to Washington State.
  2. Prison Obscura is going to Oregon.
  3. Prison Obscura will be retired in June, 2016.

WASHINGTON

The exhibition opens at Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington this Thursday, January 16th, from 4pm-6pm. I’ll be there giving a curator’s talk.

Evergreen is hosting Prison Obscura as part of Kept Out/Kept In, a series of talks, shows and presentations examining carceral culture.

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Prison Obscura Installation in progress, Evergreen State College.

The show is up January 14 – March 2 at Evergreen Gallery, Library 2204, Evergreen State College, 98505 (Google Map)

OREGON

Between April 1 – May 28, Prison Obscura is on show at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon.

Mark your calendars waaaaaaay in advance for the opening reception 6-9pm on Friday, April 1st (no joke). I’ll be in Portland all weekend, giving a curator’s talk at the opening and then convening with others for events and panels.

1632 SE 10th Ave., Portland, OR 97214. (Google Map)

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Supplication #4, Landscape. From the series ’Supplication.’ “The Pryor Mountains. It is so special to me because I am from Pryor and I miss home. Castlerock at sunset.” Photo: Kristen S. Wilkins.

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Supplication #4, Landscape. From the series ’Supplication.’ “The Pryor Mountains. It is so special to me because I am from Pryor and I miss home. Castlerock at sunset.” Photo: Kristen S. Wilkins.

RETIRING ‘PRISON OBSCURA’

To say that the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford had never travelled a show before, they–namely Matthew Callinan–have done a magnificent and utterly-indispensible job in administering Prison Obscura over what will be seven venues.

I didn’t know exactly what was involved in traveling a show such as this and I’m so so grateful that Callinan had the support of his peers at Haverford College to produce an exhibition that could stretch beyond Philadelphia where it all began. We learnt together.

It’s been a great run. After Olympia and Portland though, it’s time to say goodbye. I celebrate Prison Obscura‘s unexpected and gratifying success, but I know that after 2-and-a-half years, it’s time to move energies on to other things. I need to step back and to think about what next, if anything, is appropriate for a prison-based exhibition.

There are massive amounts of vital work and organizing being done around prison activism, policing, power and community-empowerment. I’d like to learn more; take the time to hear and see. Observe and act more; perhaps talk and type less–for a while, at least.

No doubt, I’ll have more to say when Prison Obscura wraps up in Portland, the final show, toward the end of May. For now, I hope that if you are in the Pacific Northwest you’ll be able to check out the show and engage with the ideas its artists propose. Thanks to Alyse EmdurRobert GumpertSteve Davis, Mark Strandquist, Kristen S. Wilkins,  Josh Begley and Paul Rucker and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the men of the Restorative Justice Project at Graterford Prison.

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David Wells, Thumb Correctional Facility, Lapeer, Michigan. From the series ‘Prison Landscapes (2005-2011).’ Photo: Anonymous, courtesy of Alyse Emdur.

Even though 1,000 were printed, they’re somewhat of a rarity these days. Hundreds were given out for free during the opening exhibition at Haverford College and they’ve made their way into comrades’ hands, collections and supporters bookshelves ever since.

I have only 18 remaining in my possession.

Fortunately, the physical scarcity needn’t be mirrored in the digital world. Now, via the Haverford Exhibits Prison Obscura page, you can download a PDF of the catalogue.

download

 

48 pages of pretty pictures, a foreword by Kristen Lindgren and a whopping 5,000-word essay by yours truly.

I’m thrilled by the prospect of people reading on the printed page as opposed to these here screens.

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© Mark Strandquist, from the series ‘Some Other Places We Have Missed’
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From the Brown v Plata/Coleman lawsuit.
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© Josh Begely, from the series ‘Prison Map’
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Photo: Made by a student of Steve Davis during a photography workshop in Washington State juvenile detention facility.
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From the Brown v Plata/Coleman lawsuit.

Carving a linoleum block, printmaking class, San Quentin State Prison, California. Photo: Peter Merts.

Do you work in prison arts? Have you got thoughts, advice and problem-solving or teaching techniques you’d like to share?

The William James Association alongside The Prison Arts Coalition and a host of other partners have launched the National Prison Arts Survey to crowdsource all the knowledge and strategies that exists out there in all of your heads and teaching manuals.

CLICK HERE for the National Prison Arts Survey

There is talk about whether to form a national organization of prison arts organizations and your input it crucial at this early stage.

Over recent years, the William James Association and California Lawyers for the Arts has been committed to research into effective prison arts teaching. Most notably they put out the paper Art Practice and Its Impact in California Prisons, by Larry Brewster.

It is thought that a national organization could offer the following to members:

Raise awareness of programmatic efficacy
Host national or regional conferences
Share best practices
Foster community
Support, collect and disseminate relevant research
Offer professional development opportunities

The 5-minute survey is designed to help better understand the need for a national prison arts association and how it might serve potential members like you.

CLICK HERE for the National Prison Arts Survey

The survey was developed with input by prison arts advocates and practitioners, including:

Cynthia Gutierrez – Barrios Unidos Prison Project

Ella Turenne – Artist, Activist, EducatorOccidental College

Freddy Gutierrez – Community Worker, Performing Artist

Illya Kowalchuk – Pop Culture Classroom

Jonathan Blanco – Oregon State Penitentiary Hobby Shop

Laurie Brooks – William James Association

Lesley Currier – Marin Shakespeare Company

Nate Henry-Silva – Imagine Bus Project

Nathalie Costa Thill – Adirondack Center for Writing

Treacy Ziegler – An Open Window

Victoria Sammartino – Voices UnBroken

Wendy Jason – Prison Arts Coalition

Alma Robinson – California Lawyers for the Arts

Weston Dombroski – California Lawyers for the Arts

CLICK HERE for the National Prison Arts Survey

Responses are kindly requested by January 29th.

 

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© 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.

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© Thomas Roma
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© Alan Powdrill
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© Troy Holden
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© Suzanne Opton
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© Thomas Roma
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© Vicente Paredes
Book cover of Vicente Paredes’ Pony Congo
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© Brandon Tauszik
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© Sara Terry + Mariam X
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© Troy Holden

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Michael Ireland – Springfield, MO

“A cookie-cut subdivision, a mall parking lot, a rural country road. Linking these unremarkable pockets of America, and hundreds of places just as ordinary, is the fact that they’ve all been sites where people were killed by U.S. police officers.”

In my first piece for TIME, I write about Josh Begley‘s project Officer Involved.

Like many of Begley’s previous works, he makes use of third party (activist/research/journalism) data to image a geographically-disparate but nationally-important issue. For Officer Involved he used The Guardian’s data from The Counted.

In 2016, there were 1,138 deaths in which a U.S. law enforcement officers was involved.

Read: Visualizing ‘Officer-Involved’ Deaths Across America

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Talbot Schroeder – Old Bridge Township, NJ
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Donald Matkins – Lucedale, MS
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Alice Brown – San Francisco, CA
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Anthony Purvis – Douglas, GA
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Omarr Jackson – New Orleans, LA
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Ricky Hall – Fort Meade, MD
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Brian Fritze – Glenwood Springs, CO
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Aaron Rutledge – Pineville, LA
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Charly ‘Africa’ Keunang – Los Angeles, CA
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Lionel Young – Landover, MD

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Alonso Castillo is a freelance photographer based in the state of Sonora in northwestern Mexico. Predominantly, he works as a stringer for Reuters. Most of his work focuses on the border and he is a specialist in reporting on migration and social issues. He has instructed workshops in the past, is a college teacher and, since 2009, has worked as an editor at www.numerof.org.

Mauricio Palos, a mutual friend of Castillo and I, contacted me to tell me of Castillo’s 2013 photography workshop in a local youth prison, the Instituto de Tratamiento y de Aplicación de Medidas para Adolescentes (ITAMA) which is in the city of Hermosillo, in Sonora, northwestern México.

ITAMA houses approximately 450 boys and men. All the prisoners were convicted as juveniles but currently 70% of the prisoners are adults as they’ve turned 18 during their incarceration. Castillo led a photography workshop with 10 boys aged between 15 and 21. When he sent me the photographs I was floored by how sparse and rudimentary the environment for these kids appeared. I wondered if this was a case in which, more so than others, the camera didn’t lie?

All these photographs were made by the 10 participants. Castillo and his colleagues only made technical recommendations in order for the boys to take advantage of available light and framing. “The boys decided how to work and what to photograph,” says Castillo.

Kindly, Castillo answered some questions about the project to accompany this exclusive showing of the juvenile prisoners’ photographs.

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Q & A

Prison Photography (PP): Did you find prisons/social justice first? Or did you find photography first?

Alonso Castillo (AC): It is hard to say, I come first of photojournalism but this area is combined with social justice; that is, I do believe that our work is for the other. In this case this two territories are combined with an equal third one that is working with young people who have committed crimes.

Anyway, due to my job, I suppose I found photography first.

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Alonso Castillo and his students in the middle of a workshop session.

PP: What gave you the idea to do a workshop in the prison?

AC: I’ve taught, and participated in, workshops before—in Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, Ecuador and Colombia. I try to make workshops part of broader and more complete projects of research into specific topics, or provide media training, or instruct on the practices of street journalism.

I knew a writer, Carlos Sanchez, who taught literature and creative writing at ITAMA. Together, we planned to work with young prisoners and teach photography. Carlos usually facilitates writing workshops so this was the first in which we worked with photography. For me, as a journalist and teacher, it was also a means to research and observe [the prison]. And the way things worked out, it was a very enjoyable observation.

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PP: How did you get access?

AC: The workshop was organized in conjunction with Fotoseptiembre an annual photography festival which recently celebrated its 25th year anniversary. Although Fotoseptembiere no longer takes place in all countries, it still exists in the city where I live. The festival served as a pretext to get authorization and work with these guys as part of a program that also included an exhibition to show the end results.

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PP: How long was the course?

AC: It lasted about 40 hours but we sometimes relaxed the formal schedule to adjust to the schedule of the boys or what was needed to complete the exercises. It is more accurate to say that we worked during the months of July and August 2013, and mounted a small exhibition in September. First we worked in the classroom with classes on theory; we saw some portfolios and documentary photography and we talked with the group and watched movies about photography. Later, disposable film cameras were given to each participant.

Participants were ten young people from five cities in central, northern and southern Sonora. Some of them came from the border municipalities for drug trafficking and murder.

The first exercise was carried out, then the cameras were processed and together we reviewed the work they had done. Then they were given yet another camera and had a chance to improve the ways they were seeing.

Much of the discussion topic was “everyday life”—their daily lives within ITAMA.

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PP: What was the aim of the course?

AC: We wanted to share with them tools and skills to help with their rehabilitation and reintegration; they could acquire knowledge and then approach a job when they finished their detention. We also wanted to give them occupational therapy during their time inside the ITAMA.

As we move forward in the activities it became a very human exchange of experiences between us and them, in which analyzed and talked topics of art, history, music, cultural references and social problems.

The photography and talk about photographs was as a part of healing.

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PP: Did you achieve the aims?

AC: It is difficult to know if what we did at that time will serve for something when they came out, which was an important part. With what happened in the classroom, yes, I am satisfied.

While in detention because they committed crimes (and some of them very serious), it was very emotional to reveal their “other faces”, the other sides to these young people.

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AC: Although criminals, they remain children. This plain fact is something that the system ignores or cannot sufficiently deal with. All these boys are in the middle of a long learning process and maturation; they experience the same intangible fears as any of us. It is a matter of influencing the values ​​and beliefs they have, rather than corrective measures and punishments.

There are also other related matters. The environment has a very strong and decisive weight. These facilities provide for the operation of organized crime on the streets and in the offices of government. Rehabilitation doesn’t work if the institution operates in the midst of corruption. The Mexican political system besides not favoring conditions for social security and education, seems to be working to do otherwise.

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PP: Any unexpected surprises?

AC: They showed huge interest in the workshop, which very often does not happen when you’re outside teaching boys in the regular education system and even in college. It is sad but sometimes you find more resistance in a student who had better educational opportunities. With this group, everything happened in an easy way.

There was a boy with a natural look, he made some of the best photos of the workshop; he had a sophisticated way of seeing that gave the images a very contemporary look.

That happens sometimes in the workshops: anyone can worry so much about making a picture look easy and then someone comes in and just do it.

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PP: Anything you’d want to do differently if you wanted to/could teach another prison photography workshop?

AC: Of course. Working on more personalized projects. The conditions are limited but we could work with them in a better recognition of the environment. Projects could be designed for collective or personal response — online journals, a newspaper produced by themselves, and so on.

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PP: Why did the prison authorities let you in?

AC: I think they did not take us seriously to consider us as a threat, except for us to fulfill the security conditions such as the introduction of dangerous objects or not allowed.

PP: Had you been in a prison before? What did you expect to find? What did you find?

AC: Yes, I had been before taking pictures for a story. The access we now had was restricted only to the area to teach the workshop, so we only saw facilities from afar … and in photographs!

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PP: What were the boys’ reactions? How did they work?

AC: The first reaction kept at a distance but then it broke. There were different profiles and even some involving more than others, empathy was virtually total. Then we work with maximum freedom. Sure, they are young and at some point they laughed at us but at no time was any kind of rejection or problem.

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AC: After the workshop we had a very modest exhibition in the courtyards of ITAMA, with some family and other visitors. When we worked on that, we processed some film close to the date and we found a picture of the soles of the boys feet. As the exhibition was to be called Desde Adentro (From Within), the boys did a special photo for that—they sat on the floor and wrote the name of the exhibition on the soles of the feet. That was something we were not expecting.

In 2014, a selection of work from the boys won an honorable mention in a local photo competition.

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PP: What was the staff’s reactions to the boys walking around with cameras?

AC: We did not know of any reaction. You know, reading the photograph depends on the social construction and context. It is that possible for them and the staff of the detention center, there was no threat from outside, were themselves taking pictures around. We did not go as journalists and we weren’t there to make a report or complaint or observation of human rights in the prison.

In a subtle way, these photographs depict these young people for whom we have used the prison to delete their presence and hide them … and we’ve done so only for our own convenience. These photographs confront us with facts that lay counter to our simplistic thinking.

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PP: Do prisons work?

AC: Prisons serve as a reflection of human behavior in which the administration of justice becomes confused with revenge.

We want justice but don’t think very deeply about its application. People go to prison for many different types of crime but when they’re inside we make no distinctions. Initially, justice is operational and later it is a process that becomes bureaucratic, expensive and exhausting for those who experience it. The legal part of the system is a mess; it is much harder to get out even with the law in your favor. Prisons may be where all traffic comes to a dead end.

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PP: Can photography heal social ills?

AC: Yes. It is an effective tool to communicate, to visualize and generate impact to social problems. Although it’s not a massively used tool for educational purposes, I think no efforts are small and everything we do is important.

In the near future, I want to train groups of people to jump-start local journalism projects involving vulnerable sectors of population and minorities (native groups, sexual minorities, neighborhoods, and others.

PP: So reach is a big factor too.

AC: Yes. César Holm, who works on a project for the professionalization of photographers in Mexico, in a conversation we had recently, mentioned the need to get an audience for photography and the promotion of a profile for teaching. I agree with him.

I say it is not a massive tool because although photojournalism represents a broad global distribution circuit, I have the impression that we are producing for ourselves. This phrase I heard a few years ago and I still like it, “only photographers know photographers”. We like to publish books that we read, there are contests and scholarships for specialized circle of consumers, who are we and our friends.

I think we could expand that circle.

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