Chris Vernon takes a long shot in the recreation yard at SEPTA Correctional Facility. Basketball, volleyball and horseshoes are the only opportunities for physical recreation. © Victor J Blue.

VICTOR J BLUE

“What do we expect from people who go to prison? They broke the law, there was a process, they were punished, they got out. But what then?” asks Victor J Blue who’s just published Almost Out, a 4-month long reportage about SEPTA Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio. The report consists of a photo essay, a short video documentary, and a 4500 word written piece.

Blue describes SEPTA:

“Opened in 1990 to provide judges and sentencing courts in southeast Ohio an alternative to prison or probation for felony offenders, and to help convicts transition back into home communities. The idea is that locking guys up in a place where a battery of programs are not just available to them, but required of them—can cause a shift. It can change outcomes. They can learn to stop coming to prison.”

Corey Cunningham, George Fisher, and Doug Starcher, (left to right) talk with Jeff Johnson, (right) on the recreation yard at SEPTA. Prison gang affiliations and racial tensions that mark other prisons are less prevalent here. © Victor J Blue.

Blue, who is trying to build a portfolio of projects documenting and unpacking the criminal justice system, contemplates the difficult transitions and changes facing former prisoners, “They are felons now, and they will carry that distinction for good. I am interested in how guys getting out are marked, physically and psychologically, by their experience of incarceration, but do not want to be defined by it,” says Blue.

I’ve been aware of Blue’s work since he shot the b-roll for Ted Koppel’s Breaking Point (2007) about California’s overcrowded prisons. Blue consequently produced an award winning Best of Photojournalism essay in the ‘Non-Traditional Photojournalism Publishing’ category, 2009.

OHIO UNIVERSITY

Last week, I spoke about the impressive photography and multimedia work of Dustin Franz and Angela Shoemaker; both graduates of Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication, the same body that Blue and his fellow students are working within.

So, it’s high time we pay recognition to the professional output of the OU SVC student body; especially as it seems to be a leader in the production value of its material published online.

“We just finished our annual reporting project here at OU, it’s called Our Dreams are Different,” says Blue. “We are trying to build some audience for our stories. I don’t know if you are familiar with the project, but this years edition is much tighter and with better storytelling than years past.”

From the website, the approach of Our Dreams are Different is described thusly:

“The stories in this project examine the American Dream — how the dream has changed, how it persists, as well as the myths and realities of its unending pursuit. By telling these stories in the small towns of Southeast Ohio, our goal is to help folks better understand our communities, our neighbors and ourselves.”

BRAD VEST

Ohio University students are being noticed elsewhere too.

Today, DVAFOTO sung the praises of Brad Vest‘s project Adrift and ran a short interview with him about his process and access. Brad writes:

“This is a story about drugs, family and absence along a bend in the river. Travis Simmons is attempting to move past his addiction, and despite prison, parole, parents, and his devotion to his daughters, he cannot stay out of trouble.”

Photojournalism is dead? My arse.

Chris Vernon opens his locker, decorated with photographs of his family in his room. Residents wear pink shirts like the one Vernon has on when they have committed rule violations and they are restricted from furloughs and going outside on the yard. © Victor J Blue.
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