Each year, UNICEF Germany grants the “UNICEF Photo of the Year Award” to photo series that best depict the personality and living conditions of children across the globe.
Among the 2010 Honorable Mentions was Spanish freelancer Fernando Moleres for his documents of children in Central Prison, usually known as Pademba Road Prison, in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown.
It’s often difficult to engage an audience with “new” images of prisons, but Moleres succeeded with the image of the collapsed official at his desk (above). The disorganisation of paperwork in this image works as metaphor for a broken institution – much as Hogarth’s littered furniture and bodies are metaphors for broken society.
It also works as a foil (for those who are familiar with) to Jan Banning’s Bureaucratics portfolio; even those of Banning’s subjects amid seeming disarray, never appear defeated like Moleres’ prison administrator.
“Pademba Road Prison was built for 300 prisoners, but it has more than 1,100 prisoners at present, many of whom are children,” explains Moleres.
Conditions are appalling and hearing trials is based more on chance than process. “Countless cases of unspeakable misery – that’s the life of those who are imprisoned here,” says Moleres. “There are no beds, mattresses or sanitary facilities. No electricity and no water. Hardly any food. Their relatives often don’t know anything about the fate of the prisoners.”
A broken, hectic institution.
Moleres continues with three examples, “Teenagers like 16-year-old Lebbise*, sentenced without trial to three years in prison because he allegedly stole 100,000 Leones (25 Euros). 17-year-old Hilmani*, sentenced without trial because he allegedly stole his uncle’s scooter. 17-year-old Manyu*, sentenced without trial to three years in prison because he allegedly stole two sheep. He died in prison in spring 2010.”
As an audience to this type of imagery, we should note that, in 2006, Lynsey Addario photographed in Pademba Road Prison as well as jails in Uganda. On the evidence of the photographs, conditions have not improved.
Moreles paints a picture of a wasteful, desperate and predatory environment in Pademba Road Prison. This is the common view of prisons in many African countries, and sadly the reality for children caught in these systems. Many of Moleres’ photographs repeat the scenes of prisons photographed by others working in Africa, eg, Nathalie Mohadjer (Burundi), Julie Remy (Guinea), Joao Silva (Malawi) and Tom Martin (Burundi).
The common threads of these portfolios is tension, filth, depleted light, malnutrition, overcrowding and the solitary gaze of a forlorn child.
UNICEF is right to shed light upon the most upsetting (and unseen) realities for the most disenfranchised children in our global society.
Moleres also won the Luis Valtuena International Humanitarian Photography Award for his story on the prison system in Sierra Leone.
Molores has photographed children and the issues that affect their since 1992. in over 30 countries. He has been recipient of a Mother Jones Grant, (1994), the “Juan Carlos King of Spain” International Prize (1995), an Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation Grant, Sweden (1996), a finalist for the Eugene Smith Prize (1997), World Press Photo award for “Children at work” daily life series (1998), W. Eugene Smith Prize, 2nd prize (1999), World Press Photo, Art category (2002), Revela International Award, Spain, (2009), Honorable Mention Philantropy Award (2010) and an Honorable mention for the Gijon international Prize.