© Adam Shemper

Photographer: Adam Shemper
Title: ‘In the Wheat Fields, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana’
Year: 2000
Print: 9″x9″, B&W on archival paper.

Print PLUS, self-published book, postcard and mixtape – $325 – $BUY NOW

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Another incredibly beautiful and difficult image has been made available for purchase to funders of my Prison Photography on the Road proposed road-trip. This time by photographer and psychotherapist Adam Shemper.

I first discovered Shemper’s work in the Mother Jones feature, Portraits of Invisible Men: A photographer’s year at Angola Prison. Shemper describes how he responded to the frequent question for inmates, “What are you doing here?”

I answered that I’d come to make their largely invisible world visible to the outside. I said I wanted … to reconnect them in a way to a world they had lost. I talked of the prison-industrial complex and the deep-rooted inequalities of the Southern criminal justice system. (Almost 80 percent of the inmates at Angola are African-American and 85 percent of the approximately 5,100 prisoners are serving life sentences.) But as I spoke of injustice, it was obvious I wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t know from their daily lives.

Eventually I stopped trying to explain what I was doing. I simply kept taking pictures.

Chaperoned by a prison official at all times, I visited dormitories, cellblocks, and even the prison hospice. I photographed prisoners laboring in the mattress and broom factories, the license plate plant, the laundry, and in fields of turnips, collard greens and wheat.


Shemper was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. His images and words have appeared in Time, Mother Jones, Double Take Magazine, The Oxford American, Salon.com, and The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, The Daily Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan) and The Bund (Shanghai). Selected images from his Sardis Lake series were included in the International Center of Photography’s exhibition, Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (2003). He lives in Sonoma County, California.