“I see a dam. […] For five friends since birth this has been our sanctuary we have retreated to since we found it on our explorations off the beaten path as kids. We have come to celebrate, mourn and hide.”
For his participatory project, Some Other Places We’ve Missed artist and photographer Mark Strandquist held workshops in various jails and prisons, and asked prisoners, “If you had a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?”
Along with the written descriptions, individuals provided a detailed memory from the chosen location, and described how they wanted the photograph composed.
Strandquist then photographed and an image is handed or mailed back to the incarcerated participants. The size of photographs he made and later exhibited were/are consistent with the restrictions imposed on pictures sent into prisons.
It’s a strong project that involves many different groups. It attempts to build connections where none exist. If one artist can achieve this, think what a whole posse could accomplish?
The scanned letters are difficult to read at this size; I recommend using you COMMAND + keys to enlarge the page and jpegs.
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“Right outside my window is my mom’s house.”
“The neighborhood was middle class, nice, where everyone knew everyone. One great lady taking care of us all – grandmother; Big Momma for short. The house set on fire when one cousin playing with matches. Had to move into government owned property. Family split up. Never as close as before. Miss the love. Home base.”
“Here I was standing behind our freshman quarterback staring down the opposition’s defense, 68 yards from the end zone. […] The outside linebacker took a great angle and I thought I’d be shoved out of bounds. Quickly I stiff-arms shim and broke free down the sideline … before my first touchdown as a senior. What I want most is for you guys to know is that hard work and dedication definitely pay off.”
In some ways the work is similar to the Tamms Year Ten Photography Project that asked Illinois prisoners in solitary confinement to describe one image they would like on their cell wall (and which I featured a couple of weeks ago).
Upon encountering the Tamms Year Ten Photography Project, Strandquist was “blown away”, yet he identifies differences between methodolgies.
“The Tamms Year Ten Photography Project is a really challenging project, but there’s so much to love – its diffusion of authorship; its performative aspects of individuals seeking out public spaces to make these images; and its deconstruction of fine art aesthetics,” says Strandquist.
“I believe the form and function of Some Other Places We’ve Missed moves in different, hopefully equally powerful ways. My project is as much about creating a window for the incarcerated participants as it is about creating a window for the public, a meeting ground where each participant’s challenging memories and realities mix with images shot intentionally to facilitate open associations. Part of me wants to hear the stories behind the Tamms requests … but maybe that’s the voyeur in me?” adds Strandquist.
In this case, a will toward voyeurism (to use Strandquist’s term) would indicate that the Tamms Year Ten Photography Project succeeded; it draws audience members in, to then go ahead under their own steam to learn more about the issue, the systems and the people within.
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“I’m staring at a place where I once was a child. A confused little boy in search of some meaning. 7 years of age in an urban apartment complex with no parental direction.”
“My memories of my old house are both good and bad. Playing games, watching TV and just hanging out with my older brother. There were bad times that made me see things different – My mom kicking my dad out, my dad beating my mom, my mom leaving with no goodbyes, to seeing my brother every blue moon. What makes this house so special is it’s the last time everyone was under one roof.”
“… all my mom wanted was for my to finish high school. I want to make that up for that with going to college.”
“I miss the feeling of waking up early in the morning to the TV still being on and hearing my little sisters and brothers tearing the house down […] Sometimes it’s the little things that you never pay attention to that can effect you the most in the future.”
If you, or someone you know is incarcerated, and would be interested in participating in the project, you can email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org
Strandquist recently exhibited Some Other Places We’ve Missed at Anderson Gallery in Richmond, VA. His interactive installation featured weekly prison letter writing workshops and a space to donate books to the local chapter of Books to Prisoners.
Visitors were given the opportunity to take with them copies of written statements by the incarcerated participant about the space to which they wish they had a window.
Mark Strandquist is a multi-media artist and curator based in Richmond, VA, who creates work that incorporates viewers as direct participants, features histories that are typically distorted or ignored, and blurs the boundary between artistic practice and social engagement. His work has been featured in various film festivals and independent galleries as well as a current exhibit at the Art Museum of Americas in Washington, DC. He is currently working on a BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has a Tumblr.