DOC#: 312197
DOB: 11.25.1964
POB: North Kingston, RI
Sentence: 5 years
Work: Floor Worker
Pamela Winfield, Easter Bunny, Children’s Visiting Day, Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, St. Gabriel, Louisiana. © Deborah Luster. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery.


With a big lump of pride in my belly and knowledge of known unknowns, I am pleased to announce Cruel and Unusual, an exhibition of prison photography Hester Keijser and I are curating at Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen, Holland.

Hester contacted me just before I set out on Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR) and asked if I’d co-curate a show; she wanted to tap the prison photo landscape and tell Europeans about the mass-incarceration looming on the horizon should their governments repeat the bottom-line economics and unforgiving approach of American policy-makers.

Hester writes why she invited a curatorial novice like me to collaborate, here.


Just as I got out from behind the desk for PPOTR, to make in-person connections and audio recordings, so an exhibition is another new way for me to present photography of our hidden carceral spaces, and, in so doing, stoke the fires of the reform debates.

As you can imagine, we had scores of photographers from which to choose. Hester distilled some thoughts, guided me by the hand when necessary, and we plumped for eleven stellar photographers: Araminta de Clermont, Amy Elkins, Alyse Emdur, Christiane Feser, Jane Lindsay, Deborah Luster, Nathalie Mohadjer, Yana Payusova, Lizzie Sadin and Lori Waselchuk.

Anwar, from the series ‘Life After’ © Araminta de Clermont

Inmate volunteers at the Angola Prison Hospice massage a dying patients limbs. © Lori Waselchuk

From the series ‘Dungeon’. © Nathalie Mohadjer

The eleven photographers employ a variety of strategies in order to challenge prevailing stereotypes about crime and incarceration. Vernacular photography, found materials, alternative processes, painted photos, digital manipulations and straight black and white documentary will all be in evidence.


Alongside an orthodox(ish) presentation of the eleven main photographers, I wanted also to capture the chaos, interactions and visual excitement I saw in photographers’ studios, contact-sheets and home-towns while on the road.

Along one wall of the exhibition, we’re mounting a hectic presentation of work-prints, behind-the-scenes images and rough text culled from photographers archives. Photographers included are Scott Houston, Adam Shemper, Sye Williams, Jon Lowenstein, Joseph Rodriguez, Ara Oshagan, Jeff Barnet-Winsby, Lloyd Degrane, Harvey Finkle, Sean Kernan, Tim Gruber, Jenn Ackerman, and Steve Davis. Tim Matsui, Jack Jeffries and Frank McMains provide the b-roll.

This parlays nicely into the fact we’re producing a newspaper format catalogue … in a run of 3,000 copies!

The digital age has simultaneously brought about the decline of printed journalism and the rise of freelancers (bloggers) who publish their own content and worldview at will. Related, but not necessarily causal, we wanted to acknowledge these two trends and the disruption at hand.

Every which way I look at it, Cruel and Unusual is an experiment. It feels good to be trying something new and risking mistakes. Hopefully, our presentation does the subject matter justice.


‘Cruel and Unusual’
18 February – 1 April, 2012
Stichting Fotografie Noorderlicht
Akerkhof 12
9711 JB Groningen

Opening hours: Wed–Sun: 12–6pm
Admission: FREE
Telephone: +31 (0) 50 3182227

Opening reception: 17th February
Curators talk: 18th February

Installation shot, Gems, by Jane Lindsay. Bottle cap, resin.

DOC: #335957
DOB: 8.23.1963
POB: Mississippi
Sentence: 4 years
Children: 3
Work: Housekeeping
Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, St. Gabriel, Louisiana © Deborah Luster. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery.