The title for this post comes from Dostoevsky’s famous 1862 novel House of the Dead. The book is full of imagery of malnourished, edgy prisoners who are corralled through the harsh drudgery of the Siberian prison camp. For me, it is almost impossible not to think of Dostoevsky’s bleak interment when looking at photographs from Russian prisons. Much of the imagery I’ve seen from the former Soviet bloc (AlsAlvarezAtwood, Krauss, Nachtwey, Vasiliev, Payusova) has depicted cold, hardened wretches. This may or may not reflect reality, but here I want to emphasise the prevalence of this type of imagery.

All photographs here in this post are by Sebastian Lister. I’ve taken the liberty to feature a small portion of his images and I’ve peppered them between famous etchings and paintings from art history to illustrate the persistence of marching, ordering, misery and boredom in prison imagery. America, Germany and England all feature in the historical images so we can acknowledge that this type of treatment and mood has existed in prison systems across the world.

Could it be that Russian prisons are persistently depicted as backward, brutal and stuck in the past? Is this the reality?

If you’ve not guessed, I’m setting something up here. I posit that, sometimes, these types of photographs are what we expect. Tune in on the blog later today to see a contrasting view.