Kirk Crippens contacted me a few months back to tell me about his work at San Quentin. He’s working on a documentary on the SQ Insight Garden Project.

He’s also working on Hidden Population, a personal project of unorthodox portraiture.

I suspect for Crippens, the ‘back of the head approach’ is a novel workaround of DoC legal restrictions on identifiable depictions of men in its custody. As applied to a US prison population, Crippens’ work is original and rather beguiling; how many of his subjects are aware of the camera’s glare? Does the notion of victimhood surface here? How often does the bowed head recur? It is very difficult to imply penitence in prison portraiture without relying on cliche. The doo-rags, beanie-hats, neck hair, peeping tattoos and ubiquitous blue cotton mean these images fluctuate between personal and abstract.

For such a simple idea, Crippens could go a long way with it. It is still a work in progress so I just want to bring your attention to it right now. Hopefully, I’ll get Kirk on PP soon to discuss it at length.


To compose images of the back of the subjects’ heads is the same approach adopted by Eric de Vries for ‘Invisible Scars’ – portraits of the Khmer Rouge labour camps, Cambodia. In terms of political context, the two sets of subjects are constellations apart , but I thought the shared technique was worth noting.


In 2010, Kirk Crippens achieved significant success with Foreclosure, USA. He had three solo exhibitions of his and nine group shows throughout 2010. Crippens was named in Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50 for 2010. Foreclosure, USA also won the Blue Earth Prize For Best Project Photography at the PhotoAlliance 2010 Our World Portfolio Review. Crippens was recently nominated for the 2011 – 2013 Eureka Fellowship Program, a project of the Fleishhacker Foundation.