In contrast to the harsh reality of the last post, I present the laughably unreal.

Whenever I find a photographic archive I, by reflex, punch in ‘prison’ into the search tool. I’ve started to do the same with stock agencies.


In the microstock world, image search results are disorienting. Instead of American Civil War jails, colonial prisons, prisoners of war, revolutionaries, genocide victims or political prisoners the return is staged portraiture, kitsch orange jumpsuit, bars, locks, handcuffs and silhouetted guard towers.

And, this is beyond the pale. WTF?

For simple graphic design purposes, I am sure even good intentioned advocates scout for imagery in stock databases of complete fiction in order to illustrate their message. Hmm.

A Teachable Moment: Avoiding Cliche

I have bemoaned before the cliche of cell-tier-perspective. I would encourage us all to really think about the relative contribution some prison photographs bring.

Even in photojournalism (a field not without its faults, but a mode I still firmly believe in) photographs of bars, keys and fences are common. So, to practitioners as to viewers, I urge the same rigour in critique.

Jenn Ackerman, Jane Evelyn Atwood, Lloyd Degrane, Jean Gaumy, Andrew Lichtenstein, Danny Lyon, Darcy Padilla, Lizzie Sadin and Taro Yamasaki are just some of the many photographers who’ve managed to describe prison life without overly-relying on the physical fabric of institutions. They spend enough privileged time with the inmates to tell the stories of the inmates.