For all sorts of reasons, my life is a whirlwind right now.

With regard Prison Photography and what it all means, might mean, things are tabled for renegotiation. Rejigging.

The renegotiation is in thinking of more creative ways to share new content, but also leverage old content to make it available to interested parties.

A complete redesign of Prison Photography is on the cards; old interviews and criticism would resurface again. But overhaul is not scheduled within the next year. In the meantime, there exist novel means to share the archive of information on Prison Photography.

This week, I made the trip to Coventry University to guest lecture for the Picturing the Body (#PICBOD) course. Course leader Jonathan Worth is a lesson in enthusiasm. With the backing by Jonathan Shaw and the assistance of Matt Johnston along with a host of others within and beyond the photo deptartment’s walls, Jonathan Worth is creating something wholesome, giving and pioneering.

Worth and his collaborators are building a model for free, online photography curricular in criticism and practice for both BA and MA students; students in Coventry and across the globe.

My presentation ‘Tattoos, scars and tears, Robert Gumpert’s work in San Francisco jails’ (which you can listen to here) focused on Robert Gumpert‘s ever developing project ‘Take A Picture, Tell A Story‘. As an introduction and to provide context to Robert’s work, I summarised the work of photography within sites of incarceration throughout the history of the medium.

Following the lecture, Jonathan Worth suggested the introduction alone could constitute a lecture. I would venture farther and say it could warrant a full course in itself.

I’m writing a few syllabi presently and – in the spirit of #PICBOD – I realised I should be sharing my notes.

So, here they are … on a cachable page for perpetuity.


Before the golden age of photojournalism, the photographing of prisoners was used for purposes of identification, order and discipline. The two part mugshot (front view and profile view) was standardised by Alphonse Bertillion. Police departments adopting the system had in-house technicians and photographers but they are anonymous in history.

Remarkable archives by anonymous police photographers exist the world over, but two noteworthy collections are in New Orleans and Sydney.

American prisons fell on to the radar of professional and committed photojournalists in the sixties and seventies, more and more. Three Magnum photographers (Eve Arnold, Bruno Barbey, Danny Lyon) went to Texas. Arnold returned to the subject again and again. The Lone Star state had a punitive prison culture with reform commonly taking the form of hard labor on the chain gang; images echoed those of slavery in the South.

The “exotic” prison (Late 70s, 80s, USA):

Morrie Camhi’s photographs of California prisoners remain some of the most authentic portraits made within US prisons. Douglas Hall Kent, spent years and published at least two books on prison tattoos. Garry Winogrand stopped by Huntsville for the prison rodeo. The much lesser known Ethan Hoffman produced a book titled Concrete Mama about Walla Walla Penitentiary in Washington State. The brutality and tenderness of interactions between prisoners as depicted by Hoffman are surprisingly frank.

Pioneers in prison documentary photography/photojournalism (1980s and 90s in USA):

Cornell Capa (Attica, NY, USA); Taro Yamasaki (Michigan), Ken Light (Texas), James Nachtwey (Texas and other Southern states), Bruce Jackson (Arkansas), Alan Pogue (Texas).

Contemporary to the Americans (above) was the anomalous Jean Gaumy. In 1976, Gaumy was the first photographer allowed access to a French Prison.

Contemporary prison photography (1990s, 2000s):

Lori Waselchuk (Angola, Louisiana), Ara Oshagan (California juveniles), Victor Blue (California), Andrew Lichtenstein (multiple states).

Collaborative/rehabilitative projects (2000s):

Casey Orr (Leeds, England), Mohamed Bourouissa (Paris, France); Deborah Luster (Louisiana, USA), Klavdij Sluban (France and Eastern Europe), Mikhael Subotzky (South Africa), Steve Davis (Washington State, USA); Robert Gumpert (San Francisco, USA); Leah Tepper Byrne (USA)

Eastern European and Former USSR (Late 90s, 2000s):

Much of the photography from the former Soviet bloc is characterised by the grey abandonment of it all. Into the new millenium, younger photographers took less documentary approach with more nuanced fine art engagement with the inmates of Russia and its satellites. Examine the work of Christian Als (Latvia), Carl de Keyzer (Siberia), Yana Payusova (Russia), Sasha Maslov (Ukraine); Delmi Alvarez (Latvia) and Jane Evelyn Atwood.

Western Europe:

Generally, a more tactical use of technique and viewing from photographers such as Nico Bick (Netherlands), Juergen Chill (Germany), Matthieu Pernot (France and Spain), David Moore (London, UK) Danilo Murru (Sicily and Sardinia); Lizzie Sadin (Multiple countries); and Melania Comoretto (Italy).

Guantanamo (2002 – ):

Many photographers have addressed Guantanamo including Paolo Pellegrin, Brennan Linsley, Tim Dirven, Chris Maluszynski, Bruce Gilden, Louie Palu and Christopher Sims. Above all others, Edmund Clark has made the best contribution with emotive images from former detainees’ homes, letters of the detainees and an extremely engaging essay from Dr. Julian Stallabrass.

Political memory (20th and 21st centuries):

Donovan Wylie (Northern Ireland), Paula Luttringer (Argentina), Dana Mueller (US POW camps), Phillip Lohoefener  (East Berlin Stasi prisons) and Anna Schteynschleyger (Former USSR).

Archives of Atrocities:

Willhelm Brasse, known as the Photographer of Auschwitz during WWII; the photographers of Tuol Sleng in Cambodia during the Kymer Rouge regime (1975-1979); Victor Basterra, Naval Mechanics School (ESMA), Buenos Aires, Argentina during the Dirty War (1976-1983)


Chris Jordan‘s large digital composites that stack 2.3million prison uniforms upon six floor-to-ceiling cnavases approach the depressing scale of US incarceration. Featured in ‘Invisivle’ a summary of his first ten years or so probing military and state secrets, Trevor Paglen “stalked” previously clandestine extrajudicial prisons used in the global war on terror. Broomberg and Chanarin, on a tour of Afghanistan rolled-out sheets of photographic paper on days of historical importance, in one case a jail-break.

Africa (21st Century):

Without exception the photographs of African prisons focus n the deplorable conditions, the mistreatment of children and usually both. Julie Remy (Guinea), Fernando Moleres (Sierra Leone), Lynsey Addario (Uganda & Sierra Leone), Nathalie Mohadjer (Burundi), Joao Silva (Malawi).


Given the breadth of photogs’ motives and the different uses of these images it is foolhardy to think of prison photography as a genre. I have taken to calling it a ‘non-existent’ genre.

The website Prison Photography is an inquiry, primarily into the uses and abuses, creation, consumption and distriubtion of images within highly politicised institutions. The photograph is only the beginning.