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There’s a couple of interviews with a couple of photographers I greatly admire currently up on Vice.
Photographing America’s Pregnant Prisoners is a conversation with Cheryl Hanna-Truscott, nurse, midwife and photographer who for 12 years has made double-portraits of incarcerated women and their babies at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).
In the past, I have flagged Hanna-Truscott’s work, curated it into a pop-up show about Washington State prisons, and featured it in online exhibitions. Hanna-Truscott has recently released Purdy a documentary film about the WCCW mothers and babies unit. Hanna-Truscott volunteers at WCCW.
A note on the film’s title: Purdy is the local town in which WCCW sits. Purdy is also how the prison is known to locals. Additionally, “purdy” is a hokey variation of the word pretty. I think it’s a clever title for this project which simultaneously challenges stereotypes, pays homage to maternal cycles, finds care and within a punishing institution but neither ties the issue off with easy answers.
Hanna Truscott’s photographs are moments of solace amid what she describes as beyond difficult circumstances for the mothers.
“A lot of the women are traumatized. Sometimes they have learning disabilities or they’ve never had anyone who could vouch for them – so they have low education levels and no skills. Which means they also have employment issues when they get out. When they’re released, get $40, a change of clothes and a bus ticket. So they have to start a new life — and for the women I work with, that’s also with a baby.”
Visit Hanna-Truscott’s devoted site Protective Custody.
NEW YORK STATE
Photographing Trips to Visit Family Members in Prison is an interview with Jacobia Dahm. I’ve spoken with Dahm previously (cross posted to Vantage) and her work has proved very popular since its release earlier this year.
Families have suffered most from the politicised decisions on where to construct prisons. Granted many Upstate New York prisons predate mass incarceration (1980-) but many many more have been constructed in recent decades. Across the nation prisons have been built in remote locations.
“Your crime has no bearing on the fact that you are still one of the most important people if not the most important person in a child’s life. In ways, it is costly not to support these family bonds, for the generation in prison and for their offspring. Children should have easy access to their parents, and vice versa, and it is something that other prison systems around the world manage to take into account and work with.”
If prisons had been used as jobs programs for depressed post-industrial American towns then we might have seen them built closer to the communities from which the prisoners have been extracted.
A NOTE ON VICE
Remember when VICE used to be nothing but public humiliation, photos of homeless, Dos & Don’ts and pre-hipster snark? Well, it is changing. By my reckoning. It’s going to take a lot to get out from under those punk-ass early years but they’re equipped to do it. VICE Media is worth $2.5 billion and I think I read somewhere that VICE has 1,500 staff and freelancers operating out of its New York HQ alone.
So, now what we have at VICE is genuine concern beyond the snark. This is something that Stacy Kranitz reflects on in a She Does Podcast published this week. It’s a great conversation all-round reflecting upon the many sides of things.
As for VICE and prison coverage, it looks like we’ll get more investigative reporting and less stereotypes and cheap gags. An overdue sea change. The VICE series America’s Incarcerated runs throughout October.
A few months ago, you may recall, I mounted a show in a brewery in Seattle. It was a prison art fundraiser organised by University Beyond Bars and an appended exhibition of prison photography from Washington State – including the work of Bettina Hansen, Tim Matsui, Steve Davis, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott and Erika Schultz.
During the opening, there was a couple of filmmakers snagging folk for interviews and trying to make sense of what college education can do for a prisoners’ community and why an art auction and photography show can bring those ideas to the public.
Well, the resulting video has just been published. It’s not the slickest media production you’ll find but it is earnest and the film recognises the work of the many individuals and volunteers who quietly work to make prisons more humane and hopeful.
When friends call and ask if you’d like to mount a show in a brewery, there’s only one answer.
University Beyond Bars was putting on a prison art fundraiser at Machine House Brewery in Georgetown, Seattle. I was invited to curate some prison photography. I selected five photographers from Washington State that have made work in Washington State prisons and juvenile detention centers.
The only issue with the space was that IT IS A BREWERY. A beer-making space is set up for a different type of cultures.
The UBB students’ prison art (paintings and illustrations) went up front of house. The space for the photographs was the warehouse. Upon arrival on Friday afternoon, the ground floor and mezzanine boasted fork lift truck, pallets of malt and barley, industrial fridges, old lockers, busted furniture, spare fixtures, lamps, chairs, bikes and other inconvenient objects.
So I went to work. And I loved it. Painting and drilling is a nice tonic to desk-laptopping.
This is pretty much what the space looked like when we finished. (Note the clear floorspace.) When I say we, I mean me and some amazing peeps who swept, nailed, primed, sweat and hung prints and frames. Big thanks to Bill the Brewer, UBB‘s very own Stacey Reeh, and Joe.
Uber-thanks to Bettina Hansen who went without a shower and worked right through until the doors opened on Saturday night to get everything spiffy.
Here’s Cheryl Hanna-Truscott’s work Protective Custody.
These are the first two prints of 16 in Cheryl’s series.
Three of the five photographers’ work was mounted straight onto boards that doubled as screens to hide all the junk alongside the walk-in refrigerator.
That beard on the right is Matt Mills McKnight.
Steve Davis peeking into the walk-in.
More of Cheryl‘s.
Intern Sam, Kat and I.
Images 9-16 of Cheryl’s work.
I even painted the bathroom door.
Signs were made. Bottom steps were marked.
On Thursday, Steve Davis had given me some work prints to look over for a future project we are planning. They images were made by boys at Maple Lane juvenile detention center and have never been published. Strong, haunting and expressive. I decided to tack them up on a single wall in the old, emptied-out machine-house office.
Looking in to the office from the gantry at the top of the stairs.
UBB co-founder, Gary Idleburg, speaks to a video crew making a piece about perceptions of prisoners and the importance of art as communication.
One large print from Remann Hall (left) and work prints made by boys incarcerated at Maple Lane, Centralia, WA in the early 2000s.
On the mezzanine level, six portraits from 1998 by Steve Davis.
Large prints of pinhole photographs made by the girls of Remann Hall, Tacoma, WA.
A frame …
… for a frame.
The fluorescent lights were actually pretty good for showing off the work.
Portraits & Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons remains open for three more weekends. Until August 10th. The brewery is only open Friday 3-7pm, and Saturday and Sundays 12-7pm.
Student of Univeristy Beyond Bars, Monroe Correctional Complex, 2011 © Erika Schultz
IF YOU ARE IN SEATTLE …
Accompanying Prison Art is a photography component I was invited to curate. Titled Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons the exhibition features five photographers working in Washington State and making images of Washington State lockdowns.
AND IT’S IN A BREWERY!
ART BEYOND BARS
At Washington State Reformatory, students in a Studio Art class, sponsored by the nonprofit organization University Beyond Bars and led by long-term prisoner-artist Gary Thomas, have created oil, acrylic, and gouache paintings as well as pencil and ink drawings in styles that range from the political to the retro, from the kitsch to the abstract.
You can see a local KING 5 newschannel spot on Gary and the class, here. (Turn the sound down to avoid the over-zealous sound-editing use of cliche clanging doors and locks!)
80 pieces feature in the Prison Art show ranging from nearly pocket-sized to large triptych paintings. All are for sale and proceeds go toward paying for the college education of UBB students. The silent auction lasts two weeks.
‘Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons’
Young mothers, critical thinkers and children making powerful art may not be the first types of people we’d expect to find behind bars, but Portraits and Pixels challenges our notions of who is behind bars in the Evergreen State.
Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons brings together images by five established local photographers to provide an overview of arts, rehabilitation and security in Washington State’s lockdowns.
Bettina Hansen, a Seattle Times photojournalist since 2012, photographed the theater productions at Monroe Correctional Complex. In 2011, Erika Schultz, also of the Seattle Times, volunteered her skills and made portraits of students in the UBB art program at Monroe. Tim Matsui, a Seattle-based multimedia journalist, casts a light on the Youth Art Program at the Denney Juvenile Detention Center in Everett. In the early 2000s, Steve Davis led workshops in four Washington State juvenile detention centers producing pinhole camera photographs and narrative-rich images with the children. Davis also made formal portraits of the boys and girls. Nurse-midwife, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott has made dignified and quiet double-portraits of incarcerated mothers with their newborns at the Residential Parenting Program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. The pioneering program is nationally recognized for its commitment to maintain ties between mother and baby by means of rigorous administration, family and volunteer efforts.
The exhibition will be open to the public from July 21 until August 10 during the brewery hours: Fri-Sun 3-7 pm.
OPENING NIGHT, July 20th, 7:30 – 10 pm
Prison Art is hosted by Machine House Brewery, at 5840 Airport Way S in Georgetown, just south of Seattle.
Tickets are available here. Tickets are $15 each, or two for $25.
There will be live music by singer-songwriter Lori Dreier, cellist Ed Tellman, and keyboard artist and former prisoner Dan Pens.
Facebook event page here.
© Steve Davis
Daemond Arrindell, teaching artist for Freehold Theatre’s Engaged Theatre program, gives words of encouragement to inmate Ted Cherry after a rehearsal at Monroe Correctional Complex April 17, 2013. “They are the most appreciative population we’ve ever worked with,” said Arrindell, who is a local poet and community organizer known for running various writing and performance workshops and the Seattle Poetry Slam. “They recognize what limited opportunities they have.” © Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times
Cell Denney Juvenile Detention Center in Everett. © Tim Matsui
Mother and child in the Residential Parenting Program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. © Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
My choice of twelve female photographers – Jenn Ackerman, Araminta de Clermont, Alyse Emdur, Christiane Feser, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott, Deborah Luster, Britney Anne Majure, Nathalie Mohadjer, Yana Payusova, Julia Rendleman, Marilyn Suriani, and Kristen S. Wilkins – are a eclectic mix of artists with different approaches to photography in sites of incarceration. Among their works you’ll find fine art documentary, found photography, alternative process, painted photographs, collaborative portraiture, dreamy landscape, photojournalist dispatches and social activism.
Some ladies’ work I’ve featured before on Prison Photography; some are relatively new discoveries; others I met during Prison Photography on the Road; and a few are included in the ongoing Cruel and Unusual show at Noorderlicht.
Thanks to WIPNYC co-founders Amy and Cara Phillips for providing an avenue with which to disseminate photography that counters stereotypes and informs audiences of lives behind bars. Thanks also to Megan Charland for formatting the exhibition.
From my curatorial statement
In the past 40 years, America’s prison population has more than quadrupled from under 500,000 to over 2.3 million. This program of mass incarceration is unprecedented in human history. Women have born the brunt of this disastrous growth. Within that fourfold increase, the female prison population has increased eightfold. You heard right: women are incarcerated today at eight times the number they were in the early 1970s. Are women really eight times more dangerous as they were two generations ago?
Please, browse the gallery, bios and linked portfolios.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Mandi and Gabriel (3 days old), 2008 © Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
Cheryl Hanna-Truscott is a registered nurse and midwife who attests to the importance of healthy, timely infant-mother attachment. Equally she recognises that the women in her portraits are the beneficiaries of an unfortunately rare approach to motherhood in US sites of incarceration.
Protective Custody: Within a Prison Nursery is a portrait series about pregnant inmates who qualify for The Residential Parenting Program, at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). The program began in 1999 allowing selected pregnant inmates with sentences less than thirty months to maintain custody of their babies after giving birth.
I was reminded of Hanna-Truscott’s work today with its inclusion in 100Eyes newest issue Dependence.