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Photo: Timothy Briner, from It’s A Helluva Town, in Businessweek.
THE BEST SHOT
I was disappointed with early coverage of the Hurricane. Given the superstorm conditions photographers were getting many more misses than hits.
The biggest miss was TIME’s first dispatch of Instagram images the day after Sandy hit. Only Michael Christopher Brown of the five photographers – Kashi, Quilty, Lowy, Wilkes and Brown – had some successful frames. TIME has continued adding to its gallery of Sandy images so the older photos (31 – 57) are toward the end.
Photo: Michael Christopher Brown/TIME. Con Edison workers clean a manhole on 7th Avenue and 22nd Street in Manhattan. Source
BUT, photographers were not at fault. It was editors’ mistakes to publish below par images. Half of the photographers images I saw in the first 36 hours were from assigned photographers carrying smartphones. In low light, blustery weather the smartphones fell way short of the test.
THE MONEY SHOT
Kenneth Jarecke lays into TIME for their use of Instagram photos. Okay he references Gene Smith where there is perhaps little relevance and lists all sorts of other reasons such as Instagram getting rich of millions off other peoples’ content, but those are not the core of his burning anger. Jarecke is angry because the pictures are poor, and I can’t disagree with him. Of TIME, Jarecke says:
It’s shameful and you should be embarrassed. Not to say these shots weren’t well seen (which is the hardest part), just that they were poorly executed. Which is to say they fail as photographs.
What was weird was that in a Forbes article largely defending TIME mag’s use of Instagram images there was little discussion of the images qualities, more an emphasis on stats and page views.
Time’s photography blog, was “one of the most popular galleries we’ve ever done,” says [Photo Editor, Kira] Pollack, and it was responsible for 13% of all the site’s traffic during a week when Time.com had its fourth-biggest day ever. Time’s Instagram account attracted 12,000 new followers during a 48-hour period.
Pollack’s description of Lowy’s bland, color-field image of a wave chosen for the print magazine’s front cover as “painterly” due to its low res sums it all up; the TIME cover is known to favor photo-illustrations over straight photographs.
THE CHEAP SHOT
Sometimes articles are written as if it is still some surprise that amateur photographs shape our media and consciousness. American Photo describes the lifecycle of a viral photo.
Photo: Nick Cope. Rising flood waters as seen from the window of his Red Hook, Brooklyn apartment.
When we’re all hungry for information and we’re all sharing everything we can get a peek at then an amateur snap, if it is informative enough, will find it’s way to us very quickly.
I admire that American Photo quoted fully from this dude who got that photo.
“It was hard to track [the photo’s path to “viral”] — I was also preparing for a hurricane at the time! And for a good part of the morning I was at a cafe in the neighborhood, chatting with the owner who was mixing up Bloody Marys, and so it was a combination of hanging out with folks in the neighborhood and getting prepared for the storm. And then I start getting all these calls.”
THE TRUSTED SHOT
As ever, Damon Winter makes a bloody good fist of it for the New York Times.
The BIG Atlantic In Focus delivers with a typically epic selection off the wires. Crushed cars, boats on boats, burnt embers, friends hugging/crying, aerial shots of devastation, gas lines, strewn debris (homes), rescued old english sheepdog, destroyed pier and amusement rides, phones charging, pitch black streets, canoe in a living room, downed bridge and then this incredible picture by Seth Wenig of food being dumped.
Men dispose of shopping carts full of food damaged by Hurricane Sandy at the Fairway supermarket in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn in New York, on October 31, 2012. The food was contaminated by flood waters that rose to approximately four feet in the store during the storm. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
THE HORROR SHOT
Gilles Peress‘ very personal letter in which he appears to be having a breakdown is shared with the world.
“I have to say that in twelve years, to have shot pictures at 9/11 downtown, and again downtown in 2008 when the financial system collapsed, and now, is intense: big city, big tragedies, and a sense of having entered into a different period of history.”
I really want to know who CK and GH, the letters recipients, are.
Peress talks about homelessness and the poor being forgotten in the delivery of aid and services. Michael Shaw at BagNewsNotes wrote about the homeless being forgotten in the coverage.
Back to In Focus. Today, another good edit by Alan Taylor’s team. These two images stood out.
Photo: John De Guzman. A street lined with water-damaged debris in Staten Island.
John Minchillo photographed a lady who is better camouflaged than the national guardsmen beside her. I wonder what she bought at Whole Foods?
Photo: AP Photo/John Minchillo. A woman passes a group of National Guardsmen as they march up 1st Avenue towards the 69th Regiment Armory, on November 3, 2012, in New York. National Guardsmen remain in Manhattan as the city begins to move towards normalcy following Superstorm Sandy earlier in the week.
THE EVERYTHING SHOT
Everybody’s been very excited about the New York Magazine’s cover aerial photograph of a lightless Lower Manhattan.
It’s only fitting to finish these thoughts with a nod to two perhaps lesser feted Instagram photographers – after all, Instagram had record number of hashtaggles for #Sandy #HurricaneSandy and #Frankenstorm.
Wyatt Gallery has been following clean-up closely.
Photo: Clayton Cubitt. Posted on Instagram, “One day you’re living the American dream. The next…”
Ronald Day en route to work, NYC. © Ed Kashi / VII Photo
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Think Outside The Cell, a NYC based advocacy group, and VII Photo Agency recently collaborated to make and distribute a media campaign to educate the public about the continued struggles for felons post-release. This is the third of a five part series, ‘Ending The Stigma Of Incarceration.’
Ed Kashi, together with Ron Haviv, photographed and videoed Ronald Day‘s story. Ed and I chatted about his experience and the issues at stake.
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Editor’s note: On September 27, 2012, Ronald Day was discharged from parole. He has since obtained his passport and registered to vote. On November 6, he will vote for the first time in his life. These interviews were conducted prior to September 27.
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Prison Photography (PP): When the idea of this partnership cropped up, how was it that yourself, Ron, Ash and Jess became the first four photographers?
Ed Kashi (EK): To some degree we were chosen on proximity to the subjects. Proximity to New York … and budget. We sense that we’ll expand this work dramatically into a bigger documentary series – not only in terms of going more in depth with our two subjects but with two more subjects.
EK: I’ve done a lot of work on prisons and similar subject matter. I don’t know about the other three. I am driven by examining social and political issues and increasingly it is frustrating to be able to do that for publications and the editorial world. I can speak confidently for all four of us and say our hearts lie in examining social and political issues, but it is so hard to get the funding let alone the interest and the buy-in of the editorial world, so whenever the chance to partner with NGOs or foundations or organizations and go out in the world and do honest and good visual reporting and know that the work will be used in an effective way to advocate for these issues, we take it.
PP: Can you give us a brief background on those stories you’ve done on prisons before?
EK: The first project that I did was in the late 80s. I pursued a personal project on the issue of private prisons looking at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) based in Nashville. I was fascinated back then by the issue of privatization that began under Reagan and Bush Snr. I was concerned that we were privatizing such a critical function of society. I went to four facilities around the country.
The next really big encounter with prisons was during my aging project. During the very first stage of what became an eight-year project on how America is growing old, I did a story on aging prisoners. I went to a couple of prisons with dedicated geriatric facilities. I did the fieldwork in 96 and 97 and the story eventually ran in the New York Times Magazine in 1997. It seems to be an issue I’m always bumping up against in one way or another.
PP: Compared to most photographers, your experience with and within prisons is incredibly wide and involved. Most photographers if they touch on the subject – and sometimes it might be accidental – might do do only once. Repeated visits to prison across the states is unusual. Access to private prisons is very unusual.
EK: I’d be amazed if CCA would give me or another photographer access again. They let me go to a juvenile facility in Nashville, an immigration facility in Houston, a maximum security prison in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a prison in Panama City in Florida. That the early operating years of CCA and maybe they were seeing it as a PR/marketing effort. I mean, I wasn’t even on assignment. To think that CCA would allow in the late eighties a freelance photographer from San Francisco to photograph in their facilities figuring, ‘Well, we’ve not had bad publicity yet, we’re just getting started, this is a way for people to know what’s going on.’ In the state of California, years ago I believe, they set down a policy in which journalists are not allowed in any of their facilities. More and more today, things are really shutting down. Access is in general shutting down for journalists in many ways. We’re perceived as having lost our neutrality and are now considered partisans!
PP: Well, we hear the term “liberal media” constantly. It is one of the most meaningless slurs I can think of. NPR is not liberal.; it’s journalism organization and it is neutral.
EK: The fact that anyone would call Obama a socialist is ridiculous. You should be sent back to school!
In terms of media, the type of person to go in to journalism should have an open and progressive mind. And I don’t mean progressive in a political sense; I mean you’re looking at the world trying to find out what’s going on; trying to figure out how to move forward; seeing the problems and then looking for where there may be solutions. By the nature of this work, you should be progressive and open minded, but unfortunately that has been translated into, ‘You’re Liberal.’
Quite frankly, I think there is something much more venal and dangerous this represents. What we’re now experiencing is something that was begun under the Nixon White House in the sixties and Pat Buchanan was very much behind it … and truthfully Cheney and Rumsfeld and the older Bush were part of it. It is in many ways, no different to what fascist and authoritarian regimes have done – which is to debunk and attack the media. If you don’t kill them physically, you delegitimate them. Really, that’s my very firm feeling of how these political movements work and it is very sad to me to see that this is happening in America.
I don’t see it happening in Europe, but America is such a huge country, a huge swathe is under-educated or naive. I think it is the nature of a large country. It is not that these are bad people, it’s just that they are not educated. It pisses me off and it scares me.
PP: Let’s talk about how that relates to this partnership. Does that landscape you just described, does that imperil the way potential this work and it’s products could be seen, interpreted or understood? Or do you look at it another way, a more positive way, that there wouldn’t have been a pressing need in the past to reach down and give a helping hand to a young, fledgling NGO. How does VII Photo, Think Outside the Cell and Sheila Rule anticipate that this work will be consumed?
EK: The way I look at this advocacy journalism, which is what I call it, is we gain access to subject we would otherwise have trouble getting access to. That’s number one. Number two, we’re doing it in cooperation with an organization that we know will disseminate the product to the policy makers and the people and organizations who can make a real difference and drive change – be it on a legislation for funding level.
Then, VII or the photographer can take that work and have a free hand to distribute it in the media landscape. The difference is that in the past I’d have to convince New York Times magazine or whoever it is [ahead of time] to give me time and money to go and do the work. Theoretically, I’d have been able to gain access because of the guarantor of a reputable organization and then the work would be funneled through that media organization for good or bad effect. In a sense, I prefer this [way of doing things] which sounds kind of weird. Just so you understand, on a process level, I’d rather just be working all the time for New York Times magazine or National Geographic or whomever, just because I love that being a journalist and having the support and protection of a media organization, but given the way things have changed and given the reality – both economically, politically and structurally of media in our society today, this is an exciting development that is taking place. As long as it is done in the correct way, where there is no slanted or biased reporting.
PP: You’ve been liberated but not compromised? And you use the phrase ‘advocacy journalism’ which is the most fitting term I’ve heard.
EK: On a deeper level – and this is definitely a product of my age and the stage I am in my life. Being mid career in terms of my work and certainly being mid career in terms of my life span and being a parent of teenagers and being engaged with the world not just as a journalist but as a citizen – I want this goddamn work to make a difference.
It’s not just about, ‘Hey, look, I got the cover of National Geographic magazine’ or ‘Hey, I’m on assignment for the New York Times Magazine.’ Its not that those things don’t have value any more, it’s that they are not the purpose. The purpose is, ‘How do I make work that makes a difference. How do I make work that can be utilized to make positive change?’ I think it is critical for us to find ways to tell stories that give optimism and a belief that there’s a way forward. We need to bear witness to the worst things that are going on in the world and not sugarcoat them. Obviously we need that objective first hand view of things. Whenever we can tell a story that exposes a problem but proposes a solution, I think that is the height of journalism.
Ronald Day at his home in the Bronx, during a Father’s Day barbecue, held on June 17, 2012 in New York City. © Ed Kashi/VII Photo.
PP: That’s what you want out of it. What do you think your subject, Ronald Day, wanted out of it?
EK: That’s a great question because it cuts through to the potential naked ambition of the photographer or the journalist. You’re getting points by shooting in a prison because it is gritty and it is edgy and it is tough and cool. You know what I mean? Characterized in that warped way the professional can work. Whereas, I am at a point now where I wouldn’t want to go into a prison or do a story on Ronald or anyone if I were to hurt the subject in any way.
What does Ronald want? I think he wants his story to be told, and it is common among people who agree to cooperate with journalists – it’s a little bit of vanity and a little bit of hope. At the very least, their situation will improve and for those who are a little more magnanimous, telling their story may help others in similar positions. I believe Ronald is a selfless man. He’s a pretty brilliant dude; he’s a smart and totally impressive. He is a poster-child for this particular issue. He is not your average ex-prisoner. I left the project missing him.
PP: How long have you lived in New Jersey?
EK: I moved here Christmas 2004, so eight years. I was born in New York city and raised in the New York area. In 1979, I moved out to the Bay Area.
PP: What did you learn, as a resident of the region, about New York State? VII and Think Outside the Cell intend to expand the initiative to other states. At that point the stories will change because each state carries different laws. But did you learn anything through Ronald peculiar to New York State when it comes to the stigma of reentry.
EK: I was surprised to learn about how a one size-fits-all nature of bureaucracy ends up shafting extraordinary guys like Ronald. The probation rules are a central theme of Ronald’s psyche and story.
PP: I’m presuming you think he should’ve had a faster track through probation and been able to take on student loans and start his PhD and make international travel.
EK: Yes, and for instance, now he is in this position where because of the job he has and the teaching at night, it forces him to break his curfew rules. He has to get up a 5 in the morning, to catch the bus to the train at 6:30, so he gets to Brooklyn in time for his work, but technically he’s not supposed to be out of his house until 7am. He could potentially be penalized for that. Or he has to go to some event in the evening, where he is teaching or speaking or taking a class and technically then he’ll get back home after his curfew. I understand that with tens of thousands of parolees in the state of New York you can’t have tens of thousands of different sets of rules, but it would be great to find a way to bend and accommodate for people when it is so clear they are on the right path. That might seem like a minor thing, but it is not minor to him.
PP: Anything else?
EK: I don’t know if I expressed this adequately but ultimately the goal of this work is to further break down the stigma of people who have been in prison and – as is the case with any journalism – to educate people. We have to look at the formerly incarcerated in a different light and in a sense we need to look at how the structures of our society deal with the formerly incarcerated. At a functional level, that is more important for former prisoners – so that when they go for housing or employment, they don’t face hurdles that basically leave them in a self perpetuating negative cycle.
PP: Do you think your media of choice, photo and video, are entirely appropriate? Inasmuch that you are battling stereotypes and many misleading stereotypes that have been created through mass media images, TV and film.
EK: That’s where this partnership with Think Outside The Cell is different. In a perfect world scenario, the work gets presented through big outlets, but ultimately this work will be used by Sheila Rule and her organization to advocate in the trenches. Progress occurs when a few minds who actually have some influence on the system are changed. So, they go into their next hearings, congressional meetings or classrooms and they open up others’ eyes. It is something I believe in – even despite all the cynicism and the over-mediated world we are living in, I absolutely believe in that, because I’ve seen it happen. You change one mind and then there is a ripple effect.
PP: Hear, hear. Thanks Ed.
EK: Thank you, Pete.
Ronald Day at his home in the Bronx, during a Father’s Day barbeque, held on June 17, 2012 in New York City. © Ed Kashi/VII Photo.
Inside and out of prison, people may think that to keep ones head down, survive America’s overly punitive prisons, and wait for release is enough. Unfortunately, it is not; for those looking to reenter society new struggles emerge. Each year 700,000 men, women and children are released from prisons and jails to face modern day laws and attitudes that marginalize them and limit their abilities to build new lives.
New York based non-profit Think Outside The Cell, a young but impressively effective organization, is bringing light to the struggles of former prisoners.
“The issue of stigma is not discussed enough but it is the issue of our time. The effects are so widely felt,” says Sheila Rule, Think Outside The Cell co-founder. Convicted felons are routinely denied employment, housing, access to college, the right to vote, and public benefits.
“The oppressive legal barriers and sanctions that undergird the stigma are the building blocks of modern-day inequality, keeping millions of deserving Americans on the fringes of mainstream society,” writes Think Outside The Cell.
Think Outside the Cell has partnered with the renowned VII Photo Agency to produce a multimedia campaign that will raise public awareness and educate media and policy wonks with persuasive storytelling.
“I knew about VII and their credibility,” says Rule. “It was a natural fit. We are both driven by storytelling. Stories change hearts and minds.”
In September 2011, Think Outside The Cell hosted A New Way, A New Day, a national symposium about mass incarceration. Speakers included Dr. Khalil Muhammad, director of Schomburg Center; Jason Davis, former Bloods gang leader and community activist; Jumaane Williams, New York City Council-member; Hon. Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ; Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow; Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin, director of operations, reentry services, Women’s Prison Association, among others. (View videos of the panels and presentations here.)
In the audience was Kimberly Soenen, a recent hire and Director of Business Strategies at VII Photo. Soenen knew that the issues of families, communities, criminal justice and inequality were of paramount interest to VII photographers. Rule, a retired New York Times journalist who knows the power of well-told and widely distributed stories, was open to Soenen’s approach to partner.
Soenen and VII focused on the immediate area and assigned New York and New Jersey based photographers to tell the stories of Ronald Day and Mercedes Smith. (With further funding, VII hopes to extend the campaign to other states.)
Mercedes Smith was released from prison two years ago. She begins college in January 2013 and although she struggles to find housing due to the rules of her parole she is making progress toward a stable life.
Ronald Day, 43, was incarcerated for 12 years, serving time in five NY institutions. Since his release, he has studied steadily, is employed connecting other former prisoners with access to services, is enrolled in the Criminal Justice PhD program at CUNY/John Jay College, and teaches criminal justice to graduate students at John Jay College.
Both Day and Smith have excellent relationships with their families.
Ronald Day’s story is not the typical tale, but that was precisely the point. VII and Think Outside The Cell wanted an optimistic view of how people can succeed in spite of the system.
“We’d always thought we’d follow someone as they were released and see them through the first weeks and months of difficult readjustment in the free world,” says Rule. But after some thought, Joseph Robinson, co-founder of Think Outside The Cell, Rule’s husband of 8 years, author, and current prisoner in Sullivan Correctional Facility, NY, suggested featuring someone who was, for all intents and purposes, succeeding, “Someone who everyone would think is doing okay, but who we could still show was facing Stigma,” posited Robinson.
While both imprisoned, Day and Robinson met at a National Trust for the Development of African American Men event. And, to this day, Rule often calls upon Day’s “dependable” organization skills to help plan Think Outside The Cell events. He was an obvious “messenger”.
However, for Day, the scrutiny of photojournalist cameras not surveillance cameras was a new experience.
“I’m not used to being followed by cameras continually. I guess that what reality TV is like. Children in the neighborhood called Ed and Ron ‘the Paparazzi.’ I thought that was hilarious!” says Ronald. “It’s good to know that my initial discomfort was a means to a higher purpose.”
Day’s motivation and higher purpose was to advocate for others.
“I want people to have a greater opportunity. You need to convince others that someone involved in a system has potential provided they’re given a chance. We need to take a second look at the individual, at the system, and the policies in ways which is fair and in ways which will change the laws,” explains Day. “I went online and looked at VII’s model for producing media. I realized it was a powerful way of producing journalism.”
And the issue is pressing.
Over the last 20 years, the number of major employers who screen for criminal records has grown to 90%. Laws that prohibit voting by people who have felony convictions deny an estimated 5.85 million Americans a visit to the ballot box. For people convicted of a drug felony, Congress has passed federal laws that place a lifetime ban on food stamps and cash assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). While states can opt out of or modify the ban, most states enforce it in full or in part, says the Think Outside The Cell website.
Discrimination in the workplace is no better described as the experience of a young man who lived in D.C. and worked at a temp agency. “He was so diligent he was bestowed the Temp of the Year Award and the firm wanted to hire him full time, but when they found out he was formerly incarcerated, they fired him,” says Rule.
Furthermore, this story reflects how the stigma and laws disproportionately effect people of colour.
“Trying to figure out ‘Why’ is common to the African American experience. Was it race? Often it’s not always clear, but in some instances the reasons reveal themselves,” says Rule.
The daily limitations on former prisoners leads directly to cycles of incarceration, Robinson believes.
“It’s a cycle of stigma, collateral consequences, exclusion, and recidivism,” says Robinson. “The collateral consequences are enormous and they are not theoretical; millions are effected and it results in social, political and emotional exclusion.”
“People on parole, probation and even people 10 or 15 years out encounter difficulties achieving the basic things needed to live life – things central to being American, such as working and supporting oneself,” he says.
“High hopes and dreams can often lead to disappointment,” says Robinson. “You may have a guy who has developed a business plan, but when he goes to the bank they won’t give him a loan. There are hundreds of business licenses felons are barred from. Prisoners acquire skills in electrics, masonry, metalwork, but they can’t get construction licenses so they’re relegated to working off the books. [They are not permitted] licenses in accountancy or real estate even if their crime had nothing to do with money.”
Imprisoned for 21 years and four years from eligible parole, Robinson says he has lots of time on his hands to “develop creative ideas around social entrepreneurship.” Rule puts them into practice on the outside.
“I wouldn’t be where I am, if it weren’t for Joe,” says Rule. Although physical separated, Robinson says he and Rule are “joined at the hip” in their values.
“Social entrepreneurship is not a profit driven enterprise,” says Robinson. “I’m not saying making money is a bad thing, but the goal of social entrepreneurship is to achieve maximum impact while caring for ecology, society, people. If we focus only on profit, we can do more harm than good. NGOs, businesses, councils and governments can collaborate in social entrepreneurship.”
Specifically, Think Outside the Cell has launched a End The Stigma/Break The Cycle campaign to involve incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people; probation and parole officials; legislators and government officials; civil and human rights advocates; business leaders; labor union members; private and public employers; nonprofit administrators; students; and teachers.
Robinson and Rule are also keen to engage print and screen advertisers, which shows a canny regard for how social attitudes are shaped.
“While we are building a coalition of those who effect what we decide – legislators, officials, voters – we also want to involve people who decide what we think – those in media and advertising,” says Rule.
Meanwhile, the onus is on imprisoned individuals themselves. Day often quotes to a 19th century saying he discovered in Scott Christianson’s book With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America.
‘Very few individuals are ever rehabilitated in prison, and none are truly rehabilitated by prison. But some may rehabilitate themselves in spite of prison.”
The key to Day’s shift in fortunes was education and it is a subject he speaks passionately about.
“One intervention in the cycle of crime is access to education,” he says.
But access was curtailed in 1994 when Federal law prohibited prisoners from access to Pell Grants. State laws replicated the Federal laws. And there are other laws to reverse, too. Mandatory minimum sentencing, particularly for drug crimes, was hugely damaging. Day describes the sentences resulting from new 3-strikes laws in the 1990s as “cruel” and “disproportionate” punishment.
“The war on drugs failed,” says Day. “As Michelle Alexander points out, if you put someone into a drugs program instead of imprisoning them, you get better results. You can’t incarcerate your way out of the problem. Even conservatives recognize that. This is an ideal time; this is the most pressing of times.”
His role as a VII photographers’ subject is not without its complications for Day, but the ensuing wider conversation is worth it. His students and fellow PhD classmates do not know of his former incarceration.
“Once the VII Photo begins its series, there’s a chance they’ll find out and then we’ll have that conversation,” he says. “Often people say, ‘I’d never had guessed’ and then pepper me with questions. I often find I become a resource and that really effects the conversation.”
Bring on the conversation. With wide-eyes and courage.
“Society likes to imagine these problems don’t exist. Out of sight, out of mind. We have to deal with this. Yes, these are people who have breached the social contract, but we need to think about how we treat people after they’ve served time in prison and their debt to society,” concludes Robinson.
Rule and Robinson both acknowledge their work is in its infancy but have faith in, and knowledge of, how to tell compelling stories.
“It’s been a long and enriching experience. I have no illusions, but when most people hear our stories, they say, ‘I didn’t know’. I hear it over and over again, and then I hear, ‘What can I do to help?'” says Rule.
“Some people hold the ‘Once a convict, always a convict’ attitude, but others – and I’d say this is the majority of people – don’t know about the issues for the formerly incarcerated,” says Rule. “Think Outside the Cell campaigns and describes experiences creatively. The standards methods have no effect; creativity moves the dial.”
Ultimately, VII Photo is continuing Think Outside The Cell’s track record of telling stories with compassion.
Editor’s note: This article is the first of a five-part Prison Photography series which will examine the nature of the VII Photo/Think Outside The Cell partnership, canvas the photographers’ thoughts and hopefully add to the push toward a fairer treatment of former prisoners.
Image: Ron Haviv / VII Photo
UPDATED: 06/27. 4:25am EST
Following the September launch of VII Photo/Think Outside the Cell’s collaboration, Prison Photography will roll out four related interviews with each VII photographer to capture first hand the journalists’ perspective on reentry, on the images and video they made, on the stakes at hand for subjects who are navigating a precarious time following their incarceration and on the relevance of image to public attitude.
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On Saturday afternoon, I listened to Michael Shaw’s lecture about how governments and corporations are increasingly influencing flows of images through strategic releases and staged ops. In a time of shrinking budgets, especially among printed media, we are all aware of how the modified – or sometimes not so modified – press release is quickly reworded and passed off as news. It goes without saying that this is a sad state of affairs. It goes with saying because below I am presenting an unmodified press release from VII Photo.
I should also add that I have spoken with a few representatives of VII Photo over the past few days and my decision to post this was also shaped by my keen personal interest in their professional pursuits as well as the personalities working away in VII’s Dumbo headquarters.
When I started blogging, I was a Billy-Nobody … and I rarely knew the photographers or organisations I was writing about. As time has passed, however, I am more frequently in the position of writing about the activities of people I know or with whom I may have shared a drink or meal.
Such a growing fraternity may not be unusual for anyone wending her or his way through any field – and this might be a disclaimer of unusual length – but I wanted to say that things feel different now.
I am not invisible anymore.
VII PHOTO AGENCY ANNOUNCES VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS PARTNERSHIP WITH THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL FOUNDATION
VII Photo Agency today announced a new long-term partnership with the Think Outside the Cell Foundation to produce documentary film and photography features that raise awareness about the experience of formerly incarcerated persons.
Think Outside the Cell is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 that works with the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and their families to help end the stigma of incarceration. Through personal development workshops, storytelling and other creative approaches that provide building blocks for productive lives, the Foundation helps those affected by the prison system to create their own opportunities.
The first documentary feature project of this partnership will include a short film and photography essays that capture two subjects in New York City as they experience the daily challenges of reintegrating into society after being released from prison. The project will be launched Tuesday, September 18 on the Think Outside the Cell website and screened nationally at conferences, education forums, debates and in policy circles addressing legislation related to mass incarceration. The imagery and film will be syndicated by VII Photo internationally.
Each year, an estimated 700,000 people are released from prison in the United States, including approximately 26,000 in the state of New York. Often, people are branded as felons for life, and the stigma creates societal barriers that make successful reentry unattainable and staying out of prison with limited access to resources unsustainable.
VII photographers Jessica Dimmock, Ashley Gilbertson, Ron Haviv and Ed Kashi are collaborating as a team shadowing the subjects day-to-day as they deal with the challenges of reintegrating into society.
The partnership launches a long-term collaboration between VII Photo and Think Outside the Cell. VII will act as the Foundation’s exclusive visual communications partner with the aim of raising awareness about incarceration’s stigma and the local, state and federal laws that prevent formerly incarcerated persons from accessing the resources necessary to establish a stable and productive life.
“Think Outside the Cell is delighted to work with VII Photo in tackling head-on the stigma of incarceration,” said Sheila Rule, the Foundation’s co-founder. “Countless men and women who’ve been to prison have extraordinary potential, yet this crippling stigma has led to laws and policies that make it legal to deny them the essential components of full citizenship; employment, housing, educational opportunities, public benefits and the right to vote. Our visual partnership with VII Photo will open hearts and minds to the true impact of the long shadow of incarceration.”
Kimberly J. Soenen
, Director of Business Development