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Found photo of an unknown prison cell.

Last week, I was interviewed twice  - firstly, for DVAFOTO and secondly, for HERE BE MONSTERS - about Prison Photography On The Road and my activities since.

The DVAFOTO interview opens with my account of my arrest and 9 hours in jail in late 2011. The HBM podcast is about a workshop I delivered in Sing Sing State Prison, New York.

It may be ironic that I’d get locked-up during a research trip that is questioning incarceration, but it’s not funny and it’s no badge of honour. My actions were foolhardy and the police officer’s actions were over-zealous.

I’ve been thinking beyond what I think about the experience (It was stupid, bureaucratic and inconvenient), and more about how I think of the experience (What insight did I gain? What interactions did I have? Who did I meet?)

Inside the release-tank were about 15 men. They were there for different reasons. One young man faced a significant bail amount for a significant possession offense while another was brought in for cycling drunk in the wrong direction of the cycle path on a quiet road. Some men were in for DUI’s and in some cases not their first DUI. Two or three slept through the hours. Others were quiet and some told stories. The younger ones were more talkative and boastful. Several tried using the phone but only one succeeded. When they found out I was in for peeing on a tree and not answering questions they thought it was lame. Lame offense, lame arrest.

A tray of peanut butter sandwiches was brought in, but not enough. Some jumped on them, others weren’t interested. I think one person got two sandwiches.

Of the men with DUIs, I had little sympathy. They didn’t seem to acknowledge that their actions were potentially lethal. For a couple of them, cash-fines, points on their licenses and driving bans didn’t seem to be much deterrent.

A few men seemed contrite. Others seemed beaten down with either addiction or repeated arrogance.

I had huge sympathy for the drunk cyclist. Maybe in this fifties. Grey hair. He thought he was getting out until the administration realised he was a parolee. The bike-ride proved a violation and he was to be automatically rearrested and jailed for a fixed term. He had a job and children. Because of a night of excess, he was to lose those things again. Sure, his behaviour could have been better, but I think the authority’s response was of excess.

I didn’t ask what they did and they didn’t ask me. It was a small space. It was very dirty but not quite filthy. We only moved our place when others left and they did so in groups of 3 and 4 throughout the hours.

Part of me wishes I’d taken the opportunity to ask some questions, tap some opinions (I may have met a great conversationalist who’d improve my thinking as much as I hoped I might improve his). The other part of me knows only an intrusive nerd would be ask out-of-the-blue questions about personal circumstance and attitudes; especially in a temporarily-occupied cell at an unpredictable time.

No clocks.

Two weeks later: No court appearance. No charges brought.

Why is this relevant? The arrest and dismissal of charges — actually, the incomplete documentation of the arrest and dismissal – almost jeopardised my visit to Sing Sing to carry out a workshop with attentive, challenging, respectful and curious students of the education program there.

An arrest will always feature on a record, whether or not a conviction is brought, so-told me a law enforcement employee over the phone. New York Dept. Of Corrections which administers Sing Sing knew I’d been arrested but the information ceased there. I had to scramble for paperwork (that had not been given to me) to prove I had no criminal record. I wonder how much inefficiency and potential mistakes contribute to unfair and/or heightened levels of control. Frustration must be infinite in the prison industrial complex.

All in all, I’m glad I was able to teach and learn in Sing Sing and doubly happy that Jeff Emtman was able to craft a fine podcast splicing together audio of prisoners speaking, myself speaking, music and sound. Jeff conceived of the podcast titled The Other One Percent, to broadly challenge listeners to think about prisons and solutions.

The class, as a whole, discussed many images but specifically in the HBM audio, Robert Rose, Dennis Martinez, Deshawn Smalls and Jermaine Archer talk about these six images.

The first image mentioned is the one below by Brian Moss …

BrianMoss008

“Fear, I think people would think fear,” says Sing Sing prisoner, Robert Rose. “They can’t see what goes on in here, just as we can’t see much of what goes on out there.”

… then the three below by Alyse Emdur

emdur_ruffbey

emdur_newson

“Something needs to be said about the families who also do time. They are part of the narrative of mass incarceration, but they’re not talked about. They end up carrying the burden,” says Deshawn Smalls, Sing Sing prisoner.

emdur_buntyn

… and finally, the two images below by Richard Ross of juvenile facilities.

Richard_Ross_10

Sing Sing prisoner, Jeremy says, “You may have a man who refused [to adhere to regulations] and this is him in this picture. You probably won’t see the man at first, but he is there.”

Richard_Ross_13

HERE BE MONSTERS (HBM) is a podcast audio series about fear and the unknown, by Jeff Emtman, a 2012 Soundcloud Community Fellow.

HBM has previously covered Juggalo culture; placenta medicine; train-hopping; the disillusion and resignation of a favored NPR correspondent; a children’s book about a hallucinogenic trip; and the mind-made images created by the human brain when the body and the eyes experience total darkness – a condition known as ‘Prisoners Cinema.’

I like what Jeff is doing. I’m happy to share my experiences with him.

If you’re still interested in what I’m up to, I cover my immediate plans in the DVAFOTO interview. We also talk about what bloggers can do and do do.

LINKS

The Other One Percent (Here Be Monsters podcast)

Interview: Pete Brook On The Road (DVAFOTO)

Grey Mountain, artwork by Chip Thomas © Erika Schultz

Just got in from the NW Photojournalism meet. Room chock full of talent including Matt Lutton (of Dvafoto fame) Theo Stroomer, Tim Matsui, Ken Lambert, David Ryder and John Malsbary.

Let me track back a week though.

SOME THOUGHTS AND CONTEXT ON NAVAJO GRAFFITI

A friend of mine who I’ve seen only twice in two years visited Seattle last weekend. He’s Native American … what white folks would call Navajo, but what he refers to as Dineh or Dine (pronounced d-Nay). We were talking about youth culture on the reservation and I mentioned passing through Window Rock (a junction with two gas stations, some vernacular murals and loose packs of dogs). He tells me I was in the wrong part of Navajo Reservation …

Anyway, the murals had me thinking. I saw graffiti on Navajo land – some of it good, some of it terrible; some of it lazy tags, some of it a bit more invested – and I wondered about the social context of these scrawls, paintings and artwork. I proposed to him that a long term photography project NAVAJO GRAFFITI could capture these temporary art interventions. The project would include interviews about the grafs and the social strata from which they emerge. It seemed like it  could be a meaningful, novel photography project, a stellar book. Maybe?

In my mind (a place I often invent projects I’d like to see and promote) I envisioned image-making that could incorporate the narratives of a marginalised people without relying on cliches of documentary photography. The grafs could be photographed in the medium format stillness that is all too often wasted on garages, topiary and mall parking lots.

Just a thought.

Thinking on, my friend was as stumped as I to think of any photography work that the Navajo had been able to present, let alone self-represent.

BACK TO NW PHOTOJOURNALISM

The co-organiser of NW Photojournalism is Erika Schultz a PJ at the Seattle Times. When I got home, I checked out her blog. On which, I was blown away to find graffiti on Navajo land. I’d call it street art, except there’s only the open Black Mesa surrounding.

Grey Mountain, artwork by Chip Thomas © Erika Schultz

The work is by Chip Thomas an artist, self taught photographer and Health Services Physician who has lived on Navajo land for 16 years or more. He may not be Navajo by blood but I can be quite certain he has the rights of the Navajo/Dineh people close to his pounding heart.

I want to see more of this. I am not a photographer. Why aren’t photogs out on Native American lands finding more nuanced ways of telling the stories of the people?

The only Native American photographer I’ve identified is Tom Jones of the Ho Chunk Nation, and he is a long, long ways from the Western Deserts; of a different people.

So, two things: 1) Tell me about more Native American photographers (I want to stand corrected) and 2.) Somebody consider a project along the lines of NAVAJO GRAFFITI (I would if I could, but I don’t know cameras).

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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