Carandiru, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil – 2003 © Pedro Lobo

Four South American penitentiaries feature in Pedro Lobo‘s series Espacos Aprisionados/ Imprisoned Spaces; Itaguy, Bon Pastor and Bela Vista prisons in Medellin, Columbia and the infamous Brazilian prison Carandiru in Sao Paulo.

Pedro Lobo has posted an edit of prison images on his website (27 images). A larger selection can be found at Lobo’s Photoshelter gallery (86 images). Selected works are also posted to Lightstalkers (13 of 30).

I think his images from Carandiru – which he shot shortly after its 2002 closure and demolition – are the most cohesive as a group, and it is a selection of those I include here.

Carandiru, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil – 2003 © Pedro Lobo

Lobo adopts a common approach to prison interiors as he does to the vernacular architecture of slums and to adapted religious spaces. Lobo is interested in the strain between the inhabitants control over the space, and the control of the space over its inhabitant. Read in the details, it is – strangely – a very compelling tension.

Lobo: Brazilian inmates call their cells “barracos” (barracks, tents, shacks) the same word used for their houses in the “favelas”, where most of them come from. As in my previous work, I tried to show their efforts to make their living quarters as dignified as their meager resources allowed for.

In this prison, inmates were allowed intimate visits twice a month and made all efforts to clean and decorate their cells prior to these encounters. The art work on walls and doors are reflections of order and chaos – creativity in adversity – and revealing of their desire for freedom, material residues of the only allowed forms of self-expression. It is sad to know that all vanished when the buildings were demolished.

These images reflect the responsibility with which I use my work. They are not about crime, or criminals, poverty, or misery, but about human beings who found, or placed, themselves in extremely adverse situations and decided not to give up the struggle for a dignified existence. (Source)

Carandiru, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil – 2003 © Pedro Lobo

In some cases the interiors are bare and contemplative; images 2 and 3 could be the cells of religious devotees. In other cases (image 1) the intrigue is in the particulars. Look closer. What’s behind the curtain?

Especially because Carandiru no longer stands (it has, like so many former prisons, become a museum) Lobo’s pictures should be treasured. Don’t be surprised if these images reemerge, possibly in the form of a book, and probably tied into his wider body of work.


Pedro Lobo (Rio de Janeiro, 1954) is a Brazilian photographer currently living in Portugal.

He has exhibited his work in Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Colombia and in the United States. He has photographed slums, favelas and prisons. His images of  known as Carandiru (later demolished) in Sao Paulo were shown in the exhibition “Imprisoned spaces/Espaços aprisionados” at Blue Sky Gallery, in Portland, Oregon, in 2005.

His first one-man show in Portugal was Favelas: Architecture of Survival at Museu Municipal Prof. Joaquim Vermelho in Estremoz.

He has taken part in other exhibitions such as REtalhar2007 in Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro and “Via BR 040 – Serra Cerrado”, with Miguel Rio Branco, Elder Rocha, etc in Plataforma Contemporânea of the Museu Imperial of Petropolis, in 2004 and 2005.

Pedro Lobo, a Fulbright Scholar, studied photography at the school of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with Elaine O’Neil and Bill Burke and at New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP). From 1978 to 1985 he worked for the Brazilian Landmark Commission (Fundação Pró-Memória) as a photographer and researcher. In 2008, he was awarded the first prize at Tops Festival in China.