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Screengrab of Josh Begley’s Prison Map
If you happen to be in Seattle this weekend, I will too! I’ll be speaking to the throbbing masses at the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) Northwest 2013 Conference.
Now, I’m not a photographer or an educator (formally speaking), but the theme of the conference Connecting Through Photography could not be more up my alley.
My plan is to rip through a full-bleed Powerpoint giving an overview of the history of photography in American prisons; to draw out the dominant aesthetics; to ask if what we’ve seen adequately describes the realities of prisons; and wonder about what we haven’t seen. To close, I will lay out what I feel are the most relevant and effective ways to think about, and to use, photography in our attempts to connect with America’s incarcerated class (which at 2.3 million men, women and children, is a significant portion of society to connect to, listen to, and understand.
I’m excited; it’ll be a live presentation of many ideas I’ve been quietly stewing over recently.
I’ll be pacing the stage in Room 632 at the Art Institute Seattle, on the morning of Friday, November 08th, 11:00am – 12:00pm.
Come say hello!
A few months ago, you may recall, I mounted a show in a brewery in Seattle. It was a prison art fundraiser organised by University Beyond Bars and an appended exhibition of prison photography from Washington State – including the work of Bettina Hansen, Tim Matsui, Steve Davis, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott and Erika Schultz.
During the opening, there was a couple of filmmakers snagging folk for interviews and trying to make sense of what college education can do for a prisoners’ community and why an art auction and photography show can bring those ideas to the public.
Well, the resulting video has just been published. It’s not the slickest media production you’ll find but it is earnest and the film recognises the work of the many individuals and volunteers who quietly work to make prisons more humane and hopeful.
When friends call and ask if you’d like to mount a show in a brewery, there’s only one answer.
University Beyond Bars was putting on a prison art fundraiser at Machine House Brewery in Georgetown, Seattle. I was invited to curate some prison photography. I selected five photographers from Washington State that have made work in Washington State prisons and juvenile detention centers.
The only issue with the space was that IT IS A BREWERY. A beer-making space is set up for a different type of cultures.
The UBB students’ prison art (paintings and illustrations) went up front of house. The space for the photographs was the warehouse. Upon arrival on Friday afternoon, the ground floor and mezzanine boasted fork lift truck, pallets of malt and barley, industrial fridges, old lockers, busted furniture, spare fixtures, lamps, chairs, bikes and other inconvenient objects.
So I went to work. And I loved it. Painting and drilling is a nice tonic to desk-laptopping.
This is pretty much what the space looked like when we finished. (Note the clear floorspace.) When I say we, I mean me and some amazing peeps who swept, nailed, primed, sweat and hung prints and frames. Big thanks to Bill the Brewer, UBB‘s very own Stacey Reeh, and Joe.
Uber-thanks to Bettina Hansen who went without a shower and worked right through until the doors opened on Saturday night to get everything spiffy.
Here’s Cheryl Hanna-Truscott’s work Protective Custody.
These are the first two prints of 16 in Cheryl’s series.
Three of the five photographers’ work was mounted straight onto boards that doubled as screens to hide all the junk alongside the walk-in refrigerator.
That beard on the right is Matt Mills McKnight.
Steve Davis peeking into the walk-in.
More of Cheryl‘s.
Intern Sam, Kat and I.
Images 9-16 of Cheryl’s work.
I even painted the bathroom door.
Signs were made. Bottom steps were marked.
On Thursday, Steve Davis had given me some work prints to look over for a future project we are planning. They images were made by boys at Maple Lane juvenile detention center and have never been published. Strong, haunting and expressive. I decided to tack them up on a single wall in the old, emptied-out machine-house office.
Looking in to the office from the gantry at the top of the stairs.
UBB co-founder, Gary Idleburg, speaks to a video crew making a piece about perceptions of prisoners and the importance of art as communication.
One large print from Remann Hall (left) and work prints made by boys incarcerated at Maple Lane, Centralia, WA in the early 2000s.
On the mezzanine level, six portraits from 1998 by Steve Davis.
Large prints of pinhole photographs made by the girls of Remann Hall, Tacoma, WA.
A frame …
… for a frame.
The fluorescent lights were actually pretty good for showing off the work.
Portraits & Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons remains open for three more weekends. Until August 10th. The brewery is only open Friday 3-7pm, and Saturday and Sundays 12-7pm.
Student of Univeristy Beyond Bars, Monroe Correctional Complex, 2011 © Erika Schultz
IF YOU ARE IN SEATTLE …
Accompanying Prison Art is a photography component I was invited to curate. Titled Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons the exhibition features five photographers working in Washington State and making images of Washington State lockdowns.
AND IT’S IN A BREWERY!
ART BEYOND BARS
At Washington State Reformatory, students in a Studio Art class, sponsored by the nonprofit organization University Beyond Bars and led by long-term prisoner-artist Gary Thomas, have created oil, acrylic, and gouache paintings as well as pencil and ink drawings in styles that range from the political to the retro, from the kitsch to the abstract.
You can see a local KING 5 newschannel spot on Gary and the class, here. (Turn the sound down to avoid the over-zealous sound-editing use of cliche clanging doors and locks!)
80 pieces feature in the Prison Art show ranging from nearly pocket-sized to large triptych paintings. All are for sale and proceeds go toward paying for the college education of UBB students. The silent auction lasts two weeks.
‘Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons’
Young mothers, critical thinkers and children making powerful art may not be the first types of people we’d expect to find behind bars, but Portraits and Pixels challenges our notions of who is behind bars in the Evergreen State.
Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons brings together images by five established local photographers to provide an overview of arts, rehabilitation and security in Washington State’s lockdowns.
Bettina Hansen, a Seattle Times photojournalist since 2012, photographed the theater productions at Monroe Correctional Complex. In 2011, Erika Schultz, also of the Seattle Times, volunteered her skills and made portraits of students in the UBB art program at Monroe. Tim Matsui, a Seattle-based multimedia journalist, casts a light on the Youth Art Program at the Denney Juvenile Detention Center in Everett. In the early 2000s, Steve Davis led workshops in four Washington State juvenile detention centers producing pinhole camera photographs and narrative-rich images with the children. Davis also made formal portraits of the boys and girls. Nurse-midwife, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott has made dignified and quiet double-portraits of incarcerated mothers with their newborns at the Residential Parenting Program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. The pioneering program is nationally recognized for its commitment to maintain ties between mother and baby by means of rigorous administration, family and volunteer efforts.
The exhibition will be open to the public from July 21 until August 10 during the brewery hours: Fri-Sun 3-7 pm.
OPENING NIGHT, July 20th, 7:30 – 10 pm
Prison Art is hosted by Machine House Brewery, at 5840 Airport Way S in Georgetown, just south of Seattle.
Tickets are available here. Tickets are $15 each, or two for $25.
There will be live music by singer-songwriter Lori Dreier, cellist Ed Tellman, and keyboard artist and former prisoner Dan Pens.
Facebook event page here.
© Steve Davis
Daemond Arrindell, teaching artist for Freehold Theatre’s Engaged Theatre program, gives words of encouragement to inmate Ted Cherry after a rehearsal at Monroe Correctional Complex April 17, 2013. “They are the most appreciative population we’ve ever worked with,” said Arrindell, who is a local poet and community organizer known for running various writing and performance workshops and the Seattle Poetry Slam. “They recognize what limited opportunities they have.” © Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times
Cell Denney Juvenile Detention Center in Everett. © Tim Matsui
Mother and child in the Residential Parenting Program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. © Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
For any of you in Seattle this Thursday, September 8th, I’ll be speaking at the “Photo Slam” event in the PIONEER PASSAGES alley between 1st Avenue S & Occidental Ave S and Yesler Way & S Washington St.
I’ll be talking about a handful of prison photographers, my motives for focusing on U.S. prisons and asking the audience to think about the images they don’t see.
The event runs from 6pm to 8pm.
… you should check out a fine exhibition of prison art.
As some of you may know, I teach an art studio class once a week at a nearby prison. Last year, I asked a local gallery if they’d be interested in partnering for a show. The time has come. Here’s the skinny:
Fundraiser for University Beyond Bars
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 28, 5-9pm.
Vermillion Gallery, 1508, 11th Ave (between Pine & Pike), Seattle
Featuring Artists from Monroe Prison with Special works by Buddy Bunting and Paul Rucker. (show runs through May 14.) Special Video Presentation of When You Learn, You Don’t Return, by Gilda Sheppard at 7:30pm.
Non-Sufficient Funds brings together the work of twelve prison-artists from the University Beyond Bars program at Washington State Reformatory, Monroe, WA, with works by established artists Buddy Bunting and Paul Rucker.
This exhibition of more than 50 acrylic paintings, graphite drawings and one video installation address abstract, figurative, allegorical and spiritual concerns. Non-Sufficient Funds is the culmination of over a year’s worth of weekly studio sessions within the prison and the brainchild of Pete Brook, a dedicated volunteer and board member of the University Beyond Bars.
In addition to the artwork by the inmates at Monroe, Paul Rucker will be showing his video, ‘Proliferation’, which documents the growth of the US Prison system over the past 200 years in an animated mapping of the US Prison system set to original music. Also, Buddy Bunting is presenting a 13 foot color painting of the stark facade of a prison at ground level.
The title of the show, Non-Sufficient Funds, has a few meanings: First, it refers to the stretched resources of volunteer-based rehabilitation programs within prisons across America, which is what this particular exhibit is advocating for. Research indicates that inmates who maintain contact with the outside world and who engage in educational and vocational programs experience a much lower rate of recidivism.
Second, it is a commentary on the financial burden the Prison-industrial Complex places on US society. Due to harsher sentencing laws and the war on drugs, the prison population has quadrupled since 1980. Now, in times of economic crisis, serious questions are being asked about the amount of tax dollars spent on prisons.
Finally, it refers to the scenario when a prisoner receives a letter or package has insufficient postage, and no funds available in their prison account fund to cover the difference. “Non-sufficient funds” is stamped upon the return correspondence. Many of us are unaware firsthand of the rigid structure the penal system requires. Mail sent to inmates in violation of policies can lead to punishment. Prison libraries and other media are also highly censored for various reasons. Non-sufficient funds hopes to shed some light on the way art and education in institutions benefits society as a whole and we hope it encourages a dialogue and additional advocacy.
In the local press
In my spare time I enjoy sorting my socks in color sequence, imagining the sound of volcanoes and simulating flight with the aid of Google Earth.
On a recent “flight” out of Boeing Field, here in Seattle, I noticed a plucky peace protest right under the nose of one of Americas largest military contractors.
Behind Lockheed Martin, Boeing is the second biggest defence contractor in the nation.
Keep you eye on the top left as I zoom in …
… closer …
… closer ….
… hooray! Whoever you are, you peace-luvvin’, rooftop decoratin’ hippiester, I salute you.
MAKE ART, NOT BOMBS