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Strangeways, Manchester, UK. April 1990. Credit: Manchester Evening News

UK PRISONER VOTING RIGHTS

Brendan O’Friel, the governor in charge of Strangeways during 25 days of famous unrest beginning April 1st, 1990 has backed moves to give UK prisoners the vote.

O’Friel says the controversy is being deliberately stirred up for political reasons. He told the Manchester Evening News:

“I think it is a totally sensible thing to give prisoners the right to vote and then encourage them to vote. Whatever those people have done it is a question of trying to make sure that they are going to make a contribution to the community rather than being a drain on it. Anything we can do to encourage them to take responsibility and think positively is a very good thing.”

O’Friel’s view is not the concensus in the UK. In November 2010, The European Court of Human Rights ruled that denying the vote to prisoners was a violation of their human rights.

However, in early February the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to reject any lifting of the ban, opposing the move by 234 to 22. By doing so they face a class-action lawsuit which could cost the British taxpayer millions in damages for as long as the government denies prisoners their vote.

The ridiculous thing about this is that the figures (approximately 90,000) would barely effect election results. This is expensive folly by Britain’s politicians.

The UK prisoner voting ban has been in place since 1870.

For comparison, The Telegraph reports:

“Many developed countries have some form of prisoner voting including 28 other European nations such as France, Germany and Italy. Russia and Japan exclude all convicted prisoners. Just two states in America allow it while others do not even give the vote back when inmates leave prison. Prisoners can vote in two of seven states in Australia.”

PRISONER VOTING IN AMERICA

In 2010, judges in Washington State found that felon disenfranchisement laws unfairly impacted minorities as they were more likely to be subject to racial inequalities in the application of policing procedure.

From the ever-excellent Prison Law Blog:

“On Sept. 21, the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, an important case that could affect the voting rights of prisoners in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Hawaii, and Arizona. Back in January, a split Ninth Circuit panel ruled that, in Washington State, “minorities are more likely than whites to be searched, arrested, detained, and ultimately prosecuted,” and that, because “some people becom[e] felons not just because they have committed a crime, but because of their race, then that felon status cannot, under section 2 of the [Voting Rights Act], disqualify felons from voting.”

Washington State appealed and the discussion is likely to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s about time both Britain and the U.S. move into the 21st Century. From the Sentencing Law and Policy blog:

“According to a report co-published by Human Rights Watch and The Sentencing Project, a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system, disenfranchisement laws are “a vestige of medieval times when offenders were banished from the community and suffered ‘civil death.’  Brought from Europe to the colonies, these laws gained new political salience at the end the nineteenth century when disgruntled whites in a number of Southern states adopted them and other ostensibly race-neutral voting restrictions in an effort to exclude blacks from the vote.”

For more on prisoner and ex-prisoner disenfranchisement, read Michelle Alexander. She condenses the arguments of her very successful book, The New Jim Crow, here.

STRANGEWAYS ON PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY

Strangeways, 20th Anniversary

Ged Murray at Strangeways

Strangeways Riot and Don McPhee

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(M.E.N. story found via Jailhouse Lawyer)

Inmates in Discussion © 2009 Ged Murray

It might be that the anniversary of the most famous riot in the history of the British prison system will become an annual feature on Prison Photography?

Last year, I noted the 19th anniversary of the Strangeways Riot with looks at the work of Ged Murray and Don McPhee. This year for the big 20, I’ll point you in the direction of Ciara Leeming, fellow blogger, Northerner and Thatcher-basher. (Why is it that we children of the late seventies/early eighties can’t get out from under the iron lady’s shadow?)

Ciara:

For 25 days in April 1990, the authorities lost control of Manchester’s iconic Victorian jail and inmates took to the roof to protest against poor conditions and abusive staff. Chronic overcrowding, a lack of sanitation in the cells, frequent moves from one prison to another and poor visitation rights were among their complaints. When it all kicked off there were 1,600 men sharing 970 single cells. A series of copycat protests followed in a number of other UK jails. At Strangeways, the numbers quickly dwindled of course and by the last day just five protestors were left.

The riot left the prison in chaos and cost tens of millions of pounds and several years to repair. But more importantly, the protest and the landmark Woolf inquiry which followed it are credited as being a turning point in penal history. Many of Lord Woolf’s recommendations were too radical for the Tory administration and subsequent New Labour government to stomach and the prison population stands far higher today. But conditions at Strangeways – now HMP Manchester – and other prisons are undeniably better than they were on April Fool’s Day two decades ago.

Ciara’s just written a piece for Big Issue in the North, the UK’s magazine sold by homeless vendors in cities up and down the Isle. Download Ciara’s  Big Issue feature here.

Credit: CDCR

California Institution for Men, Chino, CA. August 2009 riot aftermath. Credit: CDCR

THE OFFICIAL

The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr) filled the visual hole left by the absence of press photography. I discovered via the CDCr Twitter stream that it had a Flickr profile and more than 72 hours after the event published these images. I use them throughout this post.

THE UNOFFICIAL

I was also contacted by a friend who also happens to have worked in CDCr facilities, is a PP guest blogger and now qualified fact-checker!

He was able to offer some clarification, correction and background on the physical environment at Chino and the CDCR desegregation policy that news sources and I referred to as a factor in the heightened racial tensions. Read on.

Spatial Orientation

The CDCR picture used in the original post shows only the minimum [security] facility at California Institution for Men (CIM). From the picture’s POV, the entire Reception Center infrastructure is behind you. That’s where the riot happened. Nothing happened anywhere in the area pictured.

The large building in the foreground is the administration building for the entire prison. The large building directly behind it is the prison hospital – yes, this is one of the rare prisons that actually has its own hospital. To the right of the hospital is the main walkway toward the back end of the minimum facility and in that upper left corner is a Substance Abuse Program yard with its own dorms and programming facilities. The large baseball field is considered the main yard.

California Institute for Men, Chino, CA. Credit: CDCR

California Institution for Men, Chino, CA. Credit: CDCR

Implementing CDCR Integration Policy

The integration/desegregation issue has not been raised or put into effect in any prison except two – Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) in Ione and Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) in Jamestown. These were the so called pilot programs for housing integration.

Like all things in CDCR, the reality is not what you think. These two prisons were chosen because they would seem to cause the least possible problems. MCSP is entirely SNY (Sensitive Needs Yard) with only a few hundred general population inmates in a separate minimum facility, and that’s designed for support of the prison itself. Inmates from that population work in administrative areas as clerks, porters, landscapers, etc. Some are sent out to work in local parks, on roads, etc. And some are bussed each day to the training academy for officers in Galt. Almost all of them are within a year or two of release and aren’t interested in getting into any trouble. Anyway, the three SNY yards house about 3600 inmates (1200 on each yard), and they are all in cells and already fully integrated because they are SNY. (Those not in cells are in badly overcrowded gyms and dayrooms.)

Many on the Mule Creek SNY yards, about 1500, are rated EOP mental health inmates (enhanced outpatient program – the most serious level of mental health programming). Virtually all of those are on psychotropic drugs of one sort or another and are essentially in la la land most of the time. Another several hundred are considered CCCMS (correctional clinical case management system) inmates. Some of those are on drugs, and all are doing some sort of mental health programming (support groups, etc.). There is a mental health staff there of about 150 people. Anyway, inmates in this prison are already quite docile and have been de facto integrated for a long time (since it was made SNY three or four years ago). They have had no discord around the housing integration issue that I’m aware of.

Credit: CDCR

California Institution for Men, Chino, CA. August 2009 riot aftermath. Credit: CDCR

Credit: CDCR

California Institution for Men, Chino, CA. August 2009 riot aftermath. Credit: CDCR

Now, Sierra Conservation Camp (SCC) is a different situation. Half of that prison is a [lower security] 3-level SNY facility, and integration in that half is no issue. [But] the general population side of the prison is a different story.

There is a 1-level yard with about 1200 inmates in dorms. An identical 2-level yard is next to it. The mission of these yards is to train inmates to be firefighters and to staff the small fire camps around the state. It’s hard and dangerous work, but the rewards are substantial. The food in the camps is excellent, and there’s as much of it as you want. The pay is very good (by inmate standards) and some have been able to accumulate a parole nest egg of several thousand dollars. Finally, good time credits mean your in-prison time is as little as 35% of your sentence so you can get out a lot earlier. These inmates are typically not the most violent offenders, although some will have violence in their past. Some are affiliated and active gang members. (On SNY yards there are no active gang members, in theory anyway, because you can’t get to an SNY until you renounce your gang.) The housing integration flies in the face of the gang conventions so it has caused some problems at SCC on those two general population yards.

Credit: CDCR

California Institution for Men, Chino, CA. August 2009 riot aftermath. Credit: CDCR

The CDCR started the integration effort last summer, and it quickly backed off when inmates put up resistance. Summer is not a good time in prison; heat makes violence flare more easily. Also, it’s fire season and the camps must be staffed. So they waited until the fall and tried again. Many dorms had mini-riots as gangs instructed incoming inmates not to comply. There were a couple of yard-level disturbances. The inmates tried refusing to come out of their dorms for a couple of days. They believed the officers would bring food to them as they would in a lockdown situation. When they did not, the stomachs settled it temporarily. Eventually, the administration settled on dealing with the situation by depriving any inmate who refused a bunk assignment of privileges. He would be given a disciplinary writeup and not be allowed phone calls, programming, visits, etc. It is currently this kind of a stalemate.

Credit: CDCR

California Institution for Men, Chino, CA. August 2009 riot aftermath. Credit: CDCR

Existing Racial Enmity

One thing that has not been mentioned is the ongoing Black/Hispanic rivalry in the southern half of the state. You may recall in early 2006 there were major riots in the Los Angeles County jails between Blacks and Hispanics. Over 2000 inmates participated, one died and at least 100 were injured. Many men involved in that could be the same people who were at Chino this weekend. Since that part of the Chino prison is a reception center, many inmates were probably local parolees who’d violated. These, and others, would have been through the LA county jail system, probably over the last few years. So this could all be no more than a continuation of the ongoing violence with many of the same people. Who knows!?

I’ve been in those Chino dorms many times and always felt uneasy. Only two officers are assigned, and at any given time one is on the phone or at the door doing an unlock or in the restroom or off on some administrative quest. There is no “gun coverage” as they call it when an armed officer is placed in an elevated position to provide less-than-lethal and lethal force to quell disturbances. As the administrative representative made plain in the interviews, the inmates are really in control. Two officers armed with pepper spray, batons and alarms can be overpowered in seconds. One officer had to be airlifted to medical care from that facility a year or so ago. His partner was doing something and he got hit from behind and they just beat him unconscious. He is extremely lucky he didn’t die; I’m sure the inmates left him for dead. Those dorms are classic World War II era barracks style housing. They would not meet the current standards of prison housing. Actually, they probably would not get any kind of occupancy permit in any municipality in the state.

Conclusion

Finally, a note of purely personal opinion. I believe the CDCR went about integration all wrong. In effect, they asked inmates to integrate. For a year or so prior to the start date, they had meetings with inmates to tell them what it was about and why it was being done. Worst of all, they created a video to sell them on the idea and played it incessantly on the prison TV system. It reminded me of parents who had decided to ask their children to go to school rather than simply telling them to go to school. Inmates are like children, and psychologically, they respond like children. If the administration had simply told them the courts were ordering integration and on a certain date it was happening, I think they would have had less trouble.

Credit: CDCR

California Institution for Men, Chino, CA. August 2009 riot aftermath. Credit: CDCR

Here’s the official CDCr press release update (11th August)

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Editor’s note: ‘Sensitive Needs Yards’ (SNY) can be understood, essentially,  as protective custody areas. They were conceived seven years ago to accommodate the following populations;
1. Guys who had dropped out of gangs. And you have to go through a six-month to one-year deprogramming that includes telling everything you know about the gang and its activities.
2. High notoriety inmates – ex-cops, celebrities, etc. For example, Tex Watson, the Manson family murderer is at MCSP. Phil Spector is on an SNY at Corcoran.
3. Sex offenders.
4. Mental health inmates.
5. Old and infirm people who are still ambulatory.

Chino

California Institute for Men at Chino, 2008 (Prior to Riot). Photo Credit: CDCR

Michael Shaw over at the excellent BAGnewsNotes pointed out a rather bizarre anomaly in our image-saturated world. There exist barely any photographs of the prison riot at the California Institute for Men at Chino that occurred this weekend.

Given that Shaw has his hand firmly on the newswire pulse of America I’ll take him at his word … photojournalist coverage of this significant riot was is scant.

I even think that the image Shaw presents is a concession; a still from film footage.

Today, the Los Angeles Times published this image showing the aftermath of the riot.

aftermath

Photo: A view from outside the fence after weekend rioting at the California Institute for Men at Chino shows a dorm with a hole burned through its roof and a yard littered with mattresses and other debris. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

The BBC was quick to cover the riot. Most news sources framed the riot as a result of racial tension, but in truth those tensions only came to surface due to inexcusable and acknowledged overcrowding. In 2007, Doyle Wayne Scott, a former Texas corrections chief consulting on California prison security reported that overcrowding at the California Institute for Men at Chino created “a serious disturbance waiting to happen.”

chinofire

Overcrowding is a problem that ignites other problems, and represents a serious issue that has no easy answers. Some prison reform activists would be wiling to see new (temporary) facilities built to ease the tensions, but this is an unlikely scenario as trust between they and the legislature, Governor’s office, CDCr and CCPOA is low. Recent history has taught us that when new prisons are built, they are filled and calls for more prisons follow. The solution is to change the laws that over the past two decades have warehoused increasing numbers of non-violent offenders.

One of the other depressing aspects to this story is that the racial tensions are apparently the result, partly, of enforced desegregation at Chino. Prison populations operate on strict codes and it would seem that top-down-enforcement of an anti-racist policy doesn’t change the attitudes of the men only agitates their existing prejudices, distrust and expected antagonisms toward one another.

My humble suggestion to work against these deep-seated hatreds would be to operate smaller facilities with immediate access to education programs. Sociological models taught as part of a basic curricula are revelatory for many prisoners. Many inmates, given the tools and the logic to explain their oppositions will identify other ways of seeing race.

It is true that some prisoners don’t want to rehabilitate, but they are in the minority. Often it is simply the case that race for this population has never been discussed in complex or nuanced terms.

Here’s some video of the aftermath.

Thanks to Scott Ortner and Stan Banos for the tips on this story.

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

To append my last post about iconic photographs of rooftop inmates during the Strangeways riot of 1990 is a nod to the work of Ged Murray. Previous lamentations at the lack of Strangeways photography were premature on my part … I just had to keep digging.

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

These are my choice shots from a series of 20 Strangeways images on Ged Murray’s website. The image below of the two inmates in discussion is iconic (according to my brother). The silhouetted tower is instantly recognisable.

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

This last image of an inmate with signs took a large portion of my time. I am still thinking it over. Unerringly, I like the image. The shot bypasses the potency of icon and dilutes our consumption of events; returning our appreciation to more modest levels, focusing on the individual lives involved during a brief but pivotal moment in the history of British governmental prison policy.

© 2009 Ged Murray

© 2009 Ged Murray

__________________________________

Thanks to Ged Murray for his permission to publish the images.

The Strangeways riots in 1990 led to breakthroughs in the prison system. Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian

The Strangeways riots in 1990 led to breakthroughs in the prison system. Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian

On April 1st 1990, began Britain’s largest prison riot in history. Strangeways may not mean a lot outside of the UK, but within, Strangeways, Manchester is synonymous with the romanticised image of the Northern criminal. The photographs of prisoners on the roof are iconic. Britons watched with shock.

Photo: Ged Murray

Photo: Ged Murray for the Observer

Prison conditions had rarely been in public debate. Our level of shock was only equivalent to our level of apathy, prior. The general public were in awe of the unprecedented institutional collapse.

Prisoners occupied the roof for 25 days in front of round-the-clock media coverage. The protest ended when the final five prisoners surrendered themselves peacefully on 25th April.

The estimated damage was pegged between £50 and 100 million. The true cost for the HM Prison Service was lord chief justice, Lord Woolf’s subsequent damning report, which cited inmate frustration and poor prison conditions as a main reasons for the riot.

Credit: Unknown

Photo: Ged Murray for the Observer

According to the Guardian – which includes a transcript of the prevailing exchange between proctor and prisoners – the stirrings of unrest began in the chapel following the 10am service. Prison officers evacuated the chapel and then (arguably) too hastily other areas of the prison. Inmates using keys taken from chapel guards released other inmates. Soon the overcrowded and understaffed facility was no longer in the control of government authority.

Strangeways roof protest photographs are iconic because their subject was so unexpected. Britain had harboured class and political confrontation much in the past. But in the miners strikes and clashes with police, football hooliganism, the general strike violence could be in some way predicted. The circumstances for those prior tensions had been played out through media narrative. UK Prisons were neglected; they were in desperate conditions and we – the public – were oblivious.

Don McPhee

Photographs of the Strangeways riot are hard to come by but I have gleaned a few from the web. In doing so I came across the work of the late Don McPhee.

I strongly urge you to watch this slideshow of his work.

McPhee had a 2005 exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery and is a fondly remembered northern talent. He was a crucial part of the alternative editorial voice of the Guardian at that time. That distinctly Northern paper is now internationally distributed & respected.

Miners sunbathing at Orgreave coking plant. Photograph: Don McPhee

Miners sunbathing at Orgreave coking plant. Photograph: Don McPhee

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Here is the inevitable percolating legacy of Strangeways in public dialogue.

Here, Eric Allison makes a succinct argument for British prison reform.

And here is the UK Parliament debate in 2001, ten years after the January, 1991 publication of Woolf’s report reviewing the response to the report recommendations.

© 2009 Jerome Brunet Photography. All rights reserved.

© 2009 Jerome Brunet Photography. All rights reserved.

Jérôme Brunet‘s photo essay Riding Shotgun with Texas Sheriff’s is a ferocious document of police activity and procedure in America’s ‘love-to-hate’ lone star state. I am in deep admiration of this project for it connects the dots and marries everything in a police officer’s routine from violent confrontation to mundane paperwork.

Brunet spent six months with Texas Sheriffs and the stark quality of his work demonstrates that.

Brunet’s work inevitably features sites of incarceration, but I contend viewers are more shocked Brunet’s depictions of inhumanity on the highways (and front yards) than they are of inhumanity within the confines of state institutions.

Prison Photography Blog embraces complexity and unanswerable questions and Brunet poses many. Prisons and jails are not isolated from society but a point of destination and departure throughout the cyclical mechanisms of state authority. It is right to feature a project that merges the chaotic unknowns (crime scenes) and prevailing controls (sites of incarceration) of police activity.

Brunet explains:

When asked why I’m interested in law enforcement, I’m compelled to reply, “We all should be.” The fact that we know so incredibly little about our ‘boys in blue’ all though we see them on our street corners and of course in more dramatized versions on television and in Hollywood, I’ve always been interested in the symbolic aspect of the modern day police officer; the man with the badge, gun and authority to dramatically change a persons life forever. Societies apparent answer to all life’s little and not so little problems. However bleak and insignificant a situation may seem, officers are constantly dealing with lost children, family quarrels, various assemblies of homeless and confronting each day, the violence and corruption humanity inflicts on each other everyday.

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© 2009 Jerome Brunet Photography. All rights reserved.

Much of the Sheriff’s department’s work is devoted to tackling drug-smuggling and again Brunet comments with incredible even-handedness

Roads linking Mexico to the U.S., such as the I-10, are sensitive arteries of a flourishing contraband. Even though another deputy in a deep sigh, admitted to me catching only ten percent of the actual traffic, a task force made up of U.S. Customs, D.E.A., Texas and New Mexico police have seized over 30 kilos of heroin, 2 tons of cocaine and 75 tons of marijuana. Even though these quantities sound enormous, actually landing on a large bust was a different story, only luck and perseverance enabled me to land on what was to be one of US’s largest single drug bust in US’s history. As a nervous Mexican driver arrives at the U.S. border and a routine check is made on his car, officers reveal neatly packed away in the trunk, 23.3 pounds of black tar heroin, estimated at 24 million dollars. This package is later revealed to the local press in Hollywoodesque fashion. I watch in amazement and think of the outcome of this Mexican peasant paid 1000 dollars to transport this load into the land of the free.

As an editorial decision, I have not included Brunet’s images of the station or officers’ meetings, but they are as vital as the images from within the jail. The images inform one another.

Here are two desperate images from the station and I’d like to know the exact context. I shall not speculate, only present.

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© 2009 Jerome Brunet Photography. All rights reserved.

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© 2009 Jerome Brunet Photography. All rights reserved.

Brunet offers insights into El Paso County Jail:

Texas, the second largest state in the U.S. also boasts the highest rate of incarceration (700 for 100 000). In an ultramodern county jail of El Paso, Texas, I witnessed different aspects of “the inside world”. Body searches, finger printing and delousing before the anonymous inmate dons the regulation blue overalls inscribed E.P.C.D.F. (El Paso County Detention Facility). On the top floor is the outdoor gym, from which you can admire the end of the Rocky Mountains and the beginning of the Sierra Madre into Mexico. Caged like lions, 40 federal prisoners await transport to a large prison. I am placed alone with one guard in this cage. Surprisingly enough, like a ghost, I hover through the crowd unnoticed, my heart beating for what felt like an eternity. Prisoners can only be exposed to the natural light of the gymnasium a sparsely granted privilege of only three hours a week.

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© 2009 Jerome Brunet Photography. All rights reserved.

The photo essay even covers tactical training exercises.

An afternoon spent with the elite S.R.T. (Sheriff Reaction Team) proved to provide more excitement. This team made up of tough looking officers is specially trained to counter an unlikely riot in the prison. I was presented a billboard full of makeshift weapons made by previous inmates, everything from hand sharpened spikes, to knives made out of tooth brush handles with razor blades attached to their ends. All used for assassination purpose by gang members thriving too in the “inside world”.

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© 2009 Jerome Brunet Photography. All rights reserved.

Brunet has admiration for officers “just like you and me”, whose work is unpredictable and occasionally very dangerous.

We will find in the police officers, goodness, honesty, corruption and brutality. In many cases we are the police, and like it or not we are responsible of their actions as much as our own. The more we know about them, the more we observe and tie ourselves to them, and the more this society will feel secure. This realistic testimony succeeds in making us share a few privileged moments into the life of these Texas and New Mexico cops as well as revealing the true backdrop of American culture.

Unlike other reportages of state authority, Brunet is keen to impress the absence of racial inequalities of power.

The majority of the men and women I interacted with were primarily Hispanic. Because of their ancestry they were able to bring forth a much appreciated warmth and understanding that I and, I’m sure, the rest of the townspeople, who were also Hispanic, enjoyed and accepted openly.

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Jérôme Brunet is a freelance photojournalist Jérôme Brunet was born in southern France and raised in London, Ontario (Canada). After obtaining his O.S.S.D. majoring in visual arts, he started his post secondary education in Paris, France, at the E.F.E.T. School of Photography, graduating in 1997. Jérôme Brunet has been published internationally through such diverse publications as Rolling Stone Magazine, Forbes and The New York Times. His client list includes The Discovery Channel, Fender Musical Instruments, Nikon Imaging Inc. and is currently featured on the official websites of musicians Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and James Brown. Jérôme Brunet is currently working and residing in the Bay Area of San Francisco and is represented internationally by the Zuma Press agency.

Jérôme Brunet also takes portait pictures of musicians here and here.

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