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Marvin Heiferman pointed me in the direction Tim Padgett’s Time article about news outlets’ adoption of Mug-shot galleries. Padgett remarks, “Mugshot galleries are increasingly popular features on newspaper websites, which are on a crusade for more page views and the advertising revenue that accompanies additional eyeballs.”

Tampa

The example offered is that of Mugshots at TampaBay.com of the St. Petersburg Times. The site even breaks down the prior sixty days of bookings into the age, height, weight and eye colour statistics of those arrested.

This exercise is as artless as one would think. The laziness of the filtering of information via an automated platform is matched by the disclaimer regarding mugshots’ accompanying text.

The news group has recognised this and produced these ridiculous FAQ‘s in advance of those booked being disappointed … or worse, misrepresented.

I was arrested but cannot find my mug shot. What gives? Our goal is to provide a complete profile for individuals booked into jail in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Pasco counties. A complete profile on Mug Shots constitutes: name, photograph, booking ID, height, weight, age, gender, eye color, birth date, booking date and booking charge.

The majority of arrest records from the county sheriff’s sites have no problems, and we store them and make them available. However, on rare occasions, the photo we receive from the sheriff’s office is flawed, or sometimes the site does not make a photo available. We skip the records that do not have photos attached. You can always search for an individual on the sheriff’s site, but just because you were booked doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily show up on Mug Shots.

I was released and my record was cleared. Will you take down my mug shot? A sheriff’s office Web site maintains publicly accessible arrest records regardless of the disposition of any particular case.One principle behind Mug Shots is to mirror the sheriff’s office Web site policies closely. We provide links from every individual’s profile page to the detail page at the corresponding sheriff’s office site, which contains instructions about how to follow up on any particular case. Much like a county sheriff’s office, there are very few instances in which we would remove a mug shot from the Web site.

Will you fix incorrect biographical information? What if the sheriff does? One guiding principle is to mirror the collective sheriff’s office sites closely. However, sometimes the sheriff’s office site contains a typo or another form of incorrect data. We don’t alter the information that we gather. We do provide links from individual’s profile page directly to their detail page at the corresponding sheriff’s office site.

Continually-updated mugshot galleries continue a long tradition of crime-obsessed media and publics. They are the latest step toward the eradication-of-reason when interfacing with social transgression.

Internet “news” mugshot galleries now dominate a new, middle-ground of visual consumption; that wasteland lies somewhere between the dark pathology (and allure) of Weegee‘s world and the instant digital delivery of crime related stats (think Comp-Stat and the Sex Offenders Registry). They are bland.

These galleries are continuous, and unnecessary, visual feeds of societies’ constructed “bogey-man”.

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Street Photography is a recognised genre.

Prison Photography is yet ill-defined. For the most part, it is a series of interventions by camera and operator into the procedures and relations within institutions of containment.

With these criteria in mind – the familiarity of the subject; the public visibility of the practitioner(s); the obstacles to access; and the assumption of existing/distinctive authority – it seems like the two approaches to subject are in opposition.

My presumption my be illustrated as thus:

PrisonStreet

The x axis is Time on the job.

The y axis is The original number of leads (to securing access to your subject) still open. Shown as a percentage.

Danny Lyon spoke out last week about Google books’ disregard for rights, artistic craft and common respect. In Google vs. The Bikeriders he lays out a short and no nonsense argument.

Lyon doesn’t oppose digital distribution of his work – he just doesn’t want it scanned en masse. He wants publishers, software programmers and artists to do the work.

On the existence of books, Lyon warned, “I’d be real careful about messing with this stuff.  I’m not sure I would want to live without them.”

FULL STATEMENT

The Bikeriders 1968, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan 1969, and Conversations with the Dead 1971, were all out of print within two years of their publications. They had all been remaindered by their publishers and would remain out of print for at least twenty years each.

“Conversations” is still out of print. Under Google’s new rules, Conversations with the Dead could be scanned and put on line by Google without even contacting me. Many photo book makers are torn between standing up for their rights, and “being left out” by the Ruler of the Internet.

So what is wrong with having Goggle (sic) bring my out of print work to the world wide web?

1) It is theft. Ownership of out of print work reverts to the author (me). Copyright has worked well in America for centuries and is part of the foundation of our Democracy and the Ist Amendment. I own my writing and my work. They really do have to ask.

2) Picture books are different. You cannot scan them and put them on the internet. Scanning a printed image destroys the beauty of the work which is embedded in the work itself. That is why authors make picture books. They are making a thing of beauty. That is why printers, ink, paper, and publishers and production managers are all so important. They all work  to create a thing of beauty, a book. In this case, as picture book.

There is nothing wrong with putting a picture book on the internet. But that can only be done the way a book is printed, which is to scan the individual images.  It is the difference between “the real thing” and a bad xerox of it.

If they want “Conversations with the Dead” on the internet they have to work with publishers, who employ the people to make the prints and make the scans and recreate the book for internet use, just the way a person makes a good website.

That’s a lot of work that will create a lot of jobs, and it should.

Publishers are the people to do this, as they are in the book business. Google seems intent on destroying the book business and its just possible, that they will.

Books, the printed smelly kind you hold in your hand, have been part of and have helped advance civilization for five hundred years. The Greeks and Ancient Jews used papyrus rolls, which they also held to write on, and to read, 2,500 years ago.  I’d be real careful about messing with this stuff.  I’m not sure I would want to live without them.

I am amazed that Lyon even needs to fight a corner on this. He surely is more valuable to us than scanned copies of his books.

How to tell Google to lay off Lyon’s publications?

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Danny Lyon’s website is Bleak Beauty.

Here for everything else:

http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/08/theory-end-of-age-of-photography-by.html
http://5b4.blogspot.com/2007/10/like-thiefs-dream-by-danny-lyon.html
http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/photographer/Danny__Lyon/C/
http://www.scottnicholsgallery.com/artists/danny-lyon/23.html
http://www.geh.org/ne/mismi2/lyon_sld00001.html
http://www.americansuburbx.com/2008/01/theory-doing-life-interview-with-danny.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/arts/design/26kenn.html
http://www.mocp.org/collections/permanent/lyon_danny.php

LOVE

Had a fun time in New York last week. Stayed with Jack and Marisa. Below is not Jack. Below is Chris by Jack.

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We went to Christopher Anderson’s book launch for Capitolio. It was great to see it after recent reviews, heated debates (check out comments) questions and wot not. I don’t think the selection of the images was the best.

At the Metropolitan, Surface Tension: Photographs from the Permanent Collection was a pleasant whimsy into some mesmerizing works, notably Adam Fuss’ UNTITLED (1997) made by the metronome shimmers of snakes upon black dust upon white dust. Image Source: Cheim & Read

Fuss, Adam

The Met’s photography department was putting together the final touches on Robert Frank’s The Americans which opened this week. It was all hands to the pump as evidenced by besuited Malcolm Daniel – who I spied carrying large, heavy object (post?) behind a partition and into the exhibition space.

Egg and Cheese Bagel.

Over at the Museum of Modern Art, I was pleased to see Russell Lee‘s work Bulletin Board in Post Office Showing a Large Collection of “Wanted Men” Signs, Ames, Iowa (1936). Who doesn’t love a mug shot?

Lee, Russell, MoMa Bulletin BoardCRI_61685

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Bringing the practice of mapping of transgressions into the 21st century, the Spatial Design Lab from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University exhibited its Million Dollar Blocks Project (2006).

Brooklyn. Million Dollar Blocks

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On Monday night I sat with Andrew Lichtenstein. We talked. Andrew recommended Brennan Linsley‘s work and was quite emphatic about the book ‘Concrete Mama‘. He also spoke highly of Max Kenner and the work at the Bard Prison Initiative

Tuesday, I met Emiliano Granado. We were first in contact over his San Quentin Giants pictures. We talked about many things including Trevor Paglen, Argentina, the Burke Gilman, and the Horticultural Society of New York, which recently lost Barbara Margolis who was an inspiring leader. Emiliano recommended Alessandra Sanguinetti‘s work.

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On Sunday, I’d been at the WTC construction site. There was some portraiture on display in a window. The space behind the window was closed but would usually be open. The photographs were easy on the eye.

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On my last night I checked out Steven Hirsch’s Courthouse Confessions.

That’s Matt Kelley looking at Steven’s work. He’s coordinator for Change.org Criminal Justice, online communications for the Innocence Project and all together nice bloke. Matt’s double identity is twittered and can be followed here and here.

IMG_7173

Hirsch takes street portraits of folk going to court, secures (in some ironic twist) a non-binding statement and then transcribes it verbatim to go with the portrait. Constantly moving the camera, Hirsch uses hard flash and distorted angles/zoom to depict these individuals as shape shifters; as anomalies. The fact Hirsch’s subjects (in most cases) seem alien to the logic of the courts – that any lessons arising from their cases are unlikely to effect sentencing laws in the future – should but be a source of disquiet for us as an audience.

Hirsch, Steven

One last thing. On Saturday, I saw John Baldessari sat outside a Grennwich Village coffeehouse, but I bottled saying anything. I’ve learnt that famous people abound in Manhattan and you see ’em everywhere.

Thanks to everyone who altered their orbits a little to coincide with mine.

Brennan Linsley

AP Photographer, Brennan Linsley has visited Guantanamo twelve times in the past four years. Why? “My goal is to come back from each trip with a couple of shots that will allow me to paint more of a picture of this place'” says Linsley.

A journalist’s visit to Guantanamo is a frustrating experience – newsmen have a constant escort on a preplanned itinerary and must read and follow the fifteen pages of ground rules provided by the US military.

To offset these limitations Linsley chose repeated visits as a a tactic. In an attempt to humanise the detainees, he has weaved a photo-essay in-spite of Guantanamo’s milieu which is counter to all notions of free speech, experience and objective fact-gathering.

The British Journal of Photography has a brief but interesting interview with Linsley about his project.

This sequence of interactions between a Chinese detainee and photographers (described by Linsley) exemplifies the minutiae with which the US military must control the flow of information out of Guantanamo.

In late May, in Camp Iguana, there was a Chinese detainee, one of the guys that no one would take. He heard that there were journalists coming that day, and so wrote down on a pad the words “Let there be justice” and “We need to freedom.” The public affairs people didn’t know what hit them. You can’t communicate with the detainees, but there was nothing in the rules that dealt with detainees showing placards. Our work was held in limbo for 24 hours, while the Obama administration was informed and that they wouldn’t be taken by surprise by the images’ release.

Just to get the juices flowing, Linsley closes the interview with this position, “The Golden Age of photography has been over for a long time. It died somewhere between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.”

Discuss.

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BJP’s interview coincides with Linsley’s work showing at the 2009 Visa pour l’Image at Perpignan.

For more images and links on Guantanamo see Prison Photography‘s Directory of Visual Sources.

Words

Prisoners All posits that we are all severely impeded, individually and as a community, because of bad politics, poor policy and family devaluation. The posts are really well composed.

The anonymous author – by the pseudonym of Zebulon Brockway – has “worked many years in [California] prisons, and worked many years in journalism” and believes “much written about prisons is misleading at best and wrong at worst. The false impressions and false information are not helpful to public discourse”.

Moving Images

John Malsbary contacted me at the start of the Summer to tell me of his new venture Prison in Cinema.

John’s moving across a country at the moment. His few posts suggest he’ll be worth watching. John brought to my attention the film The Jericho Mile made on location at Folsom State Prison in 1979. Anthony Friedkin photographed Folsom convict portraits twelve years later.  Mann’s directing and Friedkin’s shooting share in visual dialogue.

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.

Reading

Governing through Crime; WA State Library; Grits and Bid’ness in Texas; and Ben Gunn (Serving prisoner) and John Hirst (Released) in the UK.

Followed LEAP’s twittering and other ones …

Stats

The Dallas News reported the ‘Circumstances, Evidence, Problems and Outcome’ of five cases of arson in Texas under re-examination. That includes the Cameron Todd Willingham case. (via The StandDown Project)

‘A Paperclip and a CD’

Matt Kelley at Change.org had a well reasoned rallying call for support of prison book programs. Take Action.

Edmund Clark

A favourite of mine. Since recommended by Nathalie Belayche. Colin Pantall (recently back from a summer blogatical) and LensCulture showing Clark‘s new prison series, ‘If the Light Goes Out: Home from Guantanamo’.

Naval Base Cemetery by Edmund Clark

Naval Base Cemetery by Edmund Clark

Naval Base Cemetery (above) is not typical of the project. It is outside. ‘Home from Guantanamo’ uses the same detailed look at everyday institutional and domestic objects in their place. I don’t think it is as successful as ‘Still Life: Killing Time’, as I don’t think this approach lended itself as well to the War About Terrorism as it did to the Geriatric E-Wing of Kingston Prison, Portsmouth. ‘Killing Time’ is best viewed as a slideshow with Erwin James’ commentary.

Reciprocity Success

And finally, thanks to Stan for his coordinations and libations. Stan recommends Courthouse Confessions, as do I.

People ask how photojournalists and documentary makers get access to prisons, so I ask the photographers I meet. For every photographer, circumstances and events are unique.

spjhead

The Society of Professional Journalists details media prison access policy, contacts, visitation rules, forms and permitted equipment state-by-state. There is no home page for the data, so I’ll link you to the Virginia Dept. of Corrections guidelines.

Prisoners in Virgina will be needing more visits to fill their time as their right to receive books via charities has just been withdrawn. The feeble reasoning by the Virginia DoC:

Because Quest [the Books Behind Bars program organiser] sent books directly to offenders and utilized volunteers to send these books, there was nothing in place to stop someone from attempting to introduce contraband to an offender by secreting it in a book.

This is plainly an excuse. It is also an embarrassment. If a prison system cannot provide efficient (and secure) passage of educational materials to its wards, then is it a system we should have any respect for or trust in?

These broken systems should be in our view.

That the Ministry of Justice and Prison Service have embarked on a course of activity in an effort to disrupt my blog only reinforces my view that I was right to intrude on the public. That the MoJ and the HMPS have the brass neck to portray themselves as guardians of the law while traducing it reveals the very underbelly of criminal justice morality that my blog wishes to illustrate.

Ben Gunn, Guardian. Monday September 14th, 2009

There is an interesting debate growing in the UK. Should prisoners be allowed to blog?

bbcprisonblogging

Ben Gunn, who claims to be the only serving UK prisoner who blogs, had a letter to his wife intercepted by the prison governor and told “the content is interesting enough to be published on the internet” and on this ground it was stopped from leaving the prison.

Gunn set up the blog at the end of August. He writes the content and his editor posts it to the web.

Gunn has caused a stir with forthright opinions on politicised victims groups, spineless politicians and poor prison management. These, he argues, are not fallacious rants, but genuine problems of an overly-punitive system and disengaged society.

Furthermore, Gunn argues that despite his original sentence of 10 years, he remains in prison after 30 because he has continuously challenged the prison authorities. At present Gunn is engaged in research towards a PhD, focused upon the role of Human Needs Theory in prison conflicts.

My question “How do we feel about Prison Bloggers?” is largely rhetorical. How we feel about them makes no impingement on their lawful right to write and publish from prison. Let’s be absolutely clear here. Gunn is breaking NO LAW.

The only law that may pertain is that Gunn may receive no compensation for his writing while a ward of the prison service. But this was never the issue at stake. Gunn’s free speech was deliberately quashed by the administration of a system that stood to face criticism through his words.

The official position as summarised by another excellent prison rights blogger John Hirst (The Jailhouse Lawyer):

The Ministry of Justice writes: “There is no specific Prison Service policy on prisoners using or posting blogs, as they do not have direct unregulated access to computers or the internet”. However, the reply goes on to to say that it can be implied from Prison Service order 4411, that a prisoner cannot ask someone else to communicate what the prisoner is not in a position to do himself and which violates the rules. The MoJ has clearly failed to take into account the human right to freedom of expression guaranteed under article 10 of the European convention, and prisoners’ rights to contact the media “on matters of legitimate public interest“.

I agree with many of Gunn’s positions, I don’t appreciate his tone sometimes, but I think he must absolutely exist within the dialogue about British criminal justice. His thoughts as a serving prisoner are of central value to debate and an informed public.

The echoes ring true and far. Gunn’s concerns over misinformation, scare-mongering and codes of silence are as acute (if not moreso) in the US prison industry.

I’ll leave you with Gunn’s view on prevailing distortions to debate and his admirable defiance:

In reducing discussions to trite slogans and vote-grubbing soundbites, we debase ourselves as a collective and as people. I realise that I pose a challenge, but regardless of any efforts expended by the government I am not going away.

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As well as the Guardian sources linked in this article, the BBC picked up on this story and includes a brief but informative audio discussion of the issue.

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Editor’s note: It seems strange that in the UK this quasi-controversial issue has taken a long time to rear its head – after all, Michael Santos has been blogging from US federal prisons at his own Prison Journal and as a guest at Change.org since January 2009.

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