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There’s a beguiling animated feature up on the website of Australia’s Global Mail. Illustrated by Sam Wallman, the piece tells the story of a former worker at an immigrant detention facility and how he — along with those locked up — slowly lost his mind. The detention center (we should all just call it a prison) was, and is, a incubator for illogic and for cruelty. An atmosphere that only rewards dehumanisation persists.
The facility is operated by the Serco Group, a British-based multinational corporation with interests and operations in logistics, security, government contracts across the world . It seems detention facilities are a boom sector for a company like Serco which operates all of Australia’s detention facilities. Serco hit the headlines late last year in Britain when it faced allegations of covering up extensive sexual predation and abuse at Yarl’s Wood, the UK’s largest immigration detention center for women.
As I’ve noted before, Australian’s are worried about Serco’s practices.
Not photography, but in this case, more powerful than a photograph. Maybe it’s the human touch within a pen stroke?
Thanks to Gemma Rose-Turnbull (an Australian) for the tip.
14/38 (Not The Man I Once Was) © Amy Elkins, from the series Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night
Cruel and Unusual, the 2012 exhibition of photographs from prisons, co-curated by Hester Keijser and I is on the move.
In 2013, continuing its journey, Cruel and Unusual will travel to Sydney, Australia for the Reportage Photography Festival, May 24th – June 13th. It was selected by Photoville as one of three exhibits. To be shown alongside Russell Frederick’s Dying Breed: Photos of Bedford Stuyvesant and Bruce Gilden/Magnum Foundation’s No Place Like Home: Foreclosures in America.
As one presentation ends, another begins. Cruel and Unusual travels to the Sirius Art Center in Cobh, Ireland. On view from June 13th – July 22nd. Hester will be doing a talk at the reception on June 22nd at 2pm.
I’m really happy to see the exhibition live on, and grateful to those who are making it happen.
Special thanks to Peg Amison at Sirius Arts Center, to Sam Barzilay at Photoville, Olaf and the team at Noorderlicht for their ongoing support.
Prison Workers © Ricky Maynard
Ricky Maynard‘s No More Than What You See is an old project, but tackles a subject I’ve not featured before.
Following the report Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991), self-taught photographer Maynard was compelled to look at the prisons of South Australia, including Cadell Training Centre, the Yatala Labour Prison, and the Northfield Prison Complex.
Maynard (born 1953 Launceston, Tasmania, Australia) explains in his 1993 grant winning Fifty Crows portfolio:
If you are Aboriginal in Australia you are 15 times more likely than a non-Aboriginal to spend time in jail. I felt that it was important for a Koorie (Aboriginal) photographer to record some aspects of what was happening to our people at this time. After all, the Australian Government spent millions of dollars and produced hundreds of pages of reports, but little that Aboriginal people could relate to. It seemed to me that a few strong images had the potential to convey more than all those words. We needed something that people could relate to, visual proof of the times and the experiences, for both Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people.
There are things in this picture you cannot see. “I enter here only with a pair of jocks. The walls are made of rubber and the blankets are made of canvas.” © Ricky Maynard
“When I fainted in the streets the cops just threw me into the back of the van head first. Now they bring me here and it’s so cold.” © Ricky Maynard
“There are no mirrors, all the ones we have here are steel so that you never can see yourself, you’re always distorted.” © Ricky Maynard
“I’ve let my frustrations go, and I wonder about the others, will they let their frustrations out here or release them on the community? I often wonder, with the experience I have of frequently visiting this place, how different I will be when I get released from prison.” © Ricky Maynard
These are portraits, not mugshots. Luminous, cathartic, full of weight. They’re the pre-August Sander, pre-Richard Avedon, pre-Irving Penn masterpieces of an anonymous police photographer.
PREVIOUSLY ON PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY
All images from the Historic Houses Trust website and the New South Wales Police Archives, Sydney.
Friend of Prison Photography, Emiliano Granado, likes football as much as he rocks at photography.
We pooled our knowledge to pair each country competing in South Africa with a photographer of the same nationality.
ALG Algeria – Christian Poveda
ENG England – Stephen Gill
SVN Slovenia – Klavdij Sluban (French of Slovenian origin … I know, I know, but you try to find a Slovenia born photographer!)
USA United States – Bruce Davison
Emiliano has been posting images from each of the photographers and doubled up on a few nations where the talent pool is teeming. You can see them all over on his Tumblr account, A PILE OF GEMS
* Don’t even begin arguing about who should represent the USA. It is a never-ending debate.
* I’ll be honest, finding photographers for the African nations was tricky, even for a web-search-dork like myself. But then we knew about the shortcomings of distribution and promotion within the industry, didn’t we?
* For Chile, we had to look to the past legend Larrain. I’ll be grateful if someone suggest a living practitioner.
* North Korean photographer, by name, anyone? We had to fall back on van Houtryve because he got inside the DPR.
* Rineke Dijkstra was one of approximately 4 thousand-trillion dutch photographers who are everywhere.
* Araki was the easy choice. Ill admit – I know next to nothing about Japanese photography (Marc, help?)
* I wanted a few more political photographers in there, while Emiliano goes for arty stuff. I think we found a nice balance overall.
* And, SERIOUSLY, name me a Paraguayan photographer! PLEASE.
Let me be clear, I don’t like private prisons. The need for profit to satisfy shareholders allows for cost cutting that can deprive a system (and its inmates) much-needed resources and possibly rehabilitative opportunities.
This is a general opposition but I currently see nothing to suggest the mandate of private prisons is anything more than that to securely hold its wards.
Andrew Leigh, an Australian economist is suggesting a third way which conjoins market incentives with successful reentry practices. He wants to see prisons with the lowest recidivism rates among its released inmates to reap financial award.
“Providers are penalised if inmates harm themselves or others and rewarded if they do the paperwork correctly. Yet the contracts say nothing about life after release. A private prison operator receives the same remuneration regardless of whether released inmates lead healthy and productive lives, or become serial killers.
“A smarter way to run private jails would be to contract for the outcomes that matter most. For example, why not pay bonuses for every prisoner who retains a job after release and does not re-offend? Given the right incentives, private prisons might be able to actually teach the public sector a few lessons on how to run an effective rehabilitation program.”
This comes from an article “Shock, An Economist Has a Good Idea!” While I’d temper such enthusiasm, I would like to see the idea investigated a little more. It could lead to private prisons committed to aggressive Research and Development in practices that lower recidivism.
My only worry would be that they’d compete for a finite amount of money and merely create a static ecosystem of excelling, well-funded prisons vs. forsaken, poor-funded prisons.
Jolted by photographs from this ludicrous Alcatraz Hotel in Kaiserslauten, Germany I recalled an article about prisons & jails converted to tourist accommodations. I guess it makes sense to convert solid and culture-worn stone fortresses into chic hotels such as at the Charles Street Jail/Liberty Hotel, Boston (it seems a shame to waste all that cool masonry) but a prison-theme is downright tacky.
I like the no-nonsense approach of Mount Gambier Jail in Australia which “markets its rooms as budget accommodations for cheapskates and backpackers”. Oxford Castle/Malmaison Hotel in the UK retained the open cell tiers of the prison, just adding some mood uplights for the new plastered ceiling.
Not to be outshone, the Japanese go the farthest in recreating the prison-spectacle with handcuffs, dungeon-krunk, lethally injected cocktails and salads that refer to incest?! Don’t quite understand the link for that last one …
I’d like to begin a discussion here about recuperation, but that is presuming there was ever an element of resistance or meaningful political opposition from these various sites. All we can say for certain is the current histories of these spaces are gradually erasing those of the past.
Lee Grant contacted me a few months ago to tell me of her project Belco Pride – an institutional portrait of the now empty Belconnen Remand Centre. ‘Belco’ was a small facility designed for 17 people, but according to Lee housing approximately 70 toward the end. Officially, the capacity is/was “under revision”.
The remand prisoners have since been relocated to the Alexander Maconochie Centre, which is talked up as Australia’s first prison built in accordance with the Geneva Convention (more on that in a later post).
After inmate rehousing, but before total closure, Grant took another opportunity to tour the facility, “thanks to an open day … billed, believe it or not, as a family event. And the families were out in force …”
Therefore, I was happy to see Lee post a few of her images from the ongoing series. I particularly liked these two pairings which are a wry juxtaposition.
Shortly thereafter my enjoyment turned to bafflement.
In Lee’s description of the open day she mentioned that the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” was clearly visible to all arriving visitors. This flat out shocked me. On Lee’s blog, I commented,
There is no correlation between Nazi concentration camps and modern Australian prisons. The inclusion of the phrase is confusing and offensive.
I had originally mistaken the facility, thinking the quote was on view at an opening for the new prison and not, as the case was, a closing of the old. Still, wonder remains at this crude and ill-advised allusion.
It may well be possible that the quote was already there from when detainees were being held (it was one of the first things you see on a whiteboard as you walk into the processing area of the facility). Though this is no excuse, it may partially explain why it wasn’t removed and as you stated, it is to some extent an indictment of the culture and thinking of some people who work in the prison system.
Interestingly I vaguely remember the local paper referring to the quote though I don’t recall the reporter making any association to Nazi concentration camps. I shall let you know if I find any more answers but I hope this helps a little bit.
[I will be sure to post any developments – be they images or elaborations on this peculiar alignment of geography, phrase and history.]
Like Lee, I do not want to judge individuals working in Corrective Services. Instead, I’ll simply say that systems in which workers operate along lines of strict procedure are likely to harbour casual and offensive attitudes. Workers are as disciplined as inmates in all prisons. So when individuals are subject to a system – relieved of actual decision making – there is no incentive to challenge objectionable attitudes.
For the best of the rest, check out Lee Grant’s Op Shop series, which proves that you can change the country and you can change the moniker (charity shop, UK; thrift store, USA) but the look, personnel, wares and atmosphere remain the same.