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Barack Obama is TIME’s Person Of The Year. The accolade is less interesting than Obama’s words in the TIME interview. The President of the United States talks about criminal justice and prison reform. Obama says,

“There’s a big chunk of that prison population, a great huge chunk of our criminal-justice system, that is involved in nonviolent crimes. I think we have to figure out what are we doing right to make sure that that downward trend in violence continues, but also, there are millions of lives out there that are being destroyed or distorted because we haven’t fully thought through our process.”

Granted it takes until the fifth page (of five) until we get to criminal justice issues. But, still. I’m going to say ‘wow’.

In November, I half-wrote a blog post about the complete absence of talk about criminal justice policy during the presidential debates. It never published; the details were more depressing than the simple fact. These words by Obama in some way make up for that. Watch this space. Watch Obama’s team.

via Prison Policy Initiative.

“We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy. Everything was very reactive. That’s how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don’t say, ‘What are we going to do with them afterwards?’ “

Former senior US intelligence officer. (Source)

 

Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania (RO) @ 44.36043300, 28.49149700

Mihail Kogalniceanu air base. Romania. @ 44.36043300, 28.49149700

 

Since 2001, the US has operated a program of rendition, illegal torture and operated a network of secret prisons and CIA “Black Sites”.

Men captured as part of the Bush and Obama administrations’ program were are interrogated, physically & psychologically beaten and denied human rights.

Images of these secret prisons are not common, but I’ve peppered this piece with a few just for the sake of the exercise.

At the top of this article is Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, Romania. It was used for “high-level” detainees from as early as 2005. Beneath is Kiejkuty Stare an illegal CIA prison just 20 miles away from Szymany airport, Poland. (source) It was used as early as 2005 and its function was confirmed in 2007. (source)

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the mastermind of 9/11″, claims he was submitted to waterboarding 183 times over a one-month period. New evidence suggests he was interrogated in Poland. (More from Der Spiegel here and here).

 

Kiejkuty Stare

 

 

Khalid Shiekh Mohammed

 

 

Diego Garcia Island, Indian Ocean, United Kingdom Territory. Rendition Flights Refuelled on the Island in 2002.

Diego Garcia Island, Indian Ocean, United Kingdom Territory. Rendition Flights Refuelled on the Island in 2002.

 

The UK Government provided infrastructural support for America’s extraordinary rendition program allowing rendition flights to refuel on Diego Garcia (above), a British territory in the Indian Ocean. (More here and here).

- – -

Below is the plan of a cell used during the 19 month illegal detention of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni national. Salon reports:

Bashmilah’s story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.

In 2007, Salon did a thorough job in describing his detention and its aftermath, even presenting plans based on Bashmilah’s descriptions of torture and interrogation rooms. No-one knows for certain where these cells were, but it is suspected they were within Afghanistan.

 

Rendering of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah's first cell in Afghanistan (based on Bashmilah's own drawings). Courtesy of Salon.com

Exhibit I: Rendering of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah's first cell in Afghanistan (based on Bashmilah's own drawings). Source: Salon.com

 

 

Washington Post

In Afghanistan, the largest CIA covert prison was code-named the Salt Pit, at center left above. (Space Imaging Middle East). Source: Washington Post

 

The most notorious Black Site in Afghanistan is referred to as ‘The Salt Pit’.

The Salt Pit brings us to Trevor Paglen‘s geography, photography and investigative academics, but first let me point out a couple more excellent resources.

When the details of rendition broke in 2007, Jane Mayer led the exposé with her book The Dark Side. Read a book review here and her extended New Yorker essay here.

FRONTLINE produced this astonishing interactive graphic showing all the illegal prisons and all the US aviation front-companies used for the rendition flights. That map is part of a larger presentation with interviews, time-lines and further resources.

More recently, Anand Gopal has revealed the US military’s still recent tactic against the Taliban in Afghanistan of by-night kidnappings. The result? The US has lost the support of the Afghan people toward the American project. Read America’s Secret Afghan Prisons here.

Just this month, Stephen Lendman summarised the January 26th UN Human Rights Council (HRC) report ‘Joint study on global practices in relation to secret detention in the context of countering terrorism’ which details practices by various countries “including America, by far the world’s worst offender in its war on terror.” The full report is here (Word) or here (pdf).

Lendman’s words The truth is shocking:

“Besides Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, HRC said the CIA runs scores of offshore secret prisons in over 66 countries worldwide for dissidents and alleged terrorists – in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Thailand, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere.” (Source)

More summary at Talk Left.

Onward. Now, Paglen …

TREVOR PAGLEN

The two images below are by Trevor Paglen. The first is the Salt Pit and the second is a military jail in Kabul. They are also his most ordinary of images … the only images he could capture in the circumstances.

Paglen isn’t primarily concerned with prisons; he is concerned with all the unseen activity of the military industrial complex – aviation companies, air strips, covert ops, air bases, Pentagon annual budget projections, spy satellites, shadow NASA reconnaissance agencies … the list goes on.

After meeting Emiliano Granado last Summer, he posted a good one-stop description of Paglen’s work. Granado also posted some good examples of Paglen’s Limit Telephotography and The Other Night Sky series. Check those out and then skip to Paglen’s lecture at the foot of this post.

 

The Salt Pit is located in an old brick factory a few miles northeast of Kabul, along an isolated back-road connecting Kabul to Bagram.

The Salt Pit, Shomali Plains Northeast of Kabul, Afghanistan. Trevor Paglen: The Salt Pit is located in an old brick factory a few miles northeast of Kabul, along an isolated back-road connecting Kabul to Bagram.

 

 

This site was brought to my attention by Afghan journalists and human rights activists in Kabul. The code name of this site remains unknown.

Black Site, Kabul, Afghanistan. Trevor Paglen: This site was brought to my attention by Afghan journalists and human rights activists in Kabul. The code name of this site remains unknown.

 

LECTURE

I have waited for a long time for an online presentation of Paglen’s oeuvre to which I could refer PP readers. (Thanks Alejandro!)

It’s quite the thrill to be brought in on Paglen’s sleuth work, as he walks us through the various public records used to piece together the rendition program. If you can spare an hour this weekend, you’ll be thankful for the education!

FORTHCOMING BOOK

Paglen’s work is to be published by Aperture in a book titled INVISIBLE. You can see Paglen and publisher Lesley Martin discussing the project here.

 

© Chris Maluszynski/Agence VU

Guantanamo © Chris Maluszynski/Agence VU

 

 

 

 

Courtesy of The Department of Defense Visual Information Center

Guantanamo Bay Tents. Courtesy of The Department of Defense Visual Information Center

 

I am very happy with the way Prison Photography is progressing. I have done interviews with some outstanding photographers and artists. I have offered opinion where I think there’s something to be said. The most satisfying work on the blog is that contributed by guest bloggers, comment-makers and interviewees. Photographers have contacted me and I have been eager to comment upon their work.

But, there is one audience I never anticipated – The Google Image Search Audience. I get many hits for searches on Guantanamo, Guantanamo video, Iraq prison, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib Images of Prisoners, etc, etc – which is strange because these are topics that many people have grappled over with more proficiency and depth than I am likely to.

It is obvious that there is a need for fast access to images of America’s sites of torture and incarceration, namely Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. I certainly don’t wish to fuse the two institutional histories so I shall deal only with Guantanamo Bay.

Louie Palu

Walrus Magazine. 8 of Palu’s photographs and accompanying article.

The Atlantic. 6 of Palu’s photographs.

Private galleries. Palu’s Photoshelter profile offers three separate galleries, but they’re password protected. Contact the photographer directly.

NPR Interview. Palu offered insight into his experience and impressions of Guantanamo.

Christopher Sims

Mother Jones. 15 images of daily life outside of the prison complex.

Civilian Arts Project. 25 images of a bizarrely serene Guantanamo Naval Base.

BBC, The Other Side of Guantanamo. Article about Sims’ series.

Daylight Magazine. 4 minute audio of Sims’ experiences on project.

Chris Maluszynski

Agence VU/Moment. Twenty-six images exhibited. Likely more on file at the agency.

Cesar Vera

Guantanamo Prison. 18 Black & White images. 3 Colour.

Joint Task Force (JTF)

Many of the photographs shown in the press over the last few years were taken by members of the Navy’s own Joint Task Force. When press photographers visited the JTF vetted all images before release.

Boston Globe. 30 Hi-Res images.

Repeat of above selection. 20 Hi-Res images selected.

JTF Photo Galleries. 22 months (July 2007 – May 2009). Hundreds of images. Official photography.

Miami Herald

Description of the 8 different camps at Guantanamo

Explanation of the Legal contexts: Key defendants, the judges, the defense and prosecution counsel.

Cursory look at Art influenced by Guantanamo

Magnum

Bruce Gilden. Guantanamo Bay. Enemy Combatant Camps, 2003

Paolo Pellegrin. Guantanamo Detainees, 2006

Stuart Franklin’s work Cuba, 2003, included images from Guantanamo and you’ll need to search the Magnum website for images.

McClatchy

An eight-month McClatchy investigation of the detention system created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has found that the U.S. imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba into a school for jihad.

Intro. Text and 11 minute video.

Photos. Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay

Photos. Faces of Guantanamo Detainees. Part one.

Photos. Faces of Guantanamo Detainees. Part two.

Photos. Detainees held in Afghanistan.

Eyeballing

Comprehensive overview of base using Google Maps, official photographs. Details structures, uses and topography of naval base.

Camp America, Camp Delta, Camp V and Administrative & Court building.

Camp X-ray and construction of later detention camps.

Maximum Security facility

Associated Press

Images of Detainee existence.

Images of facilities and interiors of various detention blocks and camps.

Stars & Stripes “The Independent News Source for the U.S. Military Community”

Work at Guantanamo

Education at Guantanamo

Recreation at Guantanamo

Artistic Turns

David Hicks. Virtual Guantanamo Cell

Penny Byrne. Porcelain Guantanamo Detainee Figurines

Gregor Schneider. 21 Cells, Bondi Beach, Australia

Legofesto. Guantanamo reconfigured with Lego men and Lego pieces and Wired Interview

Flickr – Protest Images

Amnesty International. Guantanamo Protests

Various Photographers. 100 Days to Close Guantanamo and End Torture.

James M. Thorne. Protest images.

Miscellaneous Media

Prisoners of War. 2004 article by the San Francisco Gray Panthers with images of US airforce  transporting detainees and early 2003 images of Camp X-Ray.

BBC. Life in a Guantanamo Cell

 

Rendition. Photographer Unknown

Rendition. Photographer Unknown

 

 

© Cesar Vera

© Cesar Vera

 

 

Guantanamo Bay Navel Base with a New Commander-in-Chief. Photographer Unknown. http://www.obamalouverture.com/f39/guantanamo-bay-switch-bush-photo-obama.html

Guantanamo Bay Navel Base with a New Commander-in-Chief. Photographer Unknown. http://www.obamalouverture.com/f39/guantanamo-bay-switch-bush-photo-obama.html

 

 

The standard issue of clothing, sleeping mat, food, sandles, canteen, soap, and buckets for detainees of Camp X-Ray is pictured in Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002. Tomas van Houtryve/AP Photo

The standard issue of clothing, sleeping mat, food, sandles, canteen, soap, and buckets for detainees of Camp X-Ray is pictured in Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002. © Tomas van Houtryve/AP Photo

 

 

CUBA. Guantanamo Bay. 2003. Soldiers wait for their meals before a prayer breakfast at Camp America. Photo: Bruce Gilden/Magnum

CUBA. Guantanamo Bay. 2003. Soldiers wait for their meals before a prayer breakfast at Camp America. Photo: Bruce Gilden/Magnum

 

 

Penny Byrne Guantanamo Bay Souvenirs 2007, vintage figurines, metal chains, epoxy resin, plastic, re-touching medium, powder pigments, 14 x 32 x 10 cm.

Penny Byrne Guantanamo Bay Souvenirs 2007, vintage figurines, metal chains, epoxy resin, plastic, re-touching medium, powder pigments, 14 x 32 x 10 cm.

 

 

 

IF YOU HAVE ANY RESOURCES TO SUGGEST,

PLEASE CONTACT ME AND I’LL ADD THEM TO THIS LIST.

1

The blogo-photo-sphere has been spinning the past couple of days with the 2009 Pulitzer Prize announcements. Damon Winter took one gong for “his memorable array of pictures deftly capturing multiple facets of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.” (Featured Photography). Patrick Farrell secured the other with his “provocative, impeccably composed images of despair after Hurricane Ike and other lethal storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.” (Breaking News Story)

Winter’s images are eye-catching, but to be honest I am suffering from ‘Obama-fatigue’. So saturated were we with so many high-quality images of the new 44th President, I now look for different material. A quick shufties through Winters website revealed all. His portraits of sports stars show a precocious willing to improvise with technique and composition. Winter has a seriously sentimental side also epitomised by his portraits of American Olympians from the 1984 Los Angeles games.

I guess, my hope is that he doesn’t become known as ‘that guy that did Obama’ … which is why I am more interested in his Angola Prison Rodeo photojournalism.

4

The rodeo featuring the prisoners of Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, is an old – even traditional – event in the Louisiana calendar. Damon Winter is one of many photographers that have covered the community event. It is a raucous spectacle that brings together populations in and outside of the prison.

I still cannot reconcile this event my existing ethics which this event. There’s a charge that the rodeo is exploitative entertainment for which prisoners can suffer serious injury. Yet, I have not witnessed the rodeo-weekend first hand and I have read in the past that this is an event that provides long-term focus and short-term adulation for the prisoner-competitors. All I want to do is bring Winter’s photographs to your attention and hope they’ll compete with Obama for your attentions!

3

Winter’s pictures capture the strong forces and consequent risks of rodeo competition. I deliberately picked his colour images. The black & white stripes of inmates harry within Winter’s ‘red, white and blue’ palette. The star-spangled palette imbues the series with patriotism, pomp and faux-purpose. I almost feel we are subliminally less inclined to question Angola’s unique display of pseudo-gladiatorial entertainment when the games are suffused with hues of the American flag.

2

_________________________________________________________

View Damon Winter’s Obama campaign coverage for the New York Times, and listen to an audio interview with Winter about his experiences. Winter and PDN did an interview in 2008.

Chris Jordan was low on my list of priorities but this timely post by Mike Kelley at Change.org (a blog as impressive for its readers’ comments as it is for the straight forward presentation of Jordan’s work) compelled me to bump it up and champion the depressingly and unfathomable figures that arise when one simply runs the numbers.

Chris Jordan. Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005. The U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. 10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005. The U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world.

In reading Change.org’s straight forward commentary on America’s broken criminal justice system, I signed up for Change.org and read a few of their older posts. In doing so I was presented with the catalyst to comment on Obama’s momentous inauguration without repeating the media-lovefest that has surrounded the 44th’s swearing in. This post will cover Jordan’s astounding artwork, Obama’s astounding tasks-at-hand and where they politically overlap.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Partial zoom.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Partial zoom.

Chris Jordan has spent his time making larger and larger photographic constructions to communicate the scale at which American society wastes its resources, its environmental future and its grasp on logic. In his effort to catalogue the linear and thoughtless waste of the US, he has progressed from crushed automobiles, to cell phone chargers, to polystyrene cups to American prisoners.

Jordan is a bright guy, now consumed by his photography (which to be quite frank is eco-hip and brilliantly executed). He talks passionately about a sea-change in our cultural consumption. He specialises in highlighting “the behaviours that we all engage in unconsciously on a collective level … the actions we are in denial about and the ones that operate below our daily awareness … like when you’re mean to you wife because you’re mad about something else or when you drink too much at a party because you’re nervous.” Jordan is no prophet, he just sees the necessary u-turn we must all make in our habits and thoughts to move toward sustainable existence.

Prison Uniforms, 2007. 10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Detail at half actual size.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. 10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Detail at half actual size.

I like to think the strength of Jordan’s visual framework that deals with soda cans to the landfill as it does with prisoners to the cell blocks is deliberate. As hard as it is to acknowledge, the majority of Americans have turned their back on a seven-figure-minority as if it were worth no more thought than discarded packaging. Mass imprisonment is the result of widespread apathy, denial and unpinnable responsibility. How unconscionable is this situation? We are all responsible. Barack Obama talked very little about criminal justice and prison policy during his electioneering. This is not surprising as helping the invisible incarcerated masses is on the electorate’s mind as much as the whereabouts of their last twinkie wrapper. But, Obama also made it very clear that this was the time for personal responsibility and accountability.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Installed at the Von Lintel Gallery, NY, June 2007.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Installed at the Von Lintel Gallery, NY, June 2007.

So after a week of photography gallery after gallery, the militarised eye vs. the personal touch, Gigapan-assisted user-generated snooping, faux controversy, minor mishaps, cult worship, sentimental clap-trap, unending debate, media catfights, nerdcore details, celeb fluff and even UFO’s isn’t it time we adopt the same realism that Obama trusted in for his inaugural speech?

A wonderful article from the Wall Street Journal lays out the realism and “the audacity of hope behind bars”. (Via Change.org). Angola prisoner, Mr. Dennis served up some REALISM: “He’s got his hands full: Two wars, the economy is going in the tank and the health-care costs are skyrocketing – I’d be surprised if he has time to brush his teeth in the next four years.” While another prisoner took care of the HOPE: “If the men here can have hope, then why can’t the rest of the country?”

Prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary ("Angola") were given the day off to watch Barack Obama inaugurated as America's 44th president.

Prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary ("Angola") were given the day off to watch Barack Obama inaugurated as America's 44th president.

So how does this all connect? Jordan and Obama share the same call to think, with serious intent, about the things invisible to us. Both call us to consider the reality of our society and accept our shared responsibility for its faults, weaknesses and injustices. Both men challenge conventional wisdom; the logic that just because we didn’t turn the key nor bring down the gavel, we are not complicit – by our silence – in America’s mass incarceration.

What can you do? You can start by signing this petition immediately and by using web2.0 to access Obama’s administration as his team reached you during the election.

If you’d like to know more about Chris Jordan you could do worse than starting with this interview, this interview and this interview.

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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