Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo. McAlester, Oklahoma.

In my last post I mentioned the ubiquity of photographs of the Angola Prison Rodeo. Well, there’s another of these gladiatorial spectacles. It’s at Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester. And my friend Sol Neelman went there once.

Sol writes:

I remember sitting on a chair, trying to clear my head and thinking: “It’s a Friday night and I’m in Oklahoma at a prison rodeo. And I just got hit by a horse. WHAT?”

Yeah. Hit by a horse.

I was on the rodeo ground taking photos with a wide lens when I turned around and spotted two horses galloping right at me. One was out of control and a rider was trying to reign him in. I got caught in between the two. It happened fast. I remember thinking: “Uh-oh.” And that’s it. Total silence. Then I remember hearing (not seeing) someone talking to me, telling me I was alright and to have a seat in a chair.

The next day at the rodeo, everyone was asking me how I was doing. “You OK? I bet you’re sore!” I guess I had made a scene. Aside from my concussion, I had a small bruise on my right leg, where the horse had likely nailed me with his head. And yes, a sore, sore back.

Overall, I was very lucky. And I’ve been in wild situations like that all the time, one reason why I never feel fear or panic. I’m used to being in the middle of insanity. Plus, I’ve never had an accident: not in a car, not for work, and not by the hand, er, head of a bucking bronco.

While sitting in that chair, I kept thinking: Is this worth it? Is what I’m doing worth risking my health for?

Thing is, I know nothing else. I love so much what I do.

asenbrennerova

It’s a long list of things that makes Angola Prison aka Louisiana State Penitentiary the most photographed prison in the United States. Top of that list is the fact of the prison rodeo.

Add Jana Asenbrennerova to the list of the many photographers who’ve been there before.

 

The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, 2013 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

There’s something about Simon Roberts’ photographic surveys of England that leave me feeling a little uneasy. This is not a bad thing; better to feel something than nothing at all when encountering art.

I published a piece Very English Tourism Spots are Just Intensely Managed Distractions on Medium dealing with my hesitations.

I think my unease stems from the fact that while Roberts is critiquing the quirks of the English and riffing on nostalgia (certainly) and cliche (probably) there remains space in his work for massive misunderstanding — massive under-estimation to be precise.

Roberts’ work could be read as uncritically nationalistic by those who are already that way inclined. Although the ironic title of his latest series National Property: The Imperfect Picturesque directs people away from simplistic and politicised readings of the photographs, the scenes he captures are nonetheless relatively bucolic. They smack of the quaint English countryside and of honest folks at leisure (which they are) but they leave so much of England and experiences of people in England out too.

Trough House Bridge, Eskdale, Cumbria, 2014, 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

I’m hesitant to frame this even as an argument. It’s hardly fair to critique something on that which it is stated not to be. And Roberts, nor any other photographer, can be held accountable for the jingositic readings of work by pockets of distant audience.

Many English photographers (Parr, Dench, Stuart) hold a mirror up to their nation with biting snark. Roberts’ mirror is little more removed, less in your face and returns images that are not immediately or obviously critical.

All of these are still forming thoughts. It is one of the luxuries of being a blogger, that with enough caveats, you can share early thoughts and canvas response. So, what do you think?

Read Very English Tourism Spots are Just Intensely Managed Distractions.

Willy Lott’s House at Flatford, East Bergholt, Suffolk, 2014. 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

Penshaw Monument, Penshaw, Tyne and Wear, 2013. 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.

State Business-Chapter III

Verint Israel and NICE System Monitoring Center, Astana, Kazakhstan 2014.

Much of my weekend was spent putting a final editing-touches on the latest Vantage article Panopticon For Sale. The piece, details trade between authoritarian regimes (such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and others) and corporations that manufacture and maintain cyber-surveillance.

The author, Mari Bastashevski, spent 12 months researching this shady industry —  trailing paper work, filing FOIA requests, interviewing and protecting sources, and corroborating statements. Many previously unreported (but commonly suspected) business relations uncovered by Bastashevski have been confirmed by information included in the July 5th hack of Hacking Team (a company that manufactures surveillance technologies) when the identities of its clients were posted online.

As Bastashevski writes in her closing statements:

Companies like NICE, Gamma Group, Verint, and Hacking Team, who sell this power to governments for which “watched a YouTube protests video” constitutes criminal behaviour become co-arbiters of what is and isn’t a “wrong act”. Yet for the companies, much like for their clients, their own secrecy remains absolute and proprietary: not something for press consumption, researchers, or advocates.

Private corporations are facilitating the unfettered surveillance of citizens by paranoid rulers.

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NICE Systems HQ, Ra’anana, Israel 2014.

The comparatively unregulated republics in the post-Soviet region are proving grounds for the shit that the power hungry can get away with.

I’ll stop yelling now, encourage you to read Bastashevski’s #longread, and leave you with an my editor’s foreword to further convince you to take in Bastashevki’s text and images.

This is a narrative built upon information that’s incredibly difficult to verify. Outside of the community of privacy advocates and cyber-surveillance researchers, no-one really saw this story, or necessarily knew what it was or why it mattered. That’s because everything that Bastashevski was looking at — or looking for — is invisible, confidential or both.

When Hacking Team was itself hacked, Bastashevski felt vindicated. Not only did the hack confirm the presence of Hacking Team in countries she investigated, it also confirmed the presence of other companies she knew were providing surveillance to those countries. The lies and questionable dealings of a catastrophic industry were laid bare.

“To photograph or to look at what exists on the verge of catastrophe,” critic Ariella Azoulay once wrote, “the photographer must first assume she has a reason to be in the place of the nonevent or event that never was, which no one has designated as the arena of an event in any meaningful way. She, or those who dispatch her, must suspend the concerns of the owners of the mass media regarding the ratings of the finished product and with her camera begin to sketch a new outline capable of framing the nonevent. Photographing what exists the verge of catastrophe thus is an act that suspends the logic of newsworthiness.”

By virtue of hackers’ actions, and not the logic of the news industry, I find myself in a position to publish Bastashevski’s remarkable findings. A condensed version of this work was exhibited at Musee de Elysee and published in the Prix Elysee catalogue (Musee de Elysee, December 2014). It has since been expanded to include a review of targets and surveillance in Azerbaijan, and cross references of the recent evidence obtained through Hacking Team leak.

This is not a photo essay but rather an essay with photos. Bastashevki makes photographs, in many ways, to show her stories cannot be photographed. These images are way-markers along roads of discovery.

Read the full piece Panopticon For Sale and see more large images.

State Business-Chapter III

Ministry of Communication Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2014.

State Business-Chapter III

SNB lunch spot, secure Gazalkent district, Tashkent Uzbekistan. 2014.

State Business-Chapter III

Monitoring centre (roof) -Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 2014. Location where data obtained with Hacking Team, Nice Systems, and Verint Technologies is analysed and processed.

State Business-Chapter III

PU-data collection point Kazakhtelecom-Almaty, Kazakhstan, 2014.

State Business-Chapter III

Presidential Palace and MNS HQ, Baku, Azerbaijan 2013.

State Business-Chapter III

State Business-Chapter III

Inside Verint Israel HQ, Herzliya Pituach, Israel 2014.

State Business Chapter III

Transaction — Dedeman Silk Road Radisson Blu, Tashkent ,Uzbekistan. 2014.

All images: Mari Bastashevski

abolishsolitary

Statewide Coordinated Action to End Solitary Confinement, Oakland

Critical Resistance, today, reflected back upon the California Prisoner Hunger Strike, which had several iterations beginning in 2011 and culminating in 2013.

The update:

Two years ago today, the largest prisoner hunger strike in California’s history was started by prisoners in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. Within the first month of the strike, over 30,000 in California’s prisons had joined, raising the call for the five core demands in unified struggle. The strikers received overwhelming support, with prisoners from across the U.S., in Guantanamo Bay, and as far as Palestine sending statements of solidarity. Outside prison walls, families, loved ones, and organizers elevated the imprisoned voices to an international scale, sparking solidarity actions all over the world, and even prompting the U.N. to call on California to end the use of solitary.

However, the struggle continues. The prison regime has refused to meet the strikers’ demands in any meaningful way, opting to demonize and repress prisoners.

A class action lawsuit brought on behalf of Pelican Bay solitary prisoners in 2012 is ongoing despite numerous attempts by the state to weaken and halt it. Importantly, grassroots organizing has been reinvigorated, with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition organizing statewide coordinated actions on the 23rd of each month since March of this year to continue raising awareness and building the movement to end solitary, with the actions growing larger across the state.

In the words of Todd Ashker, one of the hunger strike leaders, “I personally believe the prisoncrats’ efforts to turn the global support we have gained for our cause against us will fail […] CDCr rhetoric indicates desperation – a very concerning desperation in the sense that it is demonstrative of CDCr’s top administrators’ intent to continue their culture of dehumanization, torture and other types of abusive policies and practices […] Our key demands remain unresolved. The primary goal is abolishing indefinite SHU and Ad Seg confinement and related torturous conditions.”

Especially in the wake of Riker’s Island scandal and Kalief Browder’s death, the nation is aware of widespread torture — by means of solitary confinement — in U.S. prisons. But, a few years ago the issue was only just beginning to register on the national conscience. It cannot be overstated how vital California prisoners’ efforts (with support from families and allies outside) led the march against this abusive and invisible practice.

Two long and short years … depending on which side of the box you are.

Also, not to be missed is this extended, #longread analysis of the situation two years on by the indubitable Vikki Law at Truthout, Two Years After Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, What’s Changed for People Inside the Prison?

Law writes:

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to claim that “there is no ‘solitary confinement’ in California’s prisons and the SHU is not ‘solitary confinement,'” but people inside the Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit say they remain locked in for at least 23 hours per day. Meanwhile, in June 2015, the CDCR released proposed new regulations around its use of the security housing unit and administrative segregation – regulations that may, in part, curb participation in future strikes and other prison protests. […] The regulations are currently going through the required public comment period in which any member of the public, incarcerated or otherwise, can submit written comments. A public hearing is scheduled for August 7, 2015.

Author Todd Ashker, who was locked in the security housing unit at the Pelican Bay State Prison, disagrees with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s assertion that its prisons do not have solitary confinement.

In a 13-page typed statement, Ashker describes how, along with over 1,000 other people, he is locked for 25 years of his life into 11-by-seven-foot cells for at least 22 hours a day. The security housing unit cells have no windows and their doors face a wall so that those inside cannot see each other through the door slot. Any time they are taken out of their cells – for a shower, a visit or an hour of recreation in an exercise cage – they are handcuffed and ankle chained.

“What would it be like to have one’s bodily contact with others reduced to the fastening and unfastening of restraints, punctuated with the most intimate probing of the surface and depths of one’s body?” Ashker writes in his statement.

Solitary still exists and for long as it does, and for as many years tick by, it must be opposed. By us. We.

a cr

petebrook:

Two years on from the culmination of the California Hunger Strike (and without adequate response from the state) let’s consider what is at stake. These photos. These spaces.

Originally posted on California Prison Watch:

We received these photos and the descriptions from Alice Lynd, a supporter, friend and comrade in the fight against injustices. Thank you Alice and Todd:

Dear Supporters of prisoners in security housing units:
I have scanned and attached five photographs that were taken of Todd Ashker’s cell in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison, Short Corridor, in July 2007. Todd asked us to share them with whoever is interested.

Todd Ashker has been in a Security Housing Unit (SHU) for more than 25 years, since August 1986, and in the Pelican Bay SHU nearly 22 years, since May 2, 1990. The following is his description of the attached photographs.

#1 Front view of cell D1-119. The locked tray slot is where I get my food trays, mail, etc.

#2 View from approximately one step inside cell door area. View if of the 2 cement slab bunks. Note, back concrete…

View original 211 more words

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A small, unbreakable tin wall mirror in a solitary cell. Reflection is of a slatted window. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo for New York Magazine.

The suicide of Kalief Browder was the latest, most tragic reminder of how much of a hell hole Rikers Island is. It was the combined effects of broken bail and juvenile prison systems that killed Kalief.

Take your pick of the coverage from The Guardian and the New York Times, to New York Magazine. What has been consistent in the coverage of Rikers as information about conditions and treatment is that visuals have been limited and it has relied on the progression of lawsuits and news FOIA requests. Whistleblowers have been few and far between and prisoners’ testimonies are notoriously difficult to verify.

vid

An August 2013 fight in the George R. Vierno Center, caught on surveillance tape.

That makes the recent feature Rikers Island, Population 9,790, a joint effort between The Marshall Project and New York Magazine noteworthy. In the expansive effort involving more than half a dozen journalists, we hear from a couple who both went to Rikers in the same year (she was pregnant); a teacher on Rikers; a couple of recent prisoners; an officer, the commissioner of the department of corrections; a girlfriend of a slain prisoner; a former volunteer-librarian; various visitors; a mental health professional; and others.

The selection of imagery (as well as an overview map) is one of the most diverse visual presentations of Rikers that I have seen online. It includes Ashley Gilbertson‘s straight shots from common areas, wings and solitary cells, Ruth Fremson‘s work from the kitchen, surveillance video stills, photos of prisoners by Clara Vannucci and Julie Jacobson, Instagram images found under the hashtag #Rikers, environmental studies by Librado Romero, and archival photos by my friend and former correctional officer Lorenzo Steele Jr.

Bravo to the photo editors of The Marshall Project and New York Magazine.

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The recreation center at the bing. Photo: Officer Lorenzo Steele Jr.

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Contraband, including jail-made weapons and drugs. Photo: New York City Department of Correction via AP.

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The view from Instagram, #Rikers: Clockwise from left: The bridge to Rikers; bathroom graffiti inside the vistors center; the new maximum-security wing; the entrace to a chapel; a correction officer at an adolescent unit; an exercise and recreation area. Photo: Kelsey Jorgenson/Edgar Sandoval/JB Nicholas/Bryan R. Smith/JR/Gee Force.

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Prisoners at “Rosie’s” the women’s unit. Photo: Clara Vannucci.

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Inside a solitary-confinement cell. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo for New York Magazine.

Grassland21

New piece over on Vantage about photographer H. Lee‘s embed on a Humboldt County weed farm.

In 2010, Lee spent a year running up to the fiercely contested Proposition 19 documenting the activities on a pot farm.

Prop. 19 was a ballot initiative that proposed regulation and taxing of the California marijuana industry. Small-holding growers feared its passage would mean the destruction of their livelihoods. Lee had been visiting the pot farm for 8 years prior but never made an image. Then, in 2010, when massive and crushing change loomed, she took up her camera.

 H. Lee is a psuedonym. Promising subjects their anonymity by proxy of her own just made things easier.

“I gave my word to the people I photographed — whether I shot their faces, body parts, plants or farms — that I would use a pseudonym when presenting the work,” says Lee. “I only photographed those who were willing to be photographed.”

Prop 19 was voted down in November 2010.

Read the full story and see photos very large at Vantage: Inside the California Weed Industry

Grassland is published by Kehrer Verlag. Follow the Grassland on Facebook and Twitter.

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