Scar © Sye Williams

Sye Wiliams photographed in Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, California. His portfolio was included in the June 2002 COLORS Magazine.

Williams’ entire Women’s Prison portfolio can be seen on his website.

It is a bit of a time machine without a specific destination. The images are prior to 2002, we know that much. But it is anyone’s guess which particular year. (I have asked Sye and will update with the answer.)

Williams’ choice of film-stock, the era-less prison issue coats and baseball t-shirts, all amount to a almost “date-less” space and time. Even the hairstyles span any number of decades. Yet, this is what prison is for many inmates; prison is a time of stasis, if not reversal. When time is not your own, how should it matter? And when one’s time is detached (in an experiential way) from that of dominant society, then it stands to reason that very different rules of judging the days, measuring value, gauging worth, choosing behaviour, and – dare I say it – opting for styles, would shift significantly.

Officer © Sye Williams

It is not often prison photographers take portraits of correctional officers (mostly down to legal reasons).

Williams’ Officer (above) is a slippery image. The officer maintains the same steeled look as some of the inmates. The fact that she wears a helmet with visor, and that this particular portrait exists within a portfolio of weapon-still-lifes and an photograph depicting model-hairdresser-heads all unnerves me a little.

It is not that women’s prisons are uncontrollably violent. To the contrary, they’re more likely sites of boredom. However, as a viewer to Williams’ work, I find myself adopting the same caution as the staff and administration. Prisons are places where daily activities are shaped by the need to always prepare for the worst case scenario.

Williams manages to subtly suggest the latent violence of prison, and given recent reports (California Women Prisons: Inmates Face Sexual Abuse, Lack Of Medical Care And Unsanitary Conditions) he is probably close to the truth. Apparently, Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla is less dangerous than it once was, but it remains a notorious prison for women.

In the deviant milieu of prison, even when time ceases to exist, vigilance necessarily remains a constant.

View Sye Williams’ entire Women’s Prison portfolio.

Beauty School © Sye Williams
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