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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).

UPDATE: Matt emailed me to let me know of the second chapter in this story. View it here.

THE ROMA

A young man in the Stara Gazela camp. © Matt Lutton

Friend Matt Lutton has presented words and images in the latest Lens Culture (Issue #26). His story is about the destruction of a settlement in Belgrade and the subsequent relocation of the Roma inhabitants.

I know that Matt has been working on this story for a long time and it matters very much to him. In September of last year, Matt put together a small edit of the work with a caveat that he was still working through the project. Matt recommended this local Serbian article for background on the issue.

Matt’s words:

Gazela was an isolated community of over 200 Roma families living abjectly difficult lives under the Gazela road bridge in Belgrade, Serbia. They made their living from the recycling of metals and refuse, and the landscape around their homes was filled with toxic mounds of rotting waste. It was a ghetto split on the banks of one of the region’s most important rivers and on premium real estate eyed by the elites. This photo story begins with the community living under the bridge before its destruction and partial relocation on August 31, 2009.

The people living there, depending on their legal status, would either be given a new container to live in on the outskirts of the city, free transport back to their villages or if they had no papers, an unceremonious trip to the curb and likely a home in another improvised camp.

A girl runs through smoke near a suspected arson in an abandoned home in Nova Gazela, a camp on the New Belgrade side of the Sava River. The fire happened on the day before the relocation and destruction of the settlement. © Matt Lutton

Matt’s task, if he is to compete with other storytellers is tough. The Roma people exist across Europe and have fascinated generations of photographers. The bar was set high by Josef Koudelka upon the 1975 publication of Gypsies.

ROMA ACROSS NATIONS

In recent years, Carlo Gianferro‘s Roma Interiors showed us wealthy Roma residences.

Over seven years, Danish photographer, Joakim Eskildsen, traveled with writer, Cia Rinne, through seven Roma countries (Hungary, India, Greece, Romania, France, Russia, and Finland). Resulting in the book, The Roma Journeys. (Elizabeth Avedon write up).

Amanda Rivkin travelled to Slovakia to photograph Roma theatre productions.

Hungarian, Zsuzsanna Ardó, photographed the Roma travellers in her home country. (Video, via The Rights Exposure)

Similarly to Matt, Sanja Knezevic documented Roma people in Belgrade.

Marco Baroncini (whose work I’ve noted before) photographed the Roma in Italian capital Rome. Most of the 15,000 Roma are immigrants from the Balkans. This work impressed James Estrin and thus received Lens blog exposure.

Most recently, some Roma youth have taken up cameras empowering themselves to self-representat. Greg Ruffing gave a very good summary of the Chacipe Project:

“One project in particular this year has really intrigued me — Chacipe: An Exploration of Roma Images and Identity, which features selected images from the Chacipe Youth Photography Contest. The contest was organized by OSI’s Roma Initiatives and the Open Society Archives as part of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, an international initiative to bring together governments, NGOs and Roma civil society to work towards improving the welfare of Roma communities.”

CONCLUSIONS

If you are Matt, flourish in this rich photographic heritage. If you are not Matt, follow his work!

A29

Source

Why?

There have been two prevailing attitudes toward the proposed conference/symposium dealing with issues of race and diversity in photography:

a) That it is absolutely necessary & b) It is a terrifying prospect.

The first point speaks for itself, and the second point becomes clear when one considers the kerfuffles, misunderstanding and (dare I say it) vitriol that has accompanied much online discussion.

I have been in contact with some, but by no means all, people who could contribute to an extended dialogue. These include Amy Stein, Ben Chesterton, Colin Pantall, Daniel Cuthbert, Daryl Lang, Jean-Sebastien Boncy, Joerg Colberg, John Edwin Mason, Mark Page, Matt Lutton, Michael Shaw, M. Scott Brauer, Nathalie Belayche, Qiana Mestrich and Stan Banos. They have been very generous in response.

Originally, I suggested mixing things up by means of an in-person meet. This was intended to directly address the inadequacies of online discussion. However, when Qiana Mestrich of Dodge & Burn alerted us to SPE‘s conference in March, 2010: “Facing Diversity: Leveling the Playing Field in the Photographic Arts” it was clear that we may just end up replicating (on a smaller scale) SPE’s efforts.

The early feeling was that to piggyback on the back of an existing photography festival could leverage most involvement and impact. Boncy has had good feedback from Houston Fotofest and Lang believes that PDN would want to collaborate and lend a hand for an event at New York Photo Festival. These are very, very encouraging early signs.

In terms of organisation, these prospects are a far cry from the normal activities bloggers. Bearing in mind that this idea was conceived to challenge the tried and tired modes of photography blog discourse, it is difficult to conceive of good reasons to forsake our collective blogging strengths (wide-reaching audiences, maximum engagement, a breadth of coverage and investigation and first rate methods).

We haven’t abandoned a desire for a face-to-face meet and indeed we’ll continue to lobby established photography festivals and industry expos for the inclusion of extended discussions about race and diversity.

But, we are aware of our strengths. Simply put; a focused and concerted online effort will impact and forward dialogue more than a bunch of bloggers gathering in a single room could.

Early plans

This will be an Online Symposium. I would like see a concerted effort among photobloggers: I offer an open invitation to all those who wish to get involved.

The online symposium will look something like this:

- Occurring mid/late spring 2010
– A one week long, coordinated series of photo-features, interviews, op-eds, inquiries and articles.
– All written works will aim to compliment and build upon one another, not repeat or needlessly criticise.
– All written works will be subject to peer-review (a grand term for “read by another blogger”) prior to publication.
– It will incorporate the widest mix of experiences in the industry as possible. Discussion may vary from academic speculations on representations to the everyday experience of the working photographer.

Aims

- To communicate the wide experiences, attitudes, facts and myths in photography as they relate to race and diversity.
– To achieve respect and understanding among photographers, contributors and readers.
– To test the reach and strength of blog-networks as they relate to photography.
– To be progressive instead of reactive in our tone and objectives.
– To leave a legacy and record of this community action that will be of use and reference for continued learning.

What Should You D0?

- Please think seriously about your experience and knowledge and if you’d like to share that as part of this community project.
– Spread the word. If you don’t wish to get involved, perhaps you know someone who would have a valuable contribution?
– Share your ideas, initially through comments below, or directly with me [prisonphotography at gmail point com] and later on a devoted website.

Thanks! Please don’t hesitate to be in touch/throw ideas about. The projects’ outcomes depend on the quality and commitment of your input.

BBCPressPhotographers

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EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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