Aside the Coca-cola vending machines and Cheetos, portraits and photo-keepsakes are probably the most ubiquitous objects in prison visiting rooms.

I have speculated before about a massive, dispersed collection-without-walls made up of the millions of prison Polaroids; a sprawling, bittersweet and neglected vernacular photo-archive of true American experience.

Polaroid cameras are still the standard for prison visiting rooms as they provide instant results and they don’t have the “security issues” associated with he transferability of digital files. No matter the format, Friends Beyond the Walls will help construct your photo-idyll:

Through the use of digital technology, Composite Magic brings you, your family and loved one(s) together in an exciting new way, featuring dozens of the most beautiful full-color dramatic background locations that make ALL the difference!

Just send us your favorite Polaroid or 35mm snapshot … We’ll take your image out of those prison photo backgrounds, and place you and yours “inside” the romantic or exotic location that has previously been outside your reach!

No more explaining where the photos were taken!

Some companies simply “paste” your image on a photo background. For the most realistic and unique effect, Photos Beyond The Wall specializes in placing you “inside” the photo! See how the Composite Magic process works! ESCAPE from the confines of those boring “click click” backgrounds, and be released to the free world … right into the photo location of your choice!

There is plenty of scope here to pour scorn upon the low-brow photo-manipulation, and there is (justifiable) reason to question the financial gains of the company involved in providing such a basic service, but I won’t go there.

People aren’t stupid. They won’t invest their emotions in “Composite Magic” if they don’t want to. But if someone does make use of this service then so be it – we all spend silly money on items foreign and bizarre to one another.



I will say this: prisoners and their families develop fast and hardened interactions with correctional authority. The procedures of the visit become as routine as picking up the paper or grabbing a morning coffee. It makes sense that some of that population would take the opportunity to leave that dictated reality behind and reclaim (visual) identifiers that don’t belong to  departments of corrections and criminal justice.

Therefore, the only real way to discuss this niche photo-aesthetic and grow a legitimate appreciation would be to talk to the sitters, consumers and owners of this niche photo-aesthetic. That could be the territory for anthropologists and sociologists or, as easily, it could be the chatter of ordinary people who still take an interest in other ordinary people.