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Dress, Burgu #325 Tirana, 2008 © Annaleen Louwes

In the Spring of 2008, Dutch photographer Annaleen Louwes was artist-in-residence at Ali Demi Women’s Prison in Tirana, Albania. The prison welcomed Louwes as part of a wider philosophy of rehabilitation. “Louwes’ portraits constitute a diary of individuals, without emphasizing the circumstances or context in which these women live,” says the website of the Albanian Directorate General of Prisons.

She shot photographs every day and brought prints the next day. So the group of women who wanted to come to the little photo-studio she installed in the library, grew day by day, ” says FOAM Magazine. “They started to ask her to reproduce the pictures they had of their mother or lost child. She got a very intimate view on their lives in that way. At the same time she became their photographic tool and they made all kind of collages with the photographs she had made and they already kept.”

At the end of the two month residency, Annaleen presented the series Burgu #325, in For Those Who Cannot Enter, a joint-exhibition with her fellow artists in residence.

All in all, this seems like a remarkable “intervention” with art into this particular penal site. Not only did the women gain rehabilitative worth in the act of photography, they gained actual commodity value in the photographs. This value was eventually cashed in for emotional attachment when the photos made it into the hands of distant family members.

Furthermore, female prisoners from Ali Demi were granted a 2-hour day-release to visit the show at Galeria Zeta!

In thinking about Louwes’ work, my thoughts return once again back to the logistics of a photography workshop inside a prison. I’ve learnt that photo workshops used to be common in America, that they still continue abroad (Louwes being one example) and they occasional crop up in juvenile detention facilities in the U.S. today. But they have waned, disappeared.

I don’t expect prison administration to offer day leave to prisoners to see final artworks in place, but I would encourage them to think of the rehabilitative value of photography and self-representation behind bars. And to think about workshops.

Hair, Burgu #325, Tirana, 2008 © Annaleen Louwes

The Tirana Institute of Contemporary Art (TICA) operates a rolling Artist-In-Residence (A.I.R.) program. For the fourth A.I.R. (April and May, 2008), alongside artists Yllka Gjollesha & Syabhit Shkreli, Annaleen Louwes worked in I.E.V.P ‘Ali Demi’ Prison, Tirana.

A.I.R. #4 was made possibly with the support of FONDS BKVB of the Netherlands and the support of Ms. Marinela Sota, Director of Ali Demi. The resulting exhibition For Those Who Can Not Enter was on show at Galeria Zeta, May 27 – June 20, 2008.

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