Antoine Ealy, Federal Correctional Complex, Coleman, Florida

You all know I’m a big supporter of Alyse Emdur and her six year project Prison Landscapes, so it was great to feature her work on

“My act as a photographer is not from behind the lens but as a collector of images,” says Emdur. “I see myself as a mediator. These are people who have had no relationship with the outside world so while Prison Landscapes might be a very small gesture, the people who chose to be involved in this project want to be seen; they have their own agency. They want the outside world to know they aren’t the criminals they are stereotyped as.”

Relatively late in the project, Emdur resolved to visit prisons herself to photograph backdrops at a wider angle. In the space of two weeks, she gained access to 10 prisons on the East Coast. Her photographs offer context to the portraits she had already collected. In informal interviews, Emdur was able to get the perspective of the prison administrations, psychiatrists, superintendents, guards – “people who enriched my understanding,” she says.

“Prison portraits are very intentionally framed to exclude the surroundings,” explains Emdur. “They are hiding what the visiting room actually looks like. For me it is very important to show the viewer, who maybe hasn’t been in a prison visiting room, the details, and to place the backdrops in a context.”

It’s gratifying when my interest in prisons overlap with wider issues of visual culture and with the curiosity of mainstream readers.

The article coincides with Emdur’s book Prison Landscapes, published by Four Corners, London is now available. Alyse Emdur is very grateful that Four Corners will donate books to each of the individuals whose portraits feature in the book.

Please read my piece about Emdur on Raw File.


Prison Visiting Room Portraits, An Interview with Alyse Emdur. (Prison Photography)

Escapist Landscape Art From Inside America’s Prisons: The paintings that hide and decorate the lives of the incarcerated. (The Atlantic)

Up Against The Wall: Prison Snapshots. (New York Times)

‘Prison Landscapes’ and the Interior World of the Incarcerated. (KCET)