Yellow Hand With Orange Glow. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project

The potential for photography to change the lives of the incarcerated, particularly the young prisoners, is significant. Photography education provides all the therapeutic tenets of arts programming, but also develops new skills; visual literacy, computer and digital-darkroom skills, and (of course) the not-too-simple task of mastering the settings on a camera. Photography workshops flex different muscles than painting or writing workshops may. Photography allows storytelling beyond the pen and the paintbrush.

NOTE: I discuss many photography programs in this article, but all the images are by incarcerated children in New Mexico who’ve participated in the Fresh Eyes Project workshops.


The Fresh Eyes Project in New Mexico is two years old. It delivers 10-week classes, twice a year in two New Mexico facilities – the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center (YDDC) in Albuquerque and the adjacent Camino Nuevo Correctional Center.

The planning, structure and accountability reported on the Fresh Eyes Project website is impressive.

Volunteer programs, cameras or not, must be water-tight, well-designed and directed. The Fresh Eyes Project clearly states its scope of work, it’s objectives, its internal assessment and feedback opportunities for students. I very much appreciate programs that share curriculum and lesson plans. Very valuable.

“Our purpose is to help the youngsters to see themselves and the community into which they would be released with fresh eyes as and for the community to see the youngsters with fresh eyes not as ‘the Other’ but as ‘our own,'” says the Fresh Eyes Project founder, Cecilia Lewis.


Sadly, projects like the Fresh Eyes Project are rare. In America, inside locked facilities there have been some occasional photography workshops but few consistent ones. I’ve mentioned many times Steve Davis’ workshops (there’s still so many photographs that remain unpublished). Fatima Donaldson recently led a digital photography workshop at Fort Bend Juvenile Detention Center, Texas (info and video).

Probably the best and most consistent provider of photography workshops to incarcerated youth is AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island. AS220 delivers education, including photography training, at the Rhode Island Training School (RITS), the State’s only juvenile detention facility. Classes are delivered as part of AS220’s Youth Photography Program which also works out of a downtown location and in local schools too.*

The Fresh Eyes Project and AS220’s work are the only year-on-year prison photography programs delivered in the U.S. that I know of. Please, contact me if there’s current programs of which I should know.


Fear. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


Ghost Hand. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


These Bars Keep Me In. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


Can a teen do without their phone? Is a phone ever without camera these days? Can that commonplace visual communication be leveraged to spark interest in other forms of image making? In other cameras? In film photography? I’d say so.

Thanks largely to the work of Wendy Ewald, literacy and personal development through photography is a familiar notion. Youth storytelling photo programs include Youth in Focus, Seattle: Focus on Youth, Portland; Critical Exposure, Washington DC; First Exposures, San Francisco; The In-Sight Photography Project, Vermont; Leave Out ViolencE (LOVE), Nova Scotia; Inner City Light, Chicago; My Story, Portland, OR; Picture Me at the MoCP, Chicago; and Eye on the Third Ward, Houston; and Emily Schiffer’s My Viewpoint Photo Initiative.

This summer, at Photoville, I saw an exhibit Perspectives featuring the photographs of teens from Red Hook, Brooklyn. Perspectives came out of a specific PhotoVoice program, that itself is part of the ongoing JustArts Photography Program (formerly the Red Hook Photo Project)

The JustArts Photography Program (more here and here) is run through the Red Hook Community Justice Center (RHCJC) in cooperation with New York Juvenile Justice Corps and the Brooklyn Arts Council. As with all the RHCJC projects, the photography program exists to improve the lives of teens within the geographically and socially isolated Red Hook neighbourhood.


Whereas JustArts uses photography as inspiration, working with kids from less advantaged communities to envision great futures, Young New Yorkers actually uses photography (as well as video, illustration and design) as intervention in the cogs of the youth justice system.

“Young New Yorkers a restorative justice, arts program for 16- and 17-year-olds who have open criminal cases. The criminal court gives eligible defendants the option to participate in Young New Yorkers rather than do jail time, community service and have a lifelong criminal record. The curriculum is uniquely tailored to develop the emotional and behavioral skills of the young participants while facilitating responsible and creative self-expression.”

Young New Yorkers (YNY) is remarkable. More to come on Prison Photography about their successes. This little shout out is the least YNY deserve.

If you want to support YNY’s work right now, their Second Annual Silent Art Auction is on October 16, 6-10pm, at Allegra La Viola Gallery, 179 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002. You can bid online, if you’re not in New York.

So much good work being done across the country. These kids are our future.



Shadow Portrait. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


On The Outside. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


Portrait Of My Teacher. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


Scary Hands. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


Mighty Me. Courtesy: Fresh Eyes Project


* A couple of years ago, I interviewed the director of AS220 youth programs,  two of the photography instructors and a few kids. They also gifted me a portfolio of work and I’m long overdue to scan and present that material here on the blog. Please, stay tuned.


I came across the work of the Fresh Eyes Project thanks to an article Capturing Captivity From The Inside, by Katy McCarthy for the Bokeh Blog on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.