I just came across Francesco Rocco‘s Prisons portfolio and it was a punch to the gut.

Cocco portrays the self-afflicted and architectural violence wrought in Italian penitentiaries with visceral power that – even within the genre of prison photography – is rare.

The work was made against the ongoing outcry of suicides in Italian prisons, “Italian prisons are increasingly overcrowded. In eight years, 449 suicides have been counted in Italian jails, out of a total of 1243 deaths behind bars. Is this a way to resolve a social issue? Unfortunately, a neon light isn’t enough to take away a man from darkness and hand back to him his dignity.”

In 2002, Cocco embarked on a long study of men’s and women’s prison conditions in Italy, creating work shown at the Modena, 55th Festa Provinciale de l’Unità, September 2006; and later at Rome, Sala Santa Rita, March 2007.

A video of the exhibition installation with comments from the Modena curators (Italian language) can be watched here or by clicking the image below.

Prisons was published as a book format by Logos, with texts by Adriano Sofri and Renata Ferri.

A well-designed fold out accompaniment to the exhibition (pictured below) was also produced. More here.


Previously on Prison Photography, as regards Italian prisons, I have featured Melania Comoretto‘s portraits of women, Danilo Murru‘s large format architectural studies of Sicilian prisons and Luca Ferrari‘s B&W portraits from Rebbibia prison, Rome.


Francesco Cocco was born in Recanati, Italy in 1960. He began working as a photographer in 1989. Keenly interested in social marginalization and the world of children, he immediately started visiting ‘difficult’ countries, especially in Asia. In Bangladesh, he photographed the living conditions of street kids and documented child labor practices. In Vietnam, just after the borders reopened, he created a photo essay for the exhibition Vietnam Oggi (Modena, Italy, 1993). In Cambodia, working with Emergency, he tackled the dramatic story of landmine victims. In the same country, with the support of the NGO New Humanity, he collected images of child prostitution. In Brazil, he photographed blind people at the Benjamin Constant Institute in Rio de Janeiro and the exploitation of child labor on the island of Marajoa, in the Amazon basin.