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Chalkdrawing

My friend Graham MacIndoe made this photograph a couple of years ago in the Gowanus/Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn, NY. “The bit that lies between the projects and the ever expanding gentrification,” explains MacIndoe who just came across the negative again this week.

A second time round, it was one of those not unusual moments of revelation that photographers have. MacIndoe saw story in this old image he’d forgotten since the first go around.

“There were two or three kids about 9 or 10 years old,” recollects MacIndoe of the day he made the shot. “If I recall there were no adults around. The kids had just finished a game and were starting another. One kid was teasing the other about going to jail.”

This photograph, this reality, floors me.

Directly, the image’s visual elements spell-out the school-to-prison-pipeline? It’d be too obvious if it weren’t for the fact, there’s no political statement being made here. This is play. This is play?

Pavement chalk, used by children for generations to invent new games is the type of material that any kid has access to, right? Right. But some kids have access only to chalk and probably not more expensive toys or educational games. The chips are beer bottle tops (Heineken I can identify; the others Bud Light? Maybe Sam Adams?) Is this what happens without XBox? Do children draw themselves acutely closer to reality than adults dare? Does childhood imagination work the other way too? Do we lose brave imagination in adulthood in order to inoculate ourselves against our terrifying, divided reality?

The game the kids have pathed out has depressingly few number of options; in fact it seems to be that you survive outside of prison only until you don’t — it is a case of when, not if.

This is an imagination particular only to poor kids. How horrified would we be if every American child’s imagination turned to these dark concepts? How broken our country would be, huh? Well, as long as we’ve communities so broken that kids dabble in make-believe about jail as easily as Santa then our country IS broken. No child should occupy such a dour imaginative landscape?

SCRAWLS ABUNDANT

Photography has recently focused on, and relied upon to some degree, untrained scrawls to tell stories. From Hetherington’s War Graffiti and Broomberg & Chanarin’s Red House to idiots like me pointing my iPhone at scribbles on walls. It is easy for us to lean on the narrative and evocations of anonymous or near anonymous humans. In prisons, cell walls are etched full with writings coming from a point of deprivation. Photographs reflect that. I’m saying this because, often the motif of photographing writing is dismissed (such is our level of expectation, at this point, is there anything more boring than a not-funny-protest-sign?) And, I’m saying this because I don’t think MacIndoe’s picture deserves to be overlooked.

This picture is literally what is happening on the ground. We’re told about it from the mouths — and minds — of babes.

These kids have created a game for their own world experience. They’ve created a thing not meant for anyone’s consumption but their own. But it is a public thing. In the absence of political awareness rises the most powerful political statement. It is fierce and it is scary. We want to fight back. But we cannot. We cannot doubt these children or discredit the uncomfortable truth they’ve presented. Instead, we are forced to justify this world they’re in. This world is ours and hopefully ours to improve for younger generations.

PICTURE OF THE YEAR

This is the most thought provoking image I have seen all year. I’ve not allowed myself time on a single image like this for a while.

And, yet, I know next to nothing about it. Please help me understand. Are games like this common in that area of Brooklyn? In NYC? In other American cities? These games might be commonplace and it might be merely my inexperience that explains my astonishment. But, of course, knowing the rampant inequality in this country and the exceptionally harsh treatment it reserves for the poor, I should not be surprised.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

Andres Serrano has just released Sign Of The Times a new body of work for which he bought signs from the homeless in New York at $20 a pop. Over 200 signs in total.

I’m not sure about the sound track to the video, but Serrano’s words are worth a read on the Creative Time Reports website. He doesn’t breaking any new rhetorical ground but he does make a good case for this work being a timely statement to coincide with the end of Bloomberg’s stint as city mayor. New York has a problem with homelessness.

Just once, Serrano’s words veer dangerously close to over-analysis and sentimentality:

“What struck me about the people who sold me their signs was their willingness to let go of them. It was as if they had little attachment to them even though some signs had been with them for a long time. Of course, they needed the money. Many people would tell me they had made nothing that day. But I also think that those who possess little have less attachment to material things. They know what it’s like to live with less.” [My bolding.]

But, ultimately, he grounds the work where it should be — in an it-is-what-it-is conclusion about art, and in an it-is-an-outrage statement about society:

“Although the homeless are at the bottom of the economic ladder, many Americans are not far from it. They may not be homeless, but they’re poor. Fifty million or more Americans live at or below the poverty line.”

You’ll recognise the name. Serrano brought us the *controversial* Piss Christ and in doing so exposed the small-minded vitriol of the culture wars in eighties America, that set the tone for the rightwing unthink so common today.

Despite their wildly different methodologies, Piss Christ and Sign Of The Times have a lot in common. The former magnifies the cultural differences and the latter magnifies our economic differences. Cultural and economic capital are related. Both works ask audiences about how far they, we, are willing to go to manage perspective and to get out of ones own head. Both artworks create, very efficiently, the parameters to those urgent discussions.

Sign Of The Times is a very simple project. It’s not a subversion of capitalism; in fact barter-and-trade might be one of capitalism’s purest forms!? Regardless, Serrano made small but significant one-off contributions to the lives of hundreds of homeless during the making of the work. Hopefully, the presentation of Sign Of The Times will shape public and political opinion to improve the lot for many more homeless folk?

Armand inside of a recreation room at Goldwater Hospital, Febuary 2012.

Armand Xama, 31, and Bryan Duggan, 51, are best friends. They both suffered broken necks in diving accidents. Xama and Duggan are just two of 800 patients at Goldwater Hospital, on New York’s Roosevelt Island. Almost every patient at the state-run facility is on Medicaid.

Throughout 2012, photojournalist Daniel Tepper followed Xama and Duggan through their days on and off Roosevelt Island.

In the summer of 2013, Goldwater will be closed and demolished to make way for Cornell University’s new science center. Patients have not yet been to told to where they will be relocated.

“This is a developing and underreported issue,” says Tepper. “The people who call it their home have no way to advocate for themselves and let others know what is happening to them. They are at the mercy of the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation that isn’t doing a great job in handling the closing and relocation.”

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A portrait of Armand on Roosevelt Island, April 2012.

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With over 400 individuals who have neck and spinal injuries, Goldwater is home to the largest community of such persons in the New York hospital system.

“The closing of Goldwater is just the tip of the iceberg,” explains Tepper. “Opponents to the science center are alarmed that the development is projected to cost $2 billion dollars and take decades to complete, especially at the time when many city workers don’t have contracts and the schools and hospitals are badly in need of funding. This is a big issue that will change everyone who lives on Roosevelt Island but the first people to feel the effects will be the patients at Goldwater.”

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Armand getting ready for the day inside of Goldwater Hospital, March 2012.

Tepper wrote for the Gothamist about the background to the Cornell science center planning.

In July 2010, the city stated that it was planning to relocate some of Goldwater’s patients and staff to a facility in Harlem.

Five months later, Mayor Bloomberg announced Goldwater’s location as a possible site in a tech campus competition. In December 2011, the mayor named Cornell and Technion universities the winners of a bid to construct a sprawling science and engineering campus where the hospital now stands. This massive, two billion dollar project will take decades to complete and cover nearly one-third of the island. It will radically transform Roosevelt Island and affect all 12,000 of its residents, but the first ones to feel the impact will be the residents of Goldwater. Cornell has said they plan on using some of the rubble from Goldwater’s demolished edifice to raise the level of their campus site out of the floodplain.

The closure of Goldwater Hospital and the imminent relocation have received little media coverage. “This is a really old story and it’s done before,” Evelyn Hernández, the director media relations for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation told us over the phone. “I wanted to make sure you know that the story’s been done before, a long time ago. We’ve announced it in press releases.”

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A bathroom inside of Goldwater Hospital, Febuary 2012.

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Bryan smoking a cigarette in courtyard at Goldwater Hospital, April 2012.

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In April, 2013, Tepper returned to Goldwater to catch up with Xama and Duggan – men he now considers his ‘buddies.’

“I was struck by how little their lives have changed since I began this project last year,” reports Tepper. “The daily lives of both men has fallen into a strict routine that I think happens to most people living in a state-run facility, whether it’s a prison or hospital. A times I found myself feeling photographic deja-vu, as a scene I have already captured repeated itself in front of my camera. Both guys are still in the dark about where they will end up and when they will be moved.”

“But they are both as optimistic and good-humored as always.”

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Bryan in a market on Roosevelt Island, April 2012.

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Police stop teenagers for ID and when one can’t produce it he is put in a police van and driven away.  The other has to call his mother who didn’t answer. The police were about to haul him away when his brother showed up and presented ID. © Nina Berman

STOP AND FRISK

The controversial Stop & Frisk procedures of the New York Police Department (NYPD) have been enacted for decades, but due to a phenomenal rise in figures over the past decade, the issue has recently become a hot news topic.

Civil rights advocates point out that Stop & Frisks are disproportionately experienced by minorities. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) published a report: NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Activity in 2011/2012.

In 2002, the NYPD made 97,296 stops. In 2011, there were 685,724 stops. Not all stops result in frisks. Of the 381,704 frisks, 330,638 (89.2%) were of blacks and Latinos. By contrast, only 27,341 frisks (7.4%) were of whites.

The NYCLU reports:

“Young Black and Latino men were the targets of a hugely disproportionate number of stops. Though they account for only 4.7% of the city, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6% of stops in 2011.” …

“The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406). Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.”

The 2011 data are striking in what they reveal about the large percentages of blacks and Latinos being stopped in precincts that have substantial percentages of white residents. For instance, the population of the 17th Precinct, which covers the East Side of Manhattan, has the lowest percentage of black and Latino residents in the city at 7.8%, yet 71.4% of those stopped in the precinct were black or Latino.

In total, during the 10 years of the Bloomberg administration, there have been over 4,000,000 stops in New York city. The 524,873 extra stops in 2011 (as compared to 2002) recovered only 176 more guns.

In 2011, of the 381,704 frisks, 330,638 (89.2%) were of blacks and Latinos. By contrast, only 27,341 frisks (7.4%) were of whites.

Blacks and Latinos were more likely to be frisked and, among those frisked, are far less likely to be found with a weapon.

The New York Times reported last month that the NYPD has abused Stop & Frisk policies in recent years but others say the NYPD has – with officers’ routine street stops of minorities – been abusing its powers for decades.

Battle lines have been drawn. In May, NYCLU filed a lawsuit“challenging the NYPD’s unlawful practice of detaining, questioning and searching innocent New Yorkers – particularly blacks, Latinos and other non-whites.” In a counter attack, Mayor Bloomberg has called the NYCLU “dangerously wrong” and dismisses them as “no better than the NRA” for opposing the Stop & Frisk.

The Guardian just published data visualisation of NYC Stop & Frisk.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S INTEREST PIQUED

New York-based photographer Nina Berman has recently taken on the challenge of photographing this sprawling, all-encompassing issue. In the early stages of the project, she has published her forays in a couple (one and two) blog posts.

I realise this is a long conversation (possibly the longest I’ve ever published on Prison Photography) but it’s an important topic emerging in the popular consciousness right now.

Nina and I discuss how to make images of police activities and civil disobedience; talk about Nina’s motivations; pay attention to individual and group activists; and consider why attitudes about Stop & Frisk vary so wildly in the context of such controversial and stark statistics.

CONVERSATION

Why has this become a big issue recently?

Stop & Frisk has been a big issue for a long time in New York’s communities of colour. If you live in predominantly white community in New York you wouldn’t notice it because most white people are not stopped and frisked.

I think it’s a noticeable issue now because the numbers have got so high. There’s been some lawsuits and activist agitation so it has become more talked about. We’ve also seen connections made with other police aggressiveness and killings of unarmed black and brown men.

Is this just in NYC or is this indicative of issues at a national level?

It’s a national issue. A legal aid attorney, who lives in D.C., told me some months ago, that it was her feeling that it was worse in D.C. There is just a super-intense activist community here in New York who have just made it a central issue. And then there’s been lawsuits by the NYCLU and that has helped propel it into news reports. But I’ve been following it since November 2011 – at that time there was very little conversation about it. Now, it’s in the national press nearly every day.

How did it fall on to your radar?

I heard about it two years ago, either through a NYCLU or a Center for Constitutional Rights listserv. I read about lawsuits that have been put in against the NYPD. I thought that’s a huge number [of police stops]; what’s that all about?

Later, I saw a couple Stop & Frisks happen in the Bronx and it was just shocking. I started to follow some activists, who are just so dedicated; they are doing stuff everyday. The more I learned about it, the more I saw the connection between Stop & Frisks and what people are now calling the New Jim Crow; it’s not just the physical violation and potential humiliation of being stopped and searched but all the disenfranchisement that come as a result of that. That aspect has been missing in a lot of the news reports.

For instance, you may be stopped and the police officer may ask you for ID, and you may not have ID. As far as I know, there’s no ID law in New York city, but they may say, “You’re trespassing here,” and then you get a trespassing summons, or if you talk back to the officer, and ask ‘”Why are you stopping me?” you could get a disorderly conduct ticket and summons to court.

These are the kind of things that pile up. I’d like to see compiled statistics in New York city on how many disorderly conduct summons are given out, to whom they are given, and where they are given.

You said that you had witnessed a couple of Stop & Frisks?

I was in the Bronx on another project and I didn’t have my camera out. I saw a man riding a bicycle and a cop stopped him in the middle of the street. He stayed on his bicycle and he just immediately put his arms out in the air, like he knew precisely what position to assume. That’s a whole other thing that interests me; how body language for some people according to their race is a normalized gesture. For white people gestures [associated with Stop & Frisk] would be abnormal gestures.

Last summer, I saw a guy – he looked like he was 17 or 18 years old – in the Bronx and two plain-clothed cops came out and pushed him against a wall and stripped him of everything. It was intense.

What are the figures for stop and searches over the years?

Up to 700,000 in 2011. How many of those stops are also searches is unclear. Each year since 2002, stops have gone steadily up. If you calculate it for 2011, it is more than one a minute!* It is beyond comprehension.

What are the attitudes of the people in these communities who are effected?

There’s one guy in East Harlem I’ve come to know rather well. He’s been stopped and frisked his whole life and has never thought anything of it. One day, he saw his stepson stopped and searched. A light went off in his head; “What is going on here?” In another instance, his stepson was stopped and he was able to record the audio of the stop and the stuff the cops were saying was so abusive. After that, the father decided to get involved in civil disobedience and he’s out there every day involved in jail support, court support and rallying at precincts too. Many of the activists have been arrested.

Where have you been making photographs?

Outside precincts mostly; in Harlem, the Bronx, and Police Plaza downtown. Also, courthouses; mainly the Bronx criminal courthouse, the Manhattan criminal court house.

In the midst of the project, there was a police killing of a young man named Ramarley Graham. So the Stop & Frisk opposition got connected to issues around unwarranted police killings. They see it as part of the same racial profiling issue.

And the impact?

The impact has only been because of enormous amount of pressure – it’s kind of astonishing that you can have an impact at the grassroots level. Walking while Black [is the issue.] Jumaane Williams, a city councilman has stepped up and said, “I got stop and frisked, and I’m a councilman.”

The protestors I have met want an entire new style of policing; the police are not being seen as protectors, but as aggressors. Also, as part of some system – through these stops, this harassment, these summons, these stops – it just keeps people down.

If you speak to some of the parents, their concern is, “Okay, so my kid gets stopped 5 or 6 times for some bullshit thing and let’s see what happens when you seek college loan money. That’s the real fear. One of the fears. I guess the real fear is that a cop might kill your son. If he moves his hand the wrong way or something.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is just beginning inquiries. The NYPD is not really backing down. As of a month or so ago, Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly were saying ‘This is terrific.’

Michelle Alexander’s characterization of this documenting and disciplining on the streets as well as in the prisons as “The New Jim Crow.” It seems these rapidly rising figures of Stop & Frisk support her arguments. That this racial profiling begins on the street makes the larger, national issue even more terrifying and pernicious. A lot of the time people think it is locked facilities that control populations so vigorously, but here’s evidence that racism begins in free society. Would you agree?

One of my first experiences was photographing some boys who were walking back from the gym in the Bronx. They were stopped, taken to the precinct and their mothers were called. They came to the precinct and the mothers started getting upset. The police wouldn’t let the mothers see them. One of the boys was charged with disorderly conduct because he talked back to the cops and one the mothers said. “That’s it, I sending my kid to the South. I have to protect him from the NYPD.” I learned that there’s this whole reverse migration that goes on when a boy hits his teenage years. Families in New York – and this is not the fist time I’ve heard this – want to send their boys back south to live with relative and to protect them from the NYPD! That blew my mind.

Why has the NYPD taken on this policy which is clearly flawed but also a public relations disaster?

Well, so far it hasn’t been a public relations disaster; not until this year. What kicked it off was a very visible civil disobedience action by Professor Cornell West and a bunch of other in front of the Harlem police precinct. That was the first step. Why the NYPD is doing it? I don’t know if it a money maker which would be an interesting things to find out. All these summonses carry fines.

I personally think New York city has too many cops; it is the most heavily policed city in North America. There’s 40,000 cops so they have to do something. The other factor – and this is what people say on the streets – they are too afraid to go after real gangsters so they hit up these people that are doing nothing, so they can show they are meeting quotas.

Law enforcement says there’s some good in the policy – that gang-bangers don’t bring guns on to the street, because they’re afraid of being stopped; so it is kind of a *preventative* policy.

But statistics (see graph above) don’t really support that argument.

Plus, it’s clogged up the entire court system, the holding cells. Say you’re stopped at 3pm and given a disorderly conduct summons, you may not get to the precinct till 10 o’clock at night … and then they might send you to central booking. Can you imagine what that’d do to a kid, or to anyone? If you’re on a job that says, ‘If you don’t show up you get fired [you loose your job].’ These are real stories; they are not just hypotheticals.

This is what Michelle Alexander would refer to as your way into the system.

What usually happens during a Stop & Frisk?

Legally, if a police officer stops you, you don’t have to say a word. There’s all sorts of “know your rights” trainings all over the city now. And there’s CopWatch groups. Neighborhood people are going out in teams in the community and just watching them.

What you’re supposed to do is ask, “Officer, am I under arrest?” and if the officer says no, you’re supposed to walk away. Does it usually happen like that? No. You’re scared when someone comes up to you. You say something. Each Stop & Frisk handles very differently.

If you refuse to answer questions that might cause problems.

They may throw some charge. They could say you’re obstructing justice. They’re supposed to stop you if they suspect you of something. They’re only supposes to frisk you if they suspect you are carrying a weapon.

I think this policy is going to change. I think there has been a tremendous amount of change. I don’t know what they will then do with all these police officers!?

It used to be when a municipality had budget troubles they’d think about dropping the number of cops. They don’t think that any more. It’s an untouchable.

If they pulled this stuff on 57th Street, Park Avenue or Madison Avenue, can you imagine what would happen? Could you imagine someone walking out of Barney’s New York and the NYPD stopping and frisking the person?

The NYPD does it in neighborhoods where people aren’t going to say anything.

What the most egregious case you’ve learnt about?

In my video, a young man speaks. He’s in his twenties. What was he pulled in for? He was in the subway with his girlfriend going downtown. and his girlfriends sister swiped him through on the subway. He was busted for soliciting. They claimed he asked someone to swipe him through. Well, it’s not illegal to swipe someone through. He spent a whole day in the system because of that. You see some subway stations heavy with police officers. Why? Because they have so much crime? I don’t think so.

Tell us about the groups you’ve been working with and following.

There’s a fluid group of people whop aren’t connected through any specific structure. They find each other at events. Or, someone has a problem and knows one person and they reach out to the group. The group I’ve been following is called Stop Stop & Frisk and it is a mix of Black, Hispanic and White people from Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn. They plan to go Staten Island, where there’s lots of problems as well.

Opponents are a mix of working class and middle class, some social workers, legal aid workers, some students and some activists. Wherever there’s some action happening they’ll try to show up and show support. There was recently an action at Lehman High School in the Bronx. Kids were being harassed; it’s a very liquid surge of people who are interested. Go to any neighborhood that is predominantly Black or Hispanic and you’ll find people working on this issue.

The NYCLU has been on the forefront of the opposition?

Yes, and there’s been different organizations that have coalesced. There’s the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). There is not one central group and that’s what it so amazing about it. People are waking up at the same time and saying, ‘Hey our neighborhood doesn’t have to be like this.’

How do you plan to pursue the story visually? It’s difficult, no?

I can certainly stake out more Stop & Frisks, and I’d like to do that. There’s also newly emerging surveillance infrastructure. The NYPD will roll these watch-towers into neighborhoods and watch certain places. I’d like to find a way to photograph this landscape that is constantly surveyed. You just have to figure out where these things are because they are moving all the time. And then I’m quite drawn to the mothers – the mothers who feel like they are going to lose their sons.

What do you think about this Pete?

Often material that gets to the heart of the matter is not the photography done by the well-meaning documentary photographers, but the images captured by the surveillance or official cameras. Look at the photos in the appendix of the Supreme Court ruling on the Plata vs. Brown case. The ruling established that overcrowding in California prisons led to preventable deaths, and therefore the conditions of detention for approximately 160,000 inmates was – is – cruel and unusual. Those photos were all taken by the California Department of Corrections itself.

Consider the Collateral Damage wikileaks video; it was US Army footage. The Abu Ghraib images were not taken by a journalist. Many of the photos that are central to expose are taken by those on the inside. It’s very difficult for an outsider to get that sort of access necessary.

So, I am interested in these movable NYPD watch towers. I never knew they existed.

They used them during Occupy. What Happened When I Tried to Get Some Answers About the Creepy NYPD Watchtower Monitoring OWS was a great story by Nick Turse about his encounters with the cops manning the occupy towers. Pete, you’re talking about the Prison Industrial Complex, and there’s is the Military Industrial Complex … well, this is the Homeland Security Industrial Complex. There’s money for new toys and they have to use it. They train police forces on them and they pull them out in every situation.

BUT if you’re in a residential neighborhood and you see one of these watchtowers for a few days, you wonder who’s doing the watching? Am I being watched? Maybe the person behind me is threatening? Is that what’s happening? Or am I being violated? Photographically, it’s not that easy to figure out how to cover these issues, but it’s not impossible. I think you just have to be clever; push yourself further. I feel pretty proud of myself for making the start I have, because you don’t see one photographer touching these things. I’m  not patting myself on the back about this but I like the idea of engaging with these communities and the city I live in. I feel that’s important.

A couple of years ago, Fred Ritchin encouraged me to move away from purely historical survey of photography in prisons and think about how the strategies and apparatus of discipline and management developed in prisons have been implemented across free society – corporate parks, high-rise surveillance, riot and protest policing.

Your work from Homeland was subtle in how it connected Americans with the hardware for war and surveillance.

I’ve though of just parking myself in front of central booking in Bronx, in front of the courthouse. I was there for a while the other day when a cop was indicted for the killing of a young boy and I saw kid after kid being walked i n there in handcuffs. I foe want to actually photograph those numbers – and maybe you do that; it takes a day, a week, month – how many pictures can I actually make of Black kids in handcuffs? I’d make thousands.

The challenge is that so much of this you can’t see; you’re prevented from seeing. There is a former prosecutor who has become a big opponent of Stop & Frisk. He says the conditions inside the Manhattan holding cells are worse than anything he’s ever seen in his life, and that they’re designed to make you feel like an animal intentionally.

Criticism of holding cells doesn’t surprise. City jails have a more transient population. There’s a general rule of thumb that the shorter the amount of time someone stays in a cell, the less care they’ll take care of it.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to get a look inside a booking cell. Lawyers don’t even see a booking cell. I’ve thought about getting myself arrested just so I could see it and experience it for myself.

Don’t do that, Nina.

No, I don’t think so. But, it has entered my mind more than once. You see the activists who are doing it more and more. They want to get arrested. They’re so caught up in it. They want the reminder of how fucked up things are.

You said earlier that the courts and booking stations were getting backlogged, possibly because of the civil disobedience also?

Yes, apparently. Frivolous charges are clogging the system. Bobby Constantino, a former [and disillusioned] prosecutor from Boston, writes The Crown blog. He moved to New York, got himself arrested in a civil disobedience action and wrote a whole description of his arrest and booking.

Why have you ventured into video?

I realized the stories people were saying were important and they’d be really hard to capture in just stills. And to give my audience a sense of the cat-and-mouse game played out on the streets. Standing in front of a precinct screaming at police officers? People don’t just do that. People have to get to some sense of rage just to do that.

It would be interesting to speak to the District Attorney (DA) that deals with those cases and see how many cases are brought forward and how many get dropped. Often a DA doesn’t want to waste time and resources on petty charges, especially if the courts are stretched.

The thing is, a cop’s quota is still met as long as he writes the ticket. It’s not based on whether or not it goes through the court. For the cop, he doesn’t care if the case is dropped or not and this is where the reporting needs to come in. The Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Daily News; there needs to be a second level of reporting [from those outlets].

What is the infrastructure driving all of this? It’s not just Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly saying this is a crime fighting technique. What are the contradictions? If I was an investigative reporter, that’s what I’d be looking into.

Say you have a couple of disorderly conduct summons against you and you don’t show up to court, you’re going to have a warrant against you! Then you have a record … a real record. It’ll be interesting to see how many people come out for the daily marches. Everyday, more people sign on and it could end up being thousands and thousands of people.

Where do you feel you are at with your coverage of this issue?

I like the video I’ve made and I can certainly go more on it. But how do you photograph racial profiling? Or, furthermore the impulse to racial profile? If you look at some of these situations, in particular police killings – which I think of as the result of racial profiling – the cops are operating with one world view and the communities with another. They’re gulfs apart.

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*There are 525949 minutes in a year. Therefore, in 2011, the NYPD stopped someone every 45 seconds.

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NINA BERMAN

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq and Homeland, both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad among others. She has participated in more than 70 solo and group exhibitions including the Whitney Museum of American Art 2010 Biennial, the Milano Triennale, 2010 and Dublin Contemporary 2011. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, Afterimage, TIME, American Photo and Photoworks. She is a member of the NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Berman lives in New York City.

Between 2002 and 2003, New York based photographer Serge J-F. Levy, visited six maximum security prisons across multiple states. The series is called Religion in Prisons.

I am decidedly ambivalent about the role of religion within prisons – it can be a force for good and for positive change, but it can also be reductive in scope and used for manipulation. I wanted to ask Serge a few questions to see if he could help me, and us, through some of the issues and interactions religions bring about in prison environments.

Q&A

Prison Photography: Tell us about your approach.

Serge J-F. Levy: When I did the project, I did my best to approach each individual (inmate) tabula rasa. I did everything within my power to try and understand who they were in the moment I met them and to understand who they wanted to be from that moment onward. In most cases I did not know what each person was punished for.

Though I feel a general compassion for humanity and a desire to understand troubled people, I also understand that the acts of many of the people I photographed often had dire and unimaginable consequences on the lives of their victims and the victim’s families. So, my compassion and understanding is measured with an awareness of the distinct nature of my relationship to my subjects.

It seems like you’ve been to a few states. Which prisons have you photographed in and in what time period?

I started in Greenhaven Maximum Security in New York State. I went on to photograph at the Muncy Women’s Unit in Pennsylvania, MCF (Minnesota Correctional Facility) – Stillwater, MCF-Oak Park Heights Super Maximum, MCF- St. Cloud, and Angola in Louisiana.

What attracted you to prisons and specifically religion in prisons?

When an accused criminal is locked away, we, as a country and a society, have assumed the inmate will be experiencing some degree of “rehabilitation.” Instead, it would appear these environments quite often breed further damage, dysfunction, and pathology. I became interested in how inmates used their time to pursue a form of healing outside of the prescribed forms of daily routine. Through religious communities, inmates were often seeking a form of spiritual rehabilitation. This spiritual rehabilitation often provided the inmates a way to metaphorically experience a freedom beyond the obvious confinement and constraint they experience in their present lives. Religion also provides many adherents a lasting form of reflection and cleansing to purge the remains of unresolved tragedy from their pasts. So you asked why I was attracted to this project? Because I feel the literal experience of being imprisoned, stripped of freedom, and confined in a den of thieves (and murderers, etc.), is a powerful figurative example of aspects of the more general human experience. The ability to find a way to transcend the reality of one’s current circumstances and experience a healing and freedom through the channels of spirituality and reflection… that’s a valuable tool.

How did you negotiate access? Did different DOCs react to your request differently?

I got access through the most classic technique I know of; I met someone in the mailroom who introduced me to someone who worked on the second floor who introduced me to the fourth floor and on up the chain until I had an endorsement to enter my first prison. After working in Greenhaven Maximum Security Prison for several visits, I had created a body of work that would encourage future prisons of the valuable intentions and ideas behind my work.

And related to the last question of how I got access, the work I was doing was not much of a security risk for prison administrations as I was mostly working in areas and in ways that could only make the prison system and its staff look good. However, I guess there was always the risk that I could have turned my camera in a different direction and as was the case in many instances, I was left alone with inmates long enough that I could have seen more than I was potentially supposed to. But that’s not who I am or how I work.

Any memorable interactions?

One warden in Texas suggested we grab tea and beer when I made it down. I never made it down but I was always interested in whether that was an obscure Texan custom.

Is photography a security risk for prison administrations?

I just don’t know the nuances of security well enough to weigh in on that question. I could imagine that with a particular intention, a photographer may be able to provide the necessary coverage to develop a plan, but I am mostly constructing this from my avid movie watching hobby!

Some of the services/prayer/rituals you’ve photographed seem quite involved. How much time did prisoners spend involved in religious observance? Were their other outlets available to them for self-reflection and improvement, e.g. sports, industries, education, group counseling, libraries?

I found it interesting how religion served multi-faceted functions for the inmates. On the most direct level, it was a form of spiritual cleansing and growth that would happen in services and weekly or daily gatherings and meetings in chapels and make-shift religious venues. But beyond these formal locations, religion becomes an identity and an opportunity to develop a social circle; a comparison to how gangs function in prison might be an apt comparison because as I understand it, competing religions would at times seek to sabotage the work of each other. One such case was how the baptism tank had to be replaced by a laundry cart because it would constantly develop mysterious holes at Stillwater Maximum Security Prison in Minnesota.

But religion was also practiced in the art inmates created; from sculptural effigies to paintings and drawings of religious scenes, the hobby shops and prison cells often contained quite a bit of religious memorabilia. There were several outlets for inmates to reflect and experience spirituality; the arts, group meetings of various sorts (including therapy), formal religious gatherings, one-on-one consultations with chaplains, and library hours.

Policies varied from prison to prison and in each case I would hear inmates express grievance as to the limitations that were imposed upon them. I was only there for small slices of time and generally wasn’t able to get a more holistic sense of what the greater experience was like.

What did the prisoners think of your presence?

I think the inmates respected the integrity of my stated goals and the ideas I had for my work. I also think, rightfully so, many inmates were skeptical as to my intentions and my affiliation with the media. After all, many of the people I worked with were directly featured and often intensely maligned in the media during their prosecution and processing through the judicial system.

What did the correctional officers think of your presence?

The correctional officers, were largely very helpful but also insistent upon reminding me of the omnipresent dangers. On more than one occasion I was told that a particular inmate was trying to con me into believing one story or another. I generally felt that the correctional officers had seen or heard quite a bit during their time working inside.

Were their any days and/or experiences with the prisoners that shocked, surprised or delighted you?

Kneeling in a small room for Friday Jumma with 300 Muslim inmates listening to and responding to the call of Allah Oh Akbar is something that can’t be explained but only felt. Same for a Baptist or Pentecostal service.

On one occasion, I sat in a room of 10 women gathered with a Catholic chaplain, and listened to one woman recount her experience of being raped and simultaneously attacked by a dog. Sometimes, it was more important for me to listen, feel and internalize the moment without the filter of photography.

Do you follow a creed or religion?

I don’t follow any particular religious path. I lead a life that is guided by principles that I have culled from religious practice and ideas that have resonated with me over time. My “religion” is constantly evolving. The sources behind my spirituality that I can identify are Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and many other faiths and disciplines I have encountered throughout my life.

What has been the reception to these images?

I think people like it. But due to the limited exposure these images have had, I have yet to hear strong dissenting opinions if there are any.

How do you think your images fit into the visual landscape of prisons and prisoners in America. Do they confirm or counter stereotypes or common narratives?

I am seeking to provide a record of the people practicing religion in prison. Of the work I have seen done in prisons, much of it addresses religion as a component of life inside, and therefore seems to be geared toward molding the religious component of prison life into a greater aesthetic and narrative whole.

My work is more thorough in exploring this particular [religious] angle of prison life. Of course, I could be very wrong about the full breadth of quality work done on this specific topic.

Thank you for your time Serge.

BIOGRAPHY

Serge J-F. Levy’s work is represented by Gallery 339 in Philadelphia and has been exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Schroeder Romero Gallery in Chelsea, and The Leica Gallery (New York City and Tokyo) among many other national and international solo and group exhibitions. In 2011 the Princeton University Press published a book of Serge’s photographs made during his yearlong photography fellowship at the Institute, along with essays by Institute members. Serge’s magazine photography has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Life, ESPN The Magazine, and Harper’s Magazine among others.. For over 10 years Serge has been on the faculty at the International Center of Photography in New York City where he is a seminar leader in the documentary/photojournalism program and teaches street photography, editing, portraiture, and several other courses. In addition to his street photography practice, he is an avid draftsman and painter. Serge lived in New York City for his whole life … until recently moving to the Sonoran Desert.

MORE ON RELIGION ON PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY

Body vs. Structure: Islam in Prisons
Dustin Franz’s ‘Finding Faith’
Andrew Kaufman and the Incarcerated “Jesus Freaks”
Photog Searches for Healing on Texas’ Deathrow

Jim Linderman just posted some original 1950s mugshots from Brooklyn, NY on Dull Tool Dim Bulb (one of my favourite photography blogs).

Of the images he says:

“Given attitudes, practices and institutional racism from 50 plus years ago, these sharp-dressers might have been just walking to work.”

Possibly, but we will probably never know the circumstances of their arrests.

I am fascinated by the tilted heads of many of the detained men and women. I read a hell of a lot of knowing defiance in the way many of the subjects gaze to the camera. It’s as if they are simultaneously acknowledging the photograph as a component in the apparatus of police power and the primary record of that unequal power. As such, they don’t hide or shrink but confront the photographic act.

All photos: Group of Original Mug Shot Photographs, New York City 1949 – 1955 Collection Jim Linderman

In 1972, Joshua Freiwald was commissioned by San Francisco architecture firm Kaplan & McLaughlin to photograph the spaces within Clinton Correctional Facility in the town of Dannemora, NY.

In the wake of the Attica uprising in September of 1971, the New York Department of Corrections commissioned Kaplan & McLaughlin to asses the prison’s design as it related to the safety of the prison, staff and inmates. The NYDoC wanted to avoid another rebellion.

The most astounding sight within Dannemora was the terrace of “courts” sandwiched between the exterior wall and the prison yard. It is thought the courts began as garden plots in the late twenties or early thirties, although there is no official mention of their existence until the 1950s.

Simply, the most remarkable example of a prisoner-made environment I have ever come across.

The courts were the focus of Ron Roizen’s 55 page report to the NYDoC on the situation at Clinton Correctional Facility. Sociologist Roizen, also hired by Kaplan & McLaughlin, conducted interviews with inmates over a period of five days:

“Inmates waited months, sometimes even years, to gain this privilege. The groups would gather during yard time to shoot the breeze, cook, eat, smoke, and generally ‘get away from’ the rigors and boredom of prison life.”

In the same five days, Freiwald took hundreds of photographs at Dannemora. Eight of those negatives were scanned earlier this month and are published online here for the first time.

“Since I’d taken these photographs, I’ve come to realize that these are something quite extraordinary in my own medium, and represent for me a moment in time when I did something important. I can’t say for sure why they’re important, or how they’re important, but I know they’re important,” says Freiwald.

Freiwald and I discuss the social self-organisation of the inmates around the courts, his experiences photographing, the air “thick” with tension and surveillance, the spectre of evil, and how structures like the courts simply do not exist in modern prisons.

LISTEN TO OUR DISCUSSION ON THE PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY PODBEAN PAGE

All images © Joshua Freiwald

All images © Joshua Freiwald

© Dane Jones/Center for Employment Opportunities

What happens after incarceration? What does life look like; how does one operate? More to the point what does the world look like?

With the development of Released the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York has tackled these queries with a multi-media-headed-hydra of photography and narrative.

Released “produced to offer a rarely seen perspective of those returning home from prison or jail” was set in motion by Cara Shih, Marketing Director at CEO. It consists of two parallel projects.

Firstly – to describe what life looks like – she contracted three young photographers to capture, produce and tell the stories of CEO’s clients as they left prison and built new lives.

Secondly – to describe what the world looks like – Shih enlisted CEO clients to self-document their re-assimilation into society.

The result are two very different sets of valuable works.

© Dane Jones/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Darryl Allen/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Darryl Allen/Center for Employment Opportunities

The main body of work for Released is the collection of nine slideshows of nine individuals (youtube/embeddable) by photographers Jeyhoun Allebaugh, Michael Scott Berman and Bryan Tarnowski. There’s no narration but the subjects’ own, and that’s everything that’s needed. These are real characters. Kudos to Allebaugh, Berman and Tarnowski for getting out the way of the stories.

It was Allebaugh who first contacted me about the project and so I fired him back a few questions. Before that, let me mention the second element of Released.

As you know though I have high expectations of prison arts education and the prospect of self-rehabilitation through photography, so when Allebaugh explained the ‘Snapshot Project’ within the Released project I knew I wanted images made by the six former prisoners on disposable cameras to feature here on Prison Photography. Allebaugh understood.

I speak more on ‘Snapshot Project’ after the Q&A.

JEYHOUN ALLEBAUGH Q&A

PP: How did you come across this project?

JA: Released was the brainchild of Cara Shih. She wanted to create an honest and genuine portrayal of the experience of her participants in a creative and artistic way.

PP: Had prison improved or set back the lives of the nine subjects you followed?

JA: Hmm. That is a difficult and complex question. While incarcerated, one of my subjects, Revond Cox, had to attend his son’s funeral in shackles and a DOC jumpsuit while his other young son sat graveside. I’m not sure any person should have to go through something like that. To call it a “setback” would certainly fall short. However, in his piece on the site, he says, “[prison] saved me from death because the way I was running, it was just a matter of time.” He clearly has his head on very straight about the type of father he wants to be and I do think some of that epiphany is directly related to his very difficult time in prison.

PP: Do you think the systems for employment, reintegration are fair for those formerly incarcerated?

JA: Life is extremely difficult for formerly incarcerated people coming home. The line between a new life and their old lives is razor thin and just as sharp. It is often much more complex than just coming home and doing right. Coming back to families and the stigma of finding a job as an ex-con make it very difficult. That said, I think organizations like the Center for Employment Opportunity are a very effective way to balance these things out, but many go without services such as these.

PP: What’s your biggest take away from the project?

JA: When we started this project, one of the key ideas behind Released was to show that when the formerly incarcerated come back home, it is often not to the “clean slate” that many of us imagine it to be. We wanted to show that there are new and different obstacles these people must face and I believe the project highlighted these well, showing some of the areas where the aid of an organization like CEO is imperative.

I believe what ended up being great about the project, however, was that more than the differences, the similarities between what the subjects and normal people go through on a day to day basis was what was most evident. I think this is what was really special about seeing photographs taken by the subjects themselves in addition to the ones we took as professional photographers.

The nine individuals we documented over three months are some of the best human spirits I have come across; absolutely amazing people. I hope you’ll spend a couple minutes getting to know them by watching the short videos on the site.

I’ve very much enjoyed staying in touch with these great people since the project. Listening to them talk about the continual triumphs and struggles of this great life we are given has truly been a gift and is a great inspiration to me.

© Jose L Padilla/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Jose L Padilla/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Jose L Padilla/Center for Employment Opportunities

‘SNAPSHOT PROJECT’, RELEASED, CEO

The snapshots are the daily details, daily grind and efforts and situations that don’t make it onto an outsider’s camera or off the cutting room floor. If Allebaugh et al. provided the over-arching narratives of empowerment and improvement, these are the chapters, pages and phrases.

As Allebaugh stated, the snapshots show off the same foibles we all have – Jose Padilla‘s fashion savvy, big smile and willingness to perform for the camera; Dane Jones‘ wonder with the street and his omission of self; Lewis Epps‘ focus on the activities, training and environments to keep him on track; Dwayne Allen‘s tourist shots of Manhattan’s Financial District; Chester Boston‘s preoccupation with portraiture and the family; and Michael Hunt‘s meanderings about his new or old neighbourhood.

Too often we can get caught behind the idea – and support of – a large goal without stopping to think about the many tiny, terrifying steps needed to achieve the goal. These images reveal those steps. Due purely to the equipment, the ‘Snapshot Project‘ is overlaid with naivety. But there is also good intentions, massively important small victories and the promise of networks that will help these men achieve a life outside prison permanently.

© Lewis Epps/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Lewis Epps/Center for Employment Opportunities

LEWIS EPPS ON LIVING IN A SHELTER, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND HIS MOTHER

If you want to know more about Lewis Epps, CEO has published a Q&A with Epps on their blog. Here’s my choice of quotes:

I was happy that I was doing [The Snapshot Project] and engaging in a project that would reflect my life. You know how you want to leave a legacy? I want people to say, “Yeah, Lewis he’s a good guy.” You know, I was doing something good to help me, and to help others, and also to be thankful to CEO for the opportunity.

I feel like I am ashamed to be in a shelter, I have never been in one my entire life. I had no place to live, so they released me to the shelter.

I have a tight, helpful family and we’re all very close. I lived in the Bronx, that’s where my criminal activities came from. My mother is elderly and I don’t want to bring that back to her … My family is very supportive. I go every Saturday to my mother’s to do painting, backyard, do work for her. Sundays I go to church.

I’m about to move from a shelter into a room of my own. I save my checks. I hide my money when I cash my checks, so I’m not tempted to spend it. I’ve been saving for three months since I started working and I’m almost ready. I also have family support. Finding a suitable place is tough. I can’t afford a room yet but I’m doing better than I’ve been in the past. I need a permanent job so I can retain my income and keep being able to afford a place of my own.

It stays in front of me, being re-incarcerated. Once I stop being good, I could be back. I’m too old to go back, I’ve got to move forward and think positive. CEO is helping me strive, and I know I’ve got to keep my focus. Once I don’t keep focus that could be it. One mess-up, that’s all it takes. I’m not going to do that again. I’m going to stay around people who are trying to help me.

Shih informs me a similar Q&A with Jose Padilla is next.

© Chester Boston/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Chester Boston/Center for Employment Opportunities
© Michael Hunt/Center for Employment Opportunities

© Michael Hunt/Center for Employment Opportunities

SNAPSHOT PROJECT PARTICIPANT-PHOTOGRAPHERS

Dane Jones, 26, lives in the Bronx with roommates. His challenges to re-entry include obtaining employment, education, financial management and housing. When asked what is the most challenging part of his daily life, he says “fitting in and conforming to the norms of society.”

Lewis Epps, 49, resides in a shelter. Currently he works on the transitional job sites while searching for permanent employment. His biggest challenges to re-entry are obtaining full-time work and permanent housing. He has a very supportive family who is helping him succeed in the re-entry process.

Darryl Allen, 46, lives in Queens with his father, brother and nephews. He has three daughters (including a pair of twins), and his eldest daughter is a lawyer. His biggest challenge to re-entry is obtaining employment. Darryl says the most challenging part of his daily life is “being a friend and father to my children.”

Chester Boston, 34, lives in Queens with his uncle. His biggest challenge to re-entry is obtaining employment. He has a five year old daughter, whom he named after his mother. He says fighting for custody is a daily challenge and not seeing her is very hard.

Jose L. Padilla, 47, lives in Brooklyn. After completing Life Skills Education and becoming Job Start Ready, he landed a full-time job and now comes to CEO for retention services. To him staying punctual is the most challenging part of his day. He has a certificate in construction.

Michael Hunt, 48, lives in Brooklyn. His biggest challenge to re-entry is finding stability in his life, and “being able to be myself and become employed at the same time.” His certificates include carpentry, electrical technician, fire guard and maintenance.

If you would like to hire CEO participants please contact Mary Bedeau at 212 422 4430 x345.

‘RELEASED’ PHOTOGRAPHERS BIOGRAPHIES

Jeyhoun Allebaugh is a freelance photographer who specializes in documentary, sports and portraiture photography. He is based in New York City and North Carolina. As a Turkish-American and avid fan of Hip-Hop and Bluegrass music who has spent his college years in the mountains of North Carolina as well as South Africa, Jeyhoun brings a diversity of taste to all aspects of his life. His work has appeared in GQ, PDN Emerging Photographer, USA Today, UK Guardian, SLAM Magazine, HOOP Magazine, The Durham Herald-Sun, The Durham Independent Weekly, NBA.com and SI.com.

Michael Scott Berman is a photographer specializing in food and portraits. His past clients include the New York Daily News, the Guardian, PNC Bank, and the AARP. He was the recipient of two grants from the Brooklyn Arts Council and has exhibited his work at the Leica Gallery in Manhattan and at Brooklyn Borough Hall. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and a Master of Business Administration from Georgetown University. Besides taking pictures, Michael also produces video and writes stories for his food blog, pizzacentric.com.

Bryan Tarnowski grew up in North Carolina and moved up to New York City to pursue photography in 2008. He assists with a number of the best fashion, commercial and portrait photographers in the world and has worked on shoots for top magazines and worldwide ad campaigns. Focusing on social documentary subjects of a wide variety, he likes to shoot what interests him, often to learn more about a subject and to quench his thirst for greater knowledge of the world. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Vibe Magazine, PDNedu among others.

Last month, Allebaugh, Berman and Tarnowski exhibited their work at the CultureFix Gallery on the Lower East Side. CEO has a Flickr set of the opening.

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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