Charles Moore. (American, born 1931). Martin Luther King, Jr. Arrested. 1958. Gelatin silver print. 8 3/8 x 12 3/16" (21.3 x 31 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Harriette and Noel Levine.

Infrastructure: labor, land, financing, and the general organizational capacity to combine these things in order to make other things, in general, easier to make. While not always public, it is the form of most public wealth.

Prisons are a monumental aspect of the ghastly public infrastructure underlying a chain of people, ideas, places, and practices that produce premature death the way other commodity chains crank-out shoes or cotton or computers.

Why don’t our heads burst into flames at the thought? Why is the prison-industrial complex so hard to see? The many structures that make carceral geographies disappear (which is to say, become ordinary) depend, for their productive capacity, on the infrastructure of feeling.

To affect what lies beneath these structures, wherever it might be in space and time, requires radical revision. By turning what becomes ordinary towards the extraordinary, our expressive (and explanatory) figurative works cause what disappears to be visible, palpable, present here and now.

– Ruth Wilson Gilmore

When I read Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s introduction to Prison Culture, I was struck by the common requisite of feeling to bring about change.

Photography is ever amidst a debate about whether it can bring about change, and I think a lot of that rests on whether photographers are presenting – with the right mix of emotion and political message – images that help, nay compel, the audience to see the disappeared.

This can be a tired notion to those who have toyed with it for years, but one only need to listen to Charles Moore speak about his images to be reminded how powerful photography can be. I cried when Moore described his disgust for violence and the oppression of civil rights.

As Moore believes (and I agree), his images had a profound affect on the people of America, allowing them to see the “disappeared” and see the “ordinary” hatred that welled in the Southern states in the 1960s.

It is my contention that the visual narratives of prisons in the US have still many avenues to explore in order to transform public thought and catalyse public action.

That, partly, is why I write on Prison Photography.

Vernell Crittendon and an inmate talk as they cross the yard at San Quentin. © Darcy Padilla

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