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Coinciding with San Francisco’s annual Pride events and the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, Anthony Friedkin’s seminal body of work The Gay Essay goes on show this month at the De Young Museum, in San Francisco.
The Gay Essay chronicles the gay communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco between 1969 a 1973 — an era of great strides for political activism in the gay communities in California and nationwide.
Friedkin (b.1949) has always been committed to documenting cultures in his home state of California. The Gay Essay was one of his earliest efforts; he embarked on it as a 19-year-old. Self-assigned, Friedkin went poolside, to the city streets, and into motels, bars and discos in an attempt to create the first extensive record of gay life in the Golden State.
“Friedkin found his place in an approach that retained the outward-looking spirit of reportage combined with individual discovery. As an extrovert with an avid curiosity, he developed close relationships with his subjects that enabled him to create portraits that are devoid of judgment,” says the de Young press release. “He did not aim to document gay life in Los Angeles and San Francisco slavishly, but rather to show men and women who were trying to live openly, expressing their individualities and sexualities on their own terms, and improvising ways to challenge the dominant culture.”
In 1973, the San Francisco Art Week wrote, “The Gay Essay is comparable in magnitude to Robert Frank’s The Americans. The exhibit in its entirety is amazingly strong. And for the most part the photographs are singularly beautiful in execution.”
And yet, The Gay Essay has remained known, since, primarily only to photo-boffins. Consequently, I am personally eager to see this work. It’s “footprint” is not as large as its social significance warrants. Indeed, at the time of writing, a search “Anthony Friedkin” on Google has as the first result a speculative piece I posted on Prison Photography nearly five years ago. (Who knows, perhaps Google’s search metrics might shift a little once Friedkin and The Gay Essay enjoy new press interest for this big De Young show?)
The paucity of images and information on the internet is indicative of a wider photo culture that just hasn’t had Friedkin on the radar. This dearth has been reflected in the real world too. While selections from The Gay Essay have been on public display in museums and galleries in the past, the entire scope of the series — 75 vintage prints — has never been exhibited before in one venue.
“The Gay Essay accords with our goal of bringing to light important, and sometimes neglected or overlooked, bodies of work that enrich the history and study of photography, a medium that is central to art and society today,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
If you’re in the Bay Area at any point in the next six months, I recommend catching this exhibition.
The Gay Essay runs June 14, 2014 – January 11, 2015, at the DeYoung Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118.
Accompanying the original full-frame black-and-white prints will be contact prints, documents and other materials from the photographer’s archive and loans from the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society that provide valuable historical context and insight into the conception and execution of the work.
Exhibition catalogue: 144 pages, Yale University Press. Hardcover $45.
All images: © Anthony Friedkin
Anthony Friedkin started out as a photojournalist working as a stringer for Magnum photos in Los Angeles. Friedkin’s photographs are included in major Museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco MoMA and The J. Paul Getty Museum. His work has been published internationally including in Rolling Stone, Newsweek and others. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
There’s a brouhaha brewing in San Francisco. The Armory — home to legendary controversial fetish porn empire Kink.com — is to host an event to coincide with San Francisco Pride. The WE Party Prison Of Love is being billed as THE BIGGEST PRIDE PARTY … EVER.
The predictable format for the prison-themed discoteque includes chains, shackles, a dungeon, and likely a whole lot of improv domination roll play. The majority of the 3,000-strong crowd is expected to be gay men.
As a cisgender straight male, I tend not to have any opinions on gay culture worthy of public proclamation. But, a prison-themed rave does seem a little tacky, though. For San Francisco’s trans-community, the Prison Of Love Party is far worse than tacky; it is an affront and a politically-clueless venture.
The Transgender Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project in San Francisco, in an open letter to San Francisco Pride at the Armory, points out that the prison industrial complex abuses transgendered people strategically and disproportionally.
The primary signatory is Miss Major, one of this years SF Pride Grand Marshals.
This year at least three SF Pride grand marshals are trans women who have been directly affected by the Prison Industrial Complex. Chelsea Manning is currently incarcerated, Miss Major is previously incarcerated and was politicized at Attica just after the 1971 uprising, and Jewlyes Gutierrez was arrested for defending herself from bullies in her high school.
The prison industrial complex and the incarceration of generations of people of color, gender variant, trans people, and queer people is not a sexy trope to throw a play party around. It’s not that we don’t love sex, sex parties, sex workers, and kink. It’s that we love it as much as we love justice, and are appalled by the casual use of the Prison Industrial Complex, which destroys the lives of millions of people and kills thousands every year, as a party theme.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In our own LGBTQI communities, incarceration and significant abuses perpetrated by the Prison Industrial Complex constitutes no less than a crisis. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly 1 in 6 transgender people have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. Among Black transgender people, 47% have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These rates overwhelmingly reflect the experiences of transgender women and especially trans women of color, who are housed in men’s prisons and face catastrophic rates of physical abuse, psychological terror, rape and sexual assault, and death. According to Just Detention International, 67% of LGBT prisoners reported being assaulted while in prison.
Not only is our queer community being harmed, the War on Drugs and the increasing privatization of prisons has created a phenomenon of mass incarceration of young Black and Latino men, and increasingly women too, which has economically, socially, and politically devastated these communities.
We are not interested in yucking anyone’s yum or shaming anyone who has fantasies or fetishes about ideas of this real-life violence. We are not interested in censorship or policing anyone’s sex life. We are interested in public space and party themes that get us closer to liberation from systemic and administrative violence and do not recreate a culture that normalizes or continues our oppression. Our push back is about navigating the legal and extra-legal targeting and criminalization of our communities.
At a time when public discussion and media finally has an eye toward the daily systemic violence against trans and queer people, your party theme and promotions are especially harmful and trivializing.
As individuals and organizations committed to justice and equality for LGBTQI peoples, we are working to end violence in our communities, and particularly at the hands of law enforcement, jails, detention centers and prisons. We’ve been doing this for years, and we’ll be supporting our brothers, sisters and siblings behind prison walls while you’re hosting a sex and dance event on Pride weekend that trivializes themes of incarceration and abuse as a good time.
We’re calling on you to understand how important these issues are to every member of our community, even if you’ve had the good fortune to not be hyper-visible and profiled by police, locked up, and then trapped in a cycle of institutional violence perpetrated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, ICE, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
We’re calling on you to immediately change the theme of your party, and not use themes of arrest and incarceration, correctional officers beating inmates, solitary confinement, prison yards, or suggestions of prison rape in promoting your event.
As a step towards accountability and redress we’re also calling on you to donate a portion of the proceeds of your party to the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, El/La Para TransLatinas, and Communities United Against Violence, all organizations that are dedicated to ending police, prison, and systemic violence against trans and queer people in the Bay Area and beyond.
Miss Major, SF Pride Grand Marshal/Director of Transgender Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project
San Francisco Trans March, SF Pride Community Grand Marshal
Janet Mock, SF Pride Celebrity Grand Marshal/Author of “Redefining Realness”
Transgender Gender Varian Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP)
Community United Against Violence (CUAV)
El/La Para TransLatinas
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)
California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP)
Community Justice Network for Youth
Sex Workers Outreach Project – Bay Area (SWOP)
All of Us or None
Dr. Annalise Ophelian, Filmmaker, Director/Producer – MAJOR! documentary
StormMiguel Florez, Musician & artist, Co-Producer – MAJOR! documentary
Courtney Trouble, Host of Queerly Beloved Pride Party, owner TROUBLEfilms
Unfortunately, I don’t think the protests nor the #NotProud Boycott SF Pride movement will stand in the way of this Pride At The Armory shindig. Half the tickets have already sold. It’s large event long in the planning and those types of entertainment-ships don’t turn.
That’s a shame because facts are facts and the issue is undeniable.
- LGBT teens comprise as much as 15% of the general population in juvenile justice facilities; among girls alone, 27% are lesbian or bisexual.
- LGBT young people and adults face harsher penalties from the justice system. LGBT people face higher rates of abuse and assault in prison.
- The two 2 leading risk factors for prisoner rape are previous sexual abuse and being LGBT.
- Incarcerated homosexual and bisexual men are sexually assaulted at rates 10 times higher than their heterosexual counterparts.
- The federal definition of “rape” didn’t even include men or non-vaginal penetration until 2010. Men assaulted in prison were not considered rape victims by the U.S. Department of Justice until 2010.
- Incarcerated trans women in men’s prisons report rates of sexual assault nearly 13 times greater than that among groups of other people.
More depressing facts here.
Bad call. PR fail SF Pride.
As Jezebel puts it, “Call it Dungeons & Dragons themed, call it Party in Westeros, do something else that involves bars and chains and implements of “torture.” But this? Taking one of the biggest issues facing the LGBT+ community and turning it into a party?”
Okay, the title to this post makes it sound like I’ll be making a habit of recording these stories of abuse. I will not. That isn’t because these episodes aren’t regular (unfortunately, they are quite regular), it is because I don’t have the time most weeks to adequately collect the many stories of misconduct from across this America.
So, why this week? Well, I came across two particularly disgusting and glaring examples of abuse. In both cases, they are presented with great clarity. The first is courtroom video footage. The second is a diaristic, written account.
Above, we see a video from September 2012, in which Denver Sheriff Deputy Brad Lovingier slams a handcuffed prisoner into wall. Face first. Totally unprovoked.
Following the judge’s ruling, the defendant Anthony Waller requested clarification. At which point he is grabbed, from behind, by the handcuffs secured by behind his back, spun around, and flung into the wall. Waller falls to his knees after the impact and is then dragged out of the courtroom and into a holding cell. In the video Lovingier can be heard saying, “You don’t turn on me,” as the only explanation for his actions.
Madness. Ordinarily, a citizen guilty of such an assault would face a 6-month jail term. Lovingier was suspended for 30 days. And he’s appealing that.
SOLITARY CELL FOR GOOD SAMARITAN
The story is as simple as its logic is baffling and its behaviours are brutal.
Man witnesses a bike accident. Calls 9-1-1. Is handcuffed by police for unknown reasons. Taken to jail. Asks legitimate questions. Faces retribution from deputies. Stripped. Thrown in a shit-stained solitary cell.
You just have to read it to believe it: Good Samaritan Backfire or How I Ended Up in Solitary After Calling 911 for Help.
This kid — Paretz Partensky — is a young, educated, white, computer programmer. His abuse is likely no different (it might be less egregious?) than abuse meted out to people in San Francisco far more vulnerable than he. But Partensky gets on hot-new-story-telling-platform Medium and tells the story of his 12 hours of detention.
Officer Durkin, in the foreground, is telling Ben that he cannot take this photo. According to Attorney Krages, you are allowed to take photos in public places. http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf Officer Durkin’s reprimand is in violation of Ben’s rights.
Partensky’s account is nuanced — he provides necessary details; he gives benefit of doubt to most of the characters involved; he tries to put himself in the position of others throughout the ordeal; he is aware of his white privilege; he ponders what different outcomes may have arisen had he and others interacted differently. In short, it is a compelling read.
Let’s not be churlish and say this is a young, comfy, SF-coder-class entrepreneur using an online platform to have a whinge. Let’s be civic and responsible and say no-one should be subject to arbitrary and vengeful treatment from law enforcement. Let us not allow our uncomfortable relationship to racial and income inequality, nor our relationship to white privilege be an excuse to dismiss Partensky’s story. Let us be shocked. Let us be angry. Let us thank Partensky for bringing his account to light.
Dana Ullman, a Brooklyn-based photographer, has in recent years traveled back-and-forth to California; to Los Angeles’ Skid Row, to San Francisco’s Tenderloin, and to the San Joaquin Valley. The series’ title Another Kind Of Prison references the fact that many hardships of prison continue post-release and, furthermore, new challenges emerge. Ullman followed several women as they left prison and readjusted to life on the outside. For Ullman, the choice to go to California was logical.
“California is home to the world’s two largest women prisons and has an annual corrections budget of 10 billion dollars, the highest in the country, yet has limited reentry programs,” she says. “In California, there are about 12,000 women on parole. Unprepared once on parole, without money, housing or resources, institutionalized and isolated, these women find it difficult to regain hold of their lives.”
Over the past 15 years, the number of incarcerated women in prison increased by 203%, as compared to 77% for men. With such a rapid increase in prison populations, services within prisons have inevitably suffered. Ullman reports a lack of training, preparation and rehabilitation for the women she photographed.
Ullman is also keen to emphasize the common factors particular to female prisoners.
“62% of women in prison have children under 18. Many suffer from mental illness and have histories of sexual and physical abuse – 73% of women in prison have symptoms or are diagnosed with a mental illness compared to 55% of men in prison. 65% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for nonviolent drug, property, or public order offenses. Nearly one in three reported committing their offense to support a drug addiction. Many are battered women serving time for crimes related to their abuse,” Ullman writes.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Ullman wants to communicate the strength of the women who – at a particularly difficult junctures in life – have kindly let her into their lives.
“While some women have had difficult transitions, others have become inspirational community leaders – I want to show both sides in an effort to break stigma associated with incarceration.”
Dana Ullman and I share a belief that prisons are increasingly defining our society and economy.
“Another Kind Of Prison is more important then ever in exploring new strategies to better address the complex needs of present and former women prisoners who are often left out of the conversation,” says Ullman. “These stories, the needs and dreams of each woman in their own voice, illuminate the ‘revolving door’ created by poor public policies and lives fragmented by ignorance, poverty and by years, even lifetimes, of abuse. They will also help the public understand who these women are.”
Scroll down for a brief Q&A and a dozen more images. All images and captions by Dana Ullman.
Top image: LaKeisha Burton, 38, a poet and reentry advocate, was convicted as an adult at the age of 15. Ms. Burton served 17 and a half years in prison for shooting a gun into a crowd at the age of 15. She was convicted as an adult for attempted murder and received life plus 9 years. No one was killed or injured. The victim (with whom LaKeisha reconciled while both were serving time in prison), who killed someone, was released from CIW after 9 years. LaKeisha’s story represents the beginning of the disturbing increase in juveniles being tried as adults when many are completely capable of rehabilitation.
Above: On any given day women are paroled in California with a box of personal items, $200 or less in “gate money” and a bus ticket to Skid Row. Unprepared once out on parole, with no income, housing or resources, institutionalized and isolated, many women find it difficult to regain hold of their lives independently.
Q & A
Prison Photography (PP): Clearly the success of a former-prisoner reentering society has a lot to do with their experience while locked up, but I feel in the past – for most people – dialogue about prison reform issues have been lumped in with dialogues about re-entry issues. That is to the detriment of both. It does seem though that, recently, re-entry has been recognised as its own vital step with its own set of issues to be explored. I’m thinking here of Convictions, Gabriela Bulisova’s excellent work in Washington D.C. and the forthcoming VII Photo’s documentary project and partnership with Think Outside The Cell.
Dana Ullman (DU): I am aware, too, of the increased focus on reentry [in photography] that really wasn’t there a few years ago. It is a difficult, complex and fragile issue to document because there are so many factors that lead to former prisoners’ success and failure, especially depending on where they live.
I am really happy to see Another Kind Of Prison getting some light because reentry is where one sees the emergence of all the issues that were not addressed while serving time, the societal factors that underline much of the mass incarceration today – sheer poverty, histories of abuse, racism and mental health. Once men and women are locked up and out of society, they are simplistically labeled “criminals” and the stigmas attached to poverty, abuse, race, mental health and crime are once again enforced.
PP: What are your hopes for the work?
DU: I envision, with some support, that Another Kind Of Prison will travel as an exhibition in community spaces such as libraries or ideally in county jails/state prisons where so many of these women (with very little support) are planning their release. There is one woman I interviewed who had no plan for even a place to sleep the night she got out. It was a random TV show featuring a transitional house that she saw one night, not her parole officer or a reentry prep class, that connected her to where she is now living. Women outside can really speak to those inside about their experiences. I have been making audio recordings of each woman’s story. I want the project to create a forum for discussion, rather than merely point out the problem.
PP: What’s next?
DU: I am not done with the project by any stretch. Documentary photography is tricky (and I am not a master of it by any means). I am following several, very fragile lives over time and waiting patiently for that “visual” moment that doesn’t always come. There is also so so much more I could do with some kind of funding, but that has been difficult, so I have to work with what I can. So for now, I hope to increase awareness of this experience shared by thousands of women in the USA with the general public and keeping plugging away at it making the work stronger.
In San Francisco, I was working very closely with the California Coalition of Women Prisoners who have used my work to support their own causes. I was very happy about that because the CCWP do a lot of direct services and support for these women. In New York, I am expanding the project to look a young 28-year-old upstate woman’s reentry process after being incarcerated at the age of 14 to try and get a younger person’s perspective.
I am going to Uganda this Fall where I will be working with the organization African Prisons Project documenting women in prison. I’ll also be collecting stories of people incarcerated and indefinitely-detained for homosexuality (for which the highest penalty is death). My work is quite capable of being a cross-cultural look at women and prison.
Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, California is one of two of the largest women’s prisons in the world; the second, Valley State Prison, is directly across the street.
Mary Shields embraces a long-time friend and advocate one week after being released from Central California Women’s Facility. Mary served 19 years for a crime related to domestic violence.
Mary Shields a week after her release from Central California Women’s Facility laughs with a friend after she had trouble understanding how to use a cell phone, which were not widely used twenty years ago.
LaKeisha Burton performs a spoken word piece at Chuco’s Justice Center, which serves as a youth and community space in Inglewood, California. Today, LaKeisha shares her story through spoken word performances and is dedicated to working with at-risk youth susceptible to gangs and the same injustices as she once experienced.
LaKeisha watches a youth group perform at Chuco’s Justice Center in Los Angeles, California. With her infectious optimism and self-determination, LaKeisha Burton displays almost nothing of her past; she lives, works and dates, as any women like her. Yet, these things are exceptional for someone who had lost, some might say had stolen, nearly two decades of the most developmental period in one’s life and with very little preparation thrust out into society. Ms. Burton says when she was released it was as if she were still 15 going on 16.
In the United States over 1.5 million children have a parent who is incarcerated.* 75% of women in prison are mothers and over half have children under the age of 18. Many children suffer lasting emotional effects of a parent’s incarceration, which can affect all areas as they develop into adults.
After cycling in and out of jail for crimes related to substance abuse, Jean Waldroup, 39, has found “home” at A New Way of Life, a transitional home for formerly incarcerated women that emphasizes keeping mothers and children together. For the last six months, Jean has maintained both her sobriety and role as mother to her son and daughter. Jean is the primary parent and she maintains a relationship with the children’s father.
A New Way of Life purchases homes in residential neighborhoods, giving a quieter, less institutional environment for families to rebuild relationships that may show signs of wear and tear after experiencing incarceration. Community-based organizations like A New Way of Life operate mostly under the radar with few resources and little public recognition despite their critical role in offering rehabilitation, family reunification and successful reentry.
Following her release, and to give her life structure, Molly volunteers to make lunch for clients at the behavioral health clinic she attends in San Francisco. Molly stills battles with drug addiction.
Molly on the bus. To avoid the caustic environment bubbling outside her building, Molly will ride Muni lines between Bayview-Hunter’s Point and Downtown San Francisco for hours. She tends to hide from nouns, that is people, places, and things. Molly’s mental health and substance abuse maintain instability and isolation in her life, some days are good, others hard.
A friend embraces Molly at a local community center.
Molly’s room at the Empress Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The first stable living she has had since the cycle of incarceration began in her life.
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*The advocacy group Children of Promise estimates the number of U.S. children with incarcerated parents at 2.7 million.
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Dana Ullman grew up in Portland, Oregon. She studied photojournalism at the Danish School of Journalism and holds a B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University. Dana currently lives in New York City photographing assignments and personal projects.
A New Way of Life Reentry Project is a non-profit organization in South Central Los Angeles with a core mission to help women and girls break the cycle of entrapment in the criminal justice system and lead healthy and satisfying lives.
California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex. CCWP prioritizes the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement.
The African Prisons Project (APP) is a group of people passionately committed to improving access to healthcare, education, justice and community reintegration for male, female and juvenile prisoners in Africa.
There were two categories of interviewees I planned to connect with during PPOTR – photographers and prison reformers. I didn’t expect to meet many individuals who satisfied both definitions. Ruth Morgan does.
Morgan became director of Community Works, a restorative justice arts program in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1994. Prior to that, she was director of the Jail Arts Program, in the San Francisco County Jail system (1980-1994).
It should be noted that the county jail system is entirely different to the state prison system and operate under separate jurisdictions. County jails hold shorter term inmates.
For three remarkable years, Morgan and her colleague Barbara Yaley had free reign of San Quentin State Prison to interview and photograph the men. In 1979, it was the sympathetic Warden George Sumner who provided Morgan and Yaley access. In 1981, a new Warden at San Quentin abruptly cut-off access.
“I think there were a few reasons [we were successful],” explains Morgan. “Despite the fact I was a young woman, I had a big 2-and-a-quarter camera and a tripod and so they took me seriously. That helped us get the portraits and the stories we did.”
The San Quentin News (Vol. I.II, Issue 11, June, 1982) reported on Morgan and Yaley’s activities. The story Photo-Documentary Team Captures Essence of SQ can be read on page 3 of this PDF version of the newspaper.
Ruth and I talk about how the demographics of prison populations remain the same; her original attraction to the topic; the use of her photographs in the important Toussaint v. McCarthy case (1984) brought by the Prison Law Office against poor conditions in segregation cells of four Northern California prisons; why she never published the photos of men on San Quentin’s Death Row; and the emergence, funding for, and power of restorative justice.
In one of modern politics’ most outrageous adoptions of Doublespeak, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – in 2004 – renamed the California Department of Corrections the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.* You can see videos – here and here and here – of the press conference announcing not only a change in name, but a supposed change in the management philosophy of the CDCr.
At that time, legal challenges were being made over the adequacy of healthcare. Following the 2004 criticisms and despite the 2004 promises, consistent constitutional healthcare was not provided to the prison population of California.
The CDCr failed to deliver on both medical care and meaningful rehabilitation. To prove the emptiness of the rhetoric we can look to John Gramlich’s report for the PEW Center’s Stateline last month. Gramlich made the point, that shortly after Schwarzenegger’s rebranding the “administration cut funding for prison rehabilitation programs by about 40 percent.”
It’s just as well for you and I, a diligent group of California citizens have for 17 years challenged the claim on the CDC acronym and since 2004 reclaimed entirely the discarded California Department of Corrections name. The CDC works to put right misleading messages, empty words and muddy communication.
Founded in 1994, the California Department of Corrections (CDC) describes itself as “a private correctional facility that protects the public through the secure management, discipline, and rehabilitation of California’s advertising.“
Above is the CDC’s latest correction of fact and assault on complacency. From their website:
The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has unveiled a new campaign of bus shelter ads to celebrate America’s assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Released prior to July 4th, a total of ten ads in MUNI bus shelters throughout San Francisco were apprehended, rehabilitated and discharged without incident. The ten liberated ads represent each year in the long decade spanning the declaration of the War on Terror by President Bush and the eventual demise of al-Qaeda’s elusive leader.
Joining in celebration with millions of US civilians after the demise of bin Laden, the red, white and blue advertisements not only pay patriotic tribute to our country, but also celebrate the unsung history of American assassinations.
The rehabilitated advertisements are currently at liberty and seem to have successfully readjusted to public life. However, these ads will remain under surveillance by department staff to prevent recidivism and any potential lapse into prior criminal behavior.
You gotta love direct action. View more works here.
* You may have noticed I always refer to the Golden State’s prison system as CDCr; using a lowercase “r” is an simple text-based slight but it makes the point.
(Via the ever-wonderful Just Seeds Blog.)
Gumpert’s project began with an idea to photograph a homicide detective, but quickly expanded to cover numerous other aspects of the criminal justice system. After he exhibited the work in San Francisco in 2000, he thought that was the end of it, until he received a call from the sheriff’s office. California’s oldest jail was about to close, and for Gumpert, whose photographic roots were planted in the social activism of the 70s, this was a piece of history he felt compelled to document.
“‘Old Bruno’ was built in 1934 as an example of progressive incarceration, but it had become a toxic dump of a place where deputies and prisoners where expelled. Over the years the courts had ordered its closure and finally in August of 2006 everyone moved to the adjacent new Bruno. I documented the old jail, its closing and the opening of the new one,” says Gumpert, who then sought and received permission to continue his photographic quest across six county jails.
As his work progressed, so too did his attitude towards his subjects, the majority of whom were incarcerated men (he also photographed police officers and prison guards). From an ‘us and them’ relationship, his modus operandi evolved to one of participation, as Gumpert conducted audio interviews with everyone he photographed, in a kind of reciprocal exchange: a picture for a story.
Robert Gumpert has been working as a photographer since 1974, when he documented the coal miners’ strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. Since then he has worked on a series of long-term projects, including studies of the US criminal justice system and emergency health care in the United States.
For more information contact Anna Pfab on anna [at] foto8.com or 020 7253 2770.
HOST Gallery, 1-5 Honduras Street, EC1Y 0TH, London,UK
Artist Evan Bissell brought together a group of teens who had not known each other previously, but shared a common circumstance; they were children of men incarcerated at San Francisco County Jail.
The project, What Cannot Be Taken Away: Families and Prisons Project, spanned 9 months.
Bissell and the teens shared writings and audio to establish themes for their work. Later they would visit family in SF County Jail and take photographic portraits to work from. Eventual they mounted a show at SOMArts in San Francisco.
I am a little unsure as to the ultimate claim the students have on the final product. Evidently, they decided the elements and the design, but every piece is finished with the polished painting skills of Bissell’s brush. But of course, it wasn’t only these large portraits on view; exploratory/experiential paintings of the students were displayed and the centre-piece of the show was an installation piece.
Despite the apparent dominance by Bissell over the final product, the intangibles of the collaborative project – including but not limited to discussion, new ideas, “healing & justice”, friendship, self esteem – far outweigh a critic’s (my) reserve.
The tie in comes from a quote by Bissell, “I was unfortunately not allowed to photograph our workshops in the jail, so all of the pictures come from our meetings with the youth.”
What Cannot Be Taken Away: Families and Prisons Project. Closing September 19th 12:00-2:00 at SOMArts – 934 Brannan St. in San Francisco (at 8th Street).