Prison, Castaic, CA, 2007. Stephen Tourlentes

Stephen Tourlentes‘ work is without doubt one of the most significant photographic responses to American landscape. If Ansel Adams had lived in an era of mass incarceration, I am certain the discard of persons, nature and sustainability in prisons would have captured his activist streak as much as that of our beloved National Parks.

Eighteen months ago, I interviewed Tourlentes, and that contribution to photographic discourse remains one of my proudest moments. Recently, Tourlentes launched his own website.

His work is of yesterday, for today and hopefully of a changed future.

The nocturnal glow of prisons is his subject; it is a subject we own and the weight of its injustices is ours. Across States, we voted for the mass warehousing of human lives. Tourlentes’ prison-scapes capture the “feedback of exile.”

Thirty years ago, Tourlentes would have no subject, but today he presents us with the spectres of our sprawling and unforgiving prison industrial complex. Glowing bright at night, he shows us sites usually lost on the horizon in daytime heat and haze.

Tourlentes has photographed many different prisons, but has now focused his series on the institutions of that accommodate the State execution chamber –  he refers to these prisons as “death houses”. Many new (and superior) works are included in his newly presented portfolio. Tourlentes calls the project Of Lengths and Measures:

These institutions tend to sit on the periphery of a society’s consciousness. Many older prisons are situated in towns or along rivers and reflect the use of the land at the time of their construction. By comparison newly opened “Super Max” prisons utilize modern high technology to control their population and offers an updated contrast to the stone castles that preceded them. The rapid construction of new prisons is a result of overcrowding caused by tough new sentencing laws, as well as an economic program to help depressed communities that vie to host them. The land that these prisons sit on is never allowed to go dark. The use of light and surveillance technology has changed the architecture of confinement.  The tools of electronic surveillance and computer technology are used as the new keys inside the modern corrections system.