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We hear often, from the extreme political right and left, that Washington D.C. is broken. People across the nation grumble about how the power-heeled mingle with elected representatives on Capitol Hill and achieve little for the everyman. Putting the efficacy of the political system aside, what about Washington D.C. as a city? What about D.C.’s governance and its ability to provide for its residents?

A look at Kike Arnal‘s series In The Shadows Of Power would tell us that D.C. is failing and it is the poor and disenfranchised it fails most. The series features photographs of youth locked in the city’s jail (above).

“Washington, D.C. is truly a world symbol in ways most people do not understand. It is my hope that the work in this book might expand that understanding,” says Arnal.

Cross Section: a different tour of Washington D.C.

I visited D.C. last week and it felt good and weird. The video exhibit at the Hirschorn was amazing, the Reflecting Pool was drained and scummy, a new $400M Museum Of The Bible had just been announced, and the Ethiopian food was tremendous. But I got the feeling I was treading the visitors’ routes rather than the locals’ usual routes. I stayed in NoMa, which is a new acronymic fancy recently applied to the area North of Massachussetts Avenue.

[ Note: Acronyms are surefire evidence of realtor-orchestrated change — think SOMA, NoPa and TriBeCa. ]

NoMa is where the new headquarters of NPR are located. It’s undergoing massive change as Washington D.C. spiffs itself up in the blocks north of The Mall, Union Station and Congress. Historically though, it has been a poor area. No more. The poorest residents of D.C. are pushed around, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. All the while, the D.C. metro area is the “centre of the free world.”

The economic downturn of 2008 barely touched D.C. With such a high proportion of government jobs, the capitol didn’t suffer in the same way cities reliant on industry and services did. As a result, migration into D.C. among the young and hungry picked up, and the renters market boomed. Areas that had, for the longest period, been home to lower economic classes changed wholesale. For example, vacant lots in the 14th Street area — which was devastated by 1968 riots in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination — were only developed in the last decade. And even then it was with Target, Starbucks and other chain name stores.

The area was left to waste until such a time it was useful for corporate/consumer interests.

Exhibit Washington: Life in the world's most powerful capital

Arnal talks about the body of work on C-Span here and Ralph Nader sings the praises of In The Shadow Of Power on Democracy Now! In that same program, Arnal talks about the photo of the coffeeshop (above).

In the Shadow of Power was sponsored by the Washington, DC, based Center for Study of Responsive Law which was founded by Ralph Nader in 1968. The Center has sponsored a wide variety of books, organizing projects, litigation and has hosted hundreds of conferences focusing on government and corporate accountability.

BIOGRAPHY

Kike Arnal is a Venezuelan photographer and documentary filmmaker based in New York City. His photographs have been featured in the New York Times, Life, and Newsweek, among others. His video, Yanomami Malaria, produced for the Discovery Channel, covered the spread of disease among populations of indigenous people in the northern Amazon. Follow Kike on Tumblr.

 

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I wrote a piece about Chris Nunn‘s photographs in Ukraine, for Vantage.

Read Accidentally Photographing War In Ukraine.

Nunn, an Englishman, has been hopping flights to Ukraine since 2006 — first with a Ukrainian a girl he dated at uni, and later to trace his roots.

In early 2013 and without a jot of the language he went in search of a connection to the country and its people.

To quote me:

“He had no idea that he was about to be wrapped up in a regional conflict that would draw the world’s attention. His photography became less a personal journey and more an accidental documentary of a nation in steady decline toward war.”

Nunn even ended up in camp with Ukrainian Army conscripts. His mix of portraits and environmental shots is quite poignant. I received an email from Nunn this morning:

“Donetsk. I had no idea at the time that I’d probably never be able to return there, as a normal civilian, [when I made the photos]. Maybe, now, only possibly with special press permission? It’s a mix of good and bad memories … which is true for Ukraine, in general, I think.”

Who knows what to think? With ceasefires crumbling, who knows what comes next?

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MEETING THE PRISONER CLASS IN POLAND

One might argue that, in the world, there are as many reasons for making an image as there are images. Polish photographer Kamil Śleszyński was curious about how prisoners thought about freedom and “why many prisoners couldn’t live outside [of prison] and would come back again.”

Carrying a camera along with you in these inquiries may or may not help you find answers, but in any case you’ve some images to reflect upon, to lean on, and to mold toward some sort of conclusion.

Śleszyński reached out to me and shared his project Input/Output, which consists of photographs made within a prison and in a re-entry centre that supports ex-prisoners. Both facilities are in the city of Bialystok. The images were made between September 2014 and February 2015.

Using a limited number of sheets of 4×5 film forced Śleszyński to be selective with his exposures. The majority are posed portraits. I wanted to find out what he discovered during the project.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

Click any image to see it larger.

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Q & A

Prison Photography (PP): In the intro text to Input/Output you suggest that prisoners are institutionalized and are bound by what they learn in prison. Can you explain this more?

Kamil Śleszyński (KS): The man who goes to prison needs to adjust to the rules prevailing there. On the one hand, the rules are created by the Polish prison system, on the other hand by the prisoners themselves.

For example, Grypsera is a prison subculture. Those prisoners who adhere it rules are known as Grypsera too. They have own language which is based on polish language. Grypsera was created in the past century and determined the tough rules, hierarchy and standards. Today, these rules have loosened somewhat but many of them are still alive.

The prison environment is permanently stigmatising. This is perfectly illustrated by words from the book “The Walls of Hebron” written by Andrzej Stasiuk: “To the prison you go only one time. This first. After that, there is no prison. There is no freedom too. All things are the same.”

Polish prisoners are not taught independence because it is not technically possible within their reality. Resocialization is a key issue, but most progams toward it are not enough. Therefore, freed prisoners cannot deal with freedom itself. It is easier to get back behind bars where everything is either black or white.

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PP:  Many of your subjects have tattoos. Are tattoos important in Polish prisons?

KS: Tattoos were an important element of prison subculture. Tattoos on their faces and hands allowed quickly define the criminal profession. Military ranks tattooed on their arms, define the length of the sentence. There were a lot of different types of tattoos. Only deserving criminals could have it.

Today, these rules are loosened. Tattoos do not always have the prison symbolism, sometimes are associated with religion.

PP: You shot in a prison in Bialystok. What is its reputation?

KS: The closed wards were the worst, because prisoners are spending 23 hours a day in a cell. Prisoners can be a little crazy as a result.

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PP: Why did you want to photograph inside?

KS: I grew up in the neighborhood of the prison. Often I was walking near by the prison walls and watching prisoners. They were standing in the windows bathing in the sun. I was wondering why they were behind the walls. This curiosity stayed with me.

PP:  How did you get access?

KS: The year ago I met director and journalist Dariusz Szada-Borzyszkowski. He was working with a prisoners. He cast them in performances. He put me in touch with the right people and gave valuable hints. His help greatly accelerated my work.

PP: What were the reactions of the staff?

KS: Prisoner chiefs had a positive attitude to the project. In one of the prison facilities I had a lot of creative freedom.

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PP: What were the reactions of the prisoners?

KS: Gaining the confidence of prisoners takes a long time, and this was a key issue for the project. Prisoners are understandably distrustful — they’re afraid that someone from the outside can deceive or ridicule them.

One of the prisoners told me that he don’t want to work with me because prisoners are not monkeys in a cage. I spent a lot of time to convince him that I wouldn’t misrepresent him. In the end, he was involved in the project so much that he convinced other prisoners to cooperation with me.

I was shooting with an old camera 4×5. Many of prisoners were interested in my shooting technique because they had never seen such equipment. It was a new experience for them.

PP: Did the prisoners have an opportunity to have their photograph taken at other times?

KS: Prisoners are photographed by the staff upon entry into the prison and at the time of their departure. During imprisonment is not possible to be photographed … unless they are involved in a project like mine.

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PP: Did prisoners have photographs in their cells?

KS: Sometimes prisoners have photos of their loved ones in their cells.  This helps to survive in isolation.

PP: Did you give prisoners copies of your images?

KS: Prisoners are collaborating when it is profitable. The photos were a reward for participating in the project. Many of them sent photos to their loved ones.

PP: What do people in Poland think about the prison system? And of think prisoners?

KS: People don’t know much about prisons and prisoners, and guided by stereotypes. They want to know how it is inside, but do not want to have anything to do with the prisoners. They are afraid of them.

I hope that such projects like mine, will help to change those points of view. I got scholarship from the Marshal of Podlaskie region for the preparation of a draft photo book about the prisoners. It wasn’t easy, but the scholarship suggests to me that views are slowly changing.

PP: Overall, is the Polish prison system working or not? Does it keep people safe, or rehabilitate, for example?

KS: The polish prison system puts too little emphasis on resocialization.

PP: Thanks, Kamil.

KS: Thank you, Pete.

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© Richard Ross

I never thought I’d see a trans prison guard. I didn’t think transgender persons worked in the corrections industry and — given the culture of prisons — I did not expect that a trans person would ever want to.

However, she exists and her name is Mandi Camille Hauwert.

The Marshall Project continues to uncover surprising and new angles on this nation’s prisons. Their profile of Hauwert Call Me Mandi: The Life of a Transgender Corrections Officer is no exception. It is a story with which Richard Ross, a well-traveled photographer of prisons, approached them. Alongside the photographs are Ross’ own words.

Hauwert began work at San Quentin as a male, but transitioned in the job and has been taking hormones for 3 years. She faces hostility from fellow staff.

It’s worth noting how dangerous prison systems are to transgender folk. A few weeks back, I attended Bringing To Light a conference in San Francisco, at which I learnt the routine brutalisation of LGBQIT persons at the hands of the prison system — threats of rape, the use of solitary “for protection” and all its associated deprivations, the denial of prescribed hormones, and many other daily humiliations.

Janetta Johnson spoke about surviving a 3-year federal sentence in a men’s prison. She and her colleagues at the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP) now help trans folk deal with trauma and reentry following release.

Unwittingly and without buy-in, transgender prisoners swiftly expose the oppressive logic and total inflexibility of the prison industrial complex. Follow TGIJP‘s work and that of the other organisations that presented at Bringing To Light. Their work often goes unrecognised in the larger fight for reforms and abolition, but it precisely the prisons’ adherence to patriarchy and outdated constructs of gender that establishes the tension and abuses.

Ross’ Call Me Mandi: The Life of a Transgender Corrections Officer is a brief but illuminating feature. Read it.

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THE VISUAL CULTURE OF PRISON RESISTANCE

Liz Pelly‘s conversation with Josh MacPhee in The Media is a wonderful read. It coincided with MacPhee and his cohort’s incredible exhibition of prisoner made protest materials going all the way back to the early seventies.

MacPhee urges us to dismantle the idea that prisons are separate from outside society. Crucially, he’s not making, in the first instance, a moral point about how we’re all the same, prisoners and all. MacPhee makes an observation of the structural characteristics of the prison system.

“It’s getting harder and harder to hold up the pretense that prison is somehow distinct from the rest of society,” says MacPhee. “When there’s this many people going in and out all of the time, there’s no way that our lives out here don’t leak into there, and that their lives in there don’t leak out into the rest of society. The idea that these are completely separate realms needs to be dismantled.”

Of course, once the structural facts of the system are revealed, the moral point that we are all one-and-the-same, prisoners and all, is indisputable.

I contacted Pelly and asked if I could republish the conversation. It originally appeared as Inside/Out: On Prison Justice, Art of the Incarcerated, and Interference Archive’s New Show in Issue #44 of The Media (October 10, 2014). It is a privilege to feature Pelly and MacPhee’s interview in full here on the blog.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

Between September 11th and November 16, 2014, Interference Archive exhibited, Self-Determination Inside/Out: Prison Movements Reshaping Society a look back at the visual and material culture of prisoner-led political movements.

Organized by Molly Fair, Josh MacPhee, Anika Paris, Laura Whitehorn, and Ryan Wong, Self-Determination Inside/Out includes sections on the work of incarcerated AIDS educators, the experiences of women and queer prisoners, prison and control unit prisons. The exhibition features prison newsletters, pamphlets, video and audio interviews, prints, photography (!!!) and magazine covers — starting with materials created during the 1971 Attica Rebellion, a massive prisoner uprising in upstate New York, and concluding with work made by current political prisoners, the show highlights moments of self-organization within the prison industrial complex.

You can buy a booklet and a poster for the exhibition.

Interference Archive is a volunteer-run archive in Gowanus, Brooklyn, dedicated to preserving cultural ephemera related to social movements.

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Inside/Out: On Prison Justice, Art of the Incarcerated, and Interference Archive’s New Show

Liz Pelly (LP): What initially inspired the creation of Interference Archive, which mostly houses ephemeral material like posters, t-shirts, and newsletters?

Josh MacPhee (JM): For the different people involved, there are different answers of course. For me, I grew up making this stuff through DIY music, cultural stuff, politics. Through the act of doing, I started collecting it. Flyers, t-shirts, buttons, the ephemera that gets produced by people who are organizing. It was a combination of wanting to understand the history of what I was doing and then at the same time, I was getting really interested in this idea of how people make art and culture in the context of trying to their lives. It’s distinct from art that’s produced purely in the realm of self expression, and the art that tends circulate within the contemporary art world.

This kind of material gets lost. It’s often not clearly authored. Institutions that deal with art don’t quite know what to do with it. Since it’s so political, places like history museums don’t know what to do with it either. It sort of falls through the cracks. But we can see during times like Occupy, or Tahrir Square in Egypt, or with the Maidan in the Ukraine, that this is the stuff of life, [created] when transformation starts to happen. When people have their arms shoulder deep into the constructions of representations of a new world, and the way they want things to be articulated.

For me, doing an archive was a way to say, “just because these moments come and go, and movements have ebbs and flows, doesn’t mean that once the peak has been reached that this material isn’t still valuable to us, to where we’ve come from and therefore where we are going.”

LP: That said, how do you think this sort of exhibit in particular shines light on the experiences of prisoners?

JM: There were five of us who organized this exhibition, and most of us have been engaged with issues around prisons in different ways, whether having been formerly incarcerated, or working with prison activism programs. As far as I know, nothing like this has ever been done before.

We live in a moment where over two million people are in prison. It’s getting harder and harder to hold up the pretense that prison is somehow distinct from the rest of society. When there’s this many people going in and out all of the time, there’s no way that our lives out here don’t leak into there, and that their lives in there don’t leak out into the rest of society. The idea that these are completely separate realms needs to be dismantled.

We thought it was important to marshal primary source material to show that people aren’t just objects of repression or study or someone else’s activism. But they have done immense amounts of organizing inside themselves. Often times that organizing takes place at the same time, or sometimes even ahead of, what people were doing on the outside. Some of the focus we have on organizing around AIDS and AIDS education in prison was really fascinating and important because it shows how people that had the least access to medical care were doing in some cases the most organizing in order to try to deal with a problem that at the time the government was not even acknowledging existed.

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LP: Can you tell me more about your own experiences with prison reform activism?

JM: I first learned about how the prison system functions in the early 1990s. It just sort of blew my mind that there was a whole world of people who largely because of race and class were basically being warehoused. And that, at the time, it was completely absent from the radar of public In the 90s, the only thing discussed in relationship to prisons and criminal justice was this sort of “tough on crime” thing. There was no acknowledgment that a massive increase of the prison population going on, and that it wasn’t actually working. And that the system that decided who went in and out was so manifestly unjust, random often.

That sent me on a path of doing organizing around prison issues. I started in Ohio, and then did some work in Colorado, and then in Chicago. A lot of the organizing I did was around Control Unit Prisons, basically trying to stop solitary confinement. [Organizing around] these men and women who were spending twenty-three-and-a-half or twenty-four hours a day alone in their cells, and the psychological damage that causes and how it basically goes against international conventions of torture, yet it’s completely commonplace in this country.

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LP: Over the past year, there has been lot of in the news about the racist criminal justice system. It’s an apt time for Self-Determination Inside/Out: Prison Movements Reshaping Society. But obviously there is a lot of history of racism in the criminal justice system that this brings to light. Were you inspired to put this together because of recent events, or has this exhibit been in the works longer?

JM: We worked on the exhibition for 6 months. As a space, as an institution, one of our goals is to take this material that’s perceived as marginal and present it in ways that will allow it to be in its own context, but also to actually show that it’s not marginal. Our primary audience is not people who already necessarily agree with everything that would be in this exhibition. We are conscious of, and trying to take advantage of, a moment.

The question becomes, how do we push [the discussion] farther? If we say mass incarceration is not okay, at what point is incarceration okay? If 2 million people in cages is not acceptable, is 1.9 million people in acceptable? Or 1.8? Once you start asking those questions it opens up the space to say, “this whole system is just absolutely corrupt.”

Mass incarceration accomplishes a number of things, none of which are its stated goals. It accomplishes deeply suppressing working class communities of color. That’s never been articulated as what the prison system is supposed to do. It’s just clear that that’s what it does. It clearly is completely ineffectual at actually dealing with crime.

LP: What are some underreported sides to the prison industrial complex that you hope this exhibit brings to light?

JM: The fastest growing portion of the prison population for years now has been women.

Increasingly there is a real gendered aspect of being able to look at how the criminal justice system works. Increasingly it’s used to enforce gender binaries. It’s a brutal system for queer and trans people that get sucked up into it. People are doing a lot of organizing around it now, but until recently, it was assumed if you were gender non-conforming, they have to choose where to put you, and then once they chose a men or a women’s prison, then almost immediately you’d get sent to solitary confinement. You’d do your sentence out in solitary confinement, in complete isolation, because the system is not prepared to deal with gender non-conformity. You are being punished because your very existence challenges the bureaucratic way the system works.

It’s really clear that women who refuse to be abused, who fight back against abusers, almost always get pulled into the criminal justice system. So we have things like Trayvon Martin being shot, and Zimmerman getting off. But any woman that stops an attack from an abuser is inevitably going to do time because that’s just absolutely taboo.

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LP: What were the biggest challenges to getting this exhibit together?

JM: Each exhibition has unique challenges and obstacles, and then there are ones that are sort of similar across the board. For this exhibition, was just that cultural material produced by incarcerated people is hard to access. A lot of it is made in prison and then just never leaves prison.

In general, one of the challenges for all of the exhibitions, is that unless we do something that’s very focused, inevitably there’s so much stuff it’s hard to know when to say “okay we’ve got enough” or to know when to draw the lines. It’s hard to know when to accept that you’re never going to have all of the stuff that you wish you could, that you’re never going to be able to tell the whole story, that maybe even the idea that you’re going to tell some sort of master narrative is questionable in its own right.

When you’re representing things that are so deeply underrepresented, people get attached to wanting their part of the story told, because it’s been marginal or silenced for so long. It makes it really hard to make those choices, because you don’t want anyone else to continue to feel [that way].

We are collecting material from movements that are marginal. Even though they often have extremely deep impacts, rarely is that impact known or visible when they’re most active. It’s kind of like an extra kick in the face when your ideas become commonplace 10 or 20 years later and you’re still written out of the history even though you’re the ones who came up with the ideas.

LP: What do you hope, in general, visitors learn from Self-Determination: Inside/Out?

JM: On the one hand, I hope this contributes to a shift [towards] the idea that prisons are maybe not the answer to the problems that they claim to be. And that locking people in cages is not actually accomplishing what we’re being told it is.

On another level, that incarcerated people are not just objects. They’re loved ones and family members and neighbors and community members. The thing that primarily defines someone as a human being is not whether or not they’re in prison. That people that happen to find themselves in prison, many for reasons that are and then also at the same time many for doing reprehensible things, doesn’t make them not human. It doesn’t mean they don’t have the same desires, life goals, and relationships that everyone else has. And as such, the way that they conceive themselves and their world is part of, needs to be part of, any movement for social transformation.

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THE PEOPLE

The Interference Archive is a collection of posters, flyers, publications, photographs, books, t-shirts, buttons, moving images, audio recordings, and other materials, made by participants of social movements throughout past decades. It is an archive “from below” — collectively run space, powered by people, and with open stacks accessible to all. The Interference Archive explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements. It provides public exhibitions, a study and social center, talks, screenings, publications, workshops, and an online presence, with an aim to preserve and honor histories and material culture that are often marginalized in mainstream institutions. It is at 131 8th Street, #4
, Brooklyn, NY 11215
 (2 blocks from F/G/R trains at 4th Ave/9th Street).

Josh MacPhee is an artist, curator and activist living in Brooklyn, NY. MacPhee is one of the founder of the Just Seeds Artists’ Cooperative, which organizes, creates and distributes radical art. MacPhee is the author of Stencil Pirates: A Global Study of the Street Stencil, which is dedicated to stencil street art. He co-edited Realizing the Impossible: Art Against AuthorityReproduce and Revolt and the upcoming Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today. In 2001 he co-organized the Department of Space and Land Reclamation in Chicago with Emily Forman and Nato Thompson. In 2008 he co-curated the exhibition Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960’s to Now with Dara Greenwald.

Liz Pelly is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. I lives and works at the all-ages collectively-run art space The Silent Barn, where she books (and sometimes plays) shows. She and her friends run the ad-free bi-weekly online newspaper The Media.

The Media is a webpaper covering alternative arts, culture, music, news, and grassroots activism. With contributors often embedded in the communities they cover, The Media aims to bridge the gap between underground presses and mainstream media. Crucially, it is AD-FREE and simply designed. “At a moment marked by short attention spans, decentralized click-bait articles, and newspapers in flux, rethinking the aesthetics of our news websites feels just as crucial as re-imagining their content,” says The Media. “We want our content to resonate on its own merit, free of frivolity and flash, and grounded by a homepage that’s striking in its radical simplicity.”

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Binh Danh. ‘The Transamerica Pyramid, 2014 Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 10 x 8 inches / Frame: 14.75 x 12.5 inches

BINH DANH

A recent move makes San Francisco my new hometown. As is my wont, I’m out and about trying to figure what’s happening here in the city. Late last year, I saw Binh Danh’s exhibition This, Then, Is San Francisco at Haines Gallery.

A few things struck me.

– First, the sky blues and sepias of make the work just lovely to view.

– Second, there seems to be an increasing nostalgia toward the city of San Francisco right now which is reflected in art-makers and photographers trying to preserve a view of the city – be that in books, stubborn alternative processes, comparative views of the city as it once was, or flat-out direct denunciations of money-driven change.

– Third, the scenes captured by Danh cannot be random and in fact some of them look quite political.

I got Danh on the blower to ask him about how and why the work was made.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

Click any image to see it larger.

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Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

Q&A

Prison Photography (PP): At first glimpse, the work seems as if it is about process and the joy of the surface. Does This, Then, Is San Francisco have the same level of political engagement typical in your other work?

Binh Danh (BD): You’re somewhat right. Of course, being an artists there’s always the joy of the image. But if you look deeply, there’s also some political messages. There’s pictures of gatherings and protest in front of City Hall.

PP: I saw the image of the rally held by mothers whose family members had been killed but their murderers never found.

BD: And even the photo of the city hall — on the lawn where people are sleeping, they look like dead bodies. Because of the medium, it looks like a civil war photograph.

PP: And the body shapes are identical.

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Binh Danh. ‘City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Binh Danh. ‘Hoa Phat, Little Saigon, Larkin Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

BD: I am alluding to these political spaces of the city.

PP: Did you grow up in San Francisco?

BD: No. I grew up in San Jose. For me, San Francisco was the place we went to for school trips. Even in adulthood, I see the city as a tourist. Each time I go there it is new. Every inch of the city is photogenic. And that goes way back. I enjoy the fact that This, Then, Is San Francisco is in conversation with those images from the nineteenth century when the city was being built.

PP: How does this relate to your previous work about Yosemite? It seems to make more immediate sense to use daguerreotypes to photograph Yosemite — what with the archives of Carleton Watkins and Edward Curtis. Their works were very political and tied to the myth of manifest destiny and ultimately controlling of the West.

BD: Both Carleton Watkins and Edweard Muybridge photographed San Francisco AND Yosemite. I’m walking in those giants’ footsteps. For me, San Francisco is the gateway to California – going as far back as the Gold Rush when people arrived, stocked up and then travelled on to the Sierra Mountains. Everything in Northern California flows toward San Francisco and into the Bay.

PP: One could conceptualize San Francisco as being at the foot of an elongated Yosemite Valley?! The Pacific Ocean is the terminus of the Sierra Mountains watershed.

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Binh Danh. ‘Panoramic View from Corona Heights Park, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plates: 25.75 x 13.5 inches

BD: But also looking forward. San Francisco is tied to innovation, accelerated movement, change and speed. It always has been. Of course, now, those things are associated so closely with Silicon Valley and the South Bay.

PP: But for the purposes of the international community, San Francisco is the epicenter of that.

BD: I wanted to document San Francisco in this moment of change. I didn’t realize Haines Gallery wanted to do a show. They felt I had enough work. But the project is not complete; it’s ongoing. I expect in 30 or 40 years I’ll go back to some of the same streets to stand in the same locations and make the same pictures with daguerreotypes.

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Binh Danh. ‘Rigo 23’s Truth Mural U.N. Plaza at the Civic Center, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5inches

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Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco Camerawork, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall (Mother’s Day 2014) Rally for Black Youths Whose Killers Have Never Been Found by the San Francisco Police Department, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

PP: Why daguerreotypes?

BD: The daguerreotype results in a reverse image. So, the cityscape is familiar but it’s odd. I like the uncanny.

PP: The reversal makes the viewer look a little harder, which is I think what all photographers want go their images?!

PP: There’s no shortage of spots in the city. How did you choose sites? I’d like to ask, specifically, about the TRUTH mural.

BD: When you do work with a commercial gallery, they are trying to sell work they are trying to move work. So, a lot of the more iconic San Francisco scenes are a little more successful in that [marketable] way. Some of the quieter scenes that might make there way into a future show or book.

I’m happy Haines picked the TRUTH mural piece. Rigo23 did that piece and what I like about that mural is that it faces city hall and confronts power.

PP: It was made in 2002 to commemorate the 2001 quashed conviction of Robert H. King, one of the Angola 3, after 32 years of incarceration, 29 of which were spent in solitary confinement. It was also a rally call for the cases of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace (who died in 2014) who remained locked up.

BD: In my picture, the farmers market is ongoing in the foreground, so if you want, there’s connections to the central valley to be made. And to ethnic communities. I’m not sure if the viewer will pick that up but that’s the thing I think about when I’m making the work.

bd.ThePalaceOfFineArts

Binh Danh. ‘The Palace of Fine Arts, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

bd.TheWomen’sBuilding,18th

Binh Danh. ‘The Women’s Building, 18th Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

bd.BAndCLaundromatBarbary

Binh Danh. ‘B and C Laundromat Barbary Coast Trail, Chinatown, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

PP: Do you have a favored image?

BD: The city hall image is my favorite image. I photographed a lot. I made all the images over the summer. I must have made 300 exposures and then I narrowed that down to 50 plates and the gallery selected 20.

PP: 300?!

BD: Not everything turns out, you know. I’d make 10 in a day and maybe one would hold a standard that I’m happy to share. Everyday I was driving from San Jose and up to the city making photographs.

BD: Almost all the people I encountered don’t understand the process, so to us it is a very foreign process. I think we take photography for granted so I hope I can help people think about image-making more. Maybe people will stop snapping away and take it slow?

PP: How did you learn the process?

BD: I learned just on my own. I found a 19th century manuscript and kept practicing and experimenting. Perfecting over the years. I began in 2001. Gave up and returned to it in 2009. Through the years I’ve made slow progress. I own the equipment, I make everything from scratch. I coat the copper plate in my studio and buff it. I’ve a van in which process on location. Back then, the daguerreotype was hard to do outside of the studio. That’s why most daguerreotypes are portraits. Cityscapes were rare — then and now.

PP: Thanks, Binh

BD: Thank You, Pete.

bd.SutterAndGrantStreets

Binh Danh. ‘Sutter and Grant Streets, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

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Two years ago, I walked out of Chris Fraser’s In Passing, installed in Portland’s Disjecta gallery, and resolved that it was the finest contemporary art I’d seen in the town. In Passing drew your attention to colour, light and line. The sensory experience, for me, put Chris Fraser slap-bang-wallop between Bridget Riley and James Turrell. In Passing was a strict coda delivered to fondle the eyeballs.

What was you ask? I was simply an enclosed corridor around three walls of the gallery. Into the walls, at random moments were slits that ran from floor to corridor ceiling, on the inside-wall. Three bulbs — one R, one G, and one B — hanging from the roof beams dangled in the centre of the gallery and dispersed low level light to all corners of the room. So enclosed was the corridor, that the low level light sliced the darkness in thin rainbow strips. At one end of the corridor the gaps became larger and light as a result became more diffuse and reflected off the walls in a palette closer white light.

Why I a wittering on about this so long after the fact? Well, next week, SF Camerawork opens with Revolving Doors, which is effectively a site specific camera obscura installation.

Note: All images here are of In Passing. Still a week out, I haven’t the foggiest what Revolving Doors looks like.

Fraser says that gallery goers can manipulate the walk in sculpture:

“Visitors will rearrange the space as they move through it, altering the architecture for future patrons,” says Fraser.

They’ll do that by altering the maze-like configuration that mimics the internal mechanisms of a camera.

“The structure and its design stand as a metaphor for the rapid demographic changes in SF Camerawork’s immediate Mid-Market neighborhood,” says SF Camerwork press release.

“The rich and well connected are moving in,” explains Fraser. “The poor and disenfranchised are being kicked out. A city must change to remain vital. But this transition seems particularly cruel. My hope is to highlight this disparity through an architectural intervention.”

Honesty and captivating beauty with a political edge, it seems. If Revolving Doors is even fractionally as accomplished as In Passing it’ll be one absolutely not to miss.

Revolving Doors is on view February 5 – March 21, 2015. The opening reception is this coming Thursday, February 5, 2015, 6-8pm

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Tracey: “I lost my family. I lost my job and I lost my home. I spent 14-and-a-half years in the Department of Corrections.”

PUSHED TO THE MARGINS

What do you do when you law prohibits you from living within a reasonable distance of any of society’s communal spaces and social services? That’s the question thousands of sex offenders find themselves with, and the perpetually-liminal existence they inhabit.

ABSENT DEBATE

I’ve not written about sex offenders — imprisoned or otherwise — very much on this blog. This is due in most part because I’ve not a wealth of knowledge. But it is also because it is an easy population to ignore. This is my failing. Sex offenders are a group that receive little-to-no sympathy or understanding. And, this, despite their crimes being massively different from one another and their pathologies and psychological profiles dictating their offence but not, by any means, their potential improvement and contributions into the future. Prison Photography has lazily sidelined the issue as to maintain a safe distance from one of society’s trickiest topics within criminal justice.

Sofia Valiente‘s photographs of ‘Miracle Village’ a community of registered sex offenders in Florida give me the opportunity to tackle this. Valiente has just released a book of the project with FABRICA and the work was featured on The Marshall Project this week.

Miracle village was founded in 2009 by Pastor Dick Witherow, whose ministry helps sex offenders reintegrate into society by providing them with onsite housing, employment, and counseling.

Valiente’s book contains writings by 12 sex offenders who live in the isolated community in West Palm Beach County, Florida.

A (VIRTUALLY) IGNORED ISSUE

Firstly, I should say that this is not the only work of this type. Danish photographer Steven Achiam made images of sex offenders in a trailer park, also in Florida. I’ve known this work for years but, again, never quite dared to bring it up.

Secondly, I will say that the laws against sex offenders living in proximity to children differ state-to-state, are almost arbitrary, mostly unenforceable and rarely consider whether the crime was against a child in the original case.

Furthermore, exclusionary zones put off-limits ludicrous amounts of roads and public thoroughfares. For example in Revere, Massachusetts, the Prison Policy Initiative mapped out what proposed laws would look like and found that 99% of the city would be off-limits.

Finally, I take my information from those I trust most. Laurie Jo Reynolds — an incredibly effective campaigner, serial grant winner, darling of the anti-prison movement, and hero of mine — has long argued against sex offender registries which put individuals on the list as risk and do not improve public safety. Reynolds also says that registries do not prevent crime only pile expensive punishment, admin and enforcement on top of a severely misunderstood problem.

All that said, we need to approach the issue of sex crimes with less fear and judgement and realise we have not yet found the most sensible, safe, restorative, economical or humane ways to deal with this tough, tough issue. Maybe Sofia Valiente’s images are an invitation to do so?

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Richard: “Up until the age of 18, I had a terrible stutter. I hated talking. I was always a good student and often knew the answers to the questions asked in class. However, I never raised my hand because I dreaded being called on. My stutter was bad, and when I was talking to a girl it was even worse. When I discovered Internet Chatt in 1988, and I could communicate without having to talk, it was the greatest thing ever.”
“Living in Miracle Village is quiet, peaceful, yet isolated. When people call me about jobs, they never know where Pahokee is.”
Paul on his porch. “I don’t know when I started making bad choices.”
Gene in his El Camino.
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Matt exercising in the back shed in the village with David and Lee. “Growing up with my mom was enough, I’m ready to move on. All I did was go to school and take care of the house. It was like living in boot camp. She was the one that called the cops on me in order to protect her job or so she said.”
Ben taking a walk around the sugarcane fields that surround the complex.
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Objects on Rose’s refrigerator include a photograph of her children (their eyes were obscured by the photographer to protect their identities).
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Lee laying down inside his room. Lee went to prison when he was 18 and served 12 and a half years of his 15 year sentence. He is serving the other 2 and a half years on conditional release. His restrictions include a 7pm curfew, no driving other than for employment purposes- not alone, no internet, monthly urinalysis, no contact with minors even family members, GPS monitoring and paying the cost of his supervision. He must register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life. “You can clean me up, put me in the ‘right’ clothes and give me an honorary membership, but I will still be that outsider and that is that.”
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Gene laying down with his dog Killer for a nap. “As a sex offender I can not trust anyone…. All they have to do is call 911 and say that a sex offender has bothered them and Bang! I am in jail. No questions asked.”
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Doug after a day of working outside. He helps out in the community by doing occasional lawn work and other maintenance jobs. Doug lived in a tent in the woods prior to coming to the village. Because of distance restrictions he was unable to go home after serving his time and had difficulty finding a place to live. “After I got into trouble I became homeless and couldn’t get a job so I lived 2,500 feet into the woods.”

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