Photographer Milcho Pipin went into the Central Penitentiary of the State of Paraná, in Curitiba, Brazil. It’s a fairly sizable prison with nearly 1,500 prisoners.”Despite frequent overcrowding problems and precarious infrastructural condition, this penitentiary is by no means the worst in Brazil,” says Pipin.
From within this tough institution, Pipin wanted primarily to “capture expressions of male and female prisoners and to understand and share their feelings,” he says.
In collaboration with Dr. Maurício Stegemann Dieter, a criminology specialist, Pipin produced the series Locked Up. Both answered a few short questions I had.
Scroll down for Q&A.
Q & A
Prison Photography (PP): Why did you want to photograph in Central Penitentiary of the State of Paraná?
Milcho Pipin (MP): It all started because of my father. He was a police inspector of foreign crime / border control in Macedonia for 30 years. He went through a lot of cases. His sense of comprehensibility to all social classes inspired me to photograph in prison.
PP: What are attitudes toward prisons and prisoners in Brazil?
Dr. Maurício Stegemann Dieter (MSD): Hostile and cynical.
PP: What do Brazilians think of incarceration in the U.S.?
MSD: Except for some researchers (criminology and criminal law professors, mostly), they don’t have a clue.
PP: What did the staff think of you and your camera?
MP: As the director of the prison informed us, it had been over 40 years since media had access inside, it was pretty shocking to me. That’s why when we entered, the staff was not really sure who we were, how we got there and what was our purpose being inside with a photo equipment.
I explained that there was nothing to do with any political purpose and that it was an artistic project only — to photograph the lives behind those concertina wires. Later, the staff mood changed and they were really helpful showing around the prison and introducing us to the prisoners.
PP: How long can babies stay with their mothers? Until what age?
MSD: From birth up to 6-months. After that, they meet daily for up to 4 hours.
PP: Of the 1480 prisoners, how many are men and how many are women?
Maurício Dieter (MD): 1116 men and 364 women, each in a separate penitentiary.
PP: What did the prisoners think about your photography?
MP: The first day was the hardest. We had a short briefing with the prisoners about the project and I felt their lack of interest as they were not yet sure that we were not there for political purpose.
I explained [to a large group] that the only thing I wanted to do was to take their portraits as they expressed their feelings, and then to show the outside world. Most of them left the briefing, just 7 or so stayed.
I showed my print portfolio to those who stayed and I heard one prisoner saying: “Oh good, ok, let’s do this!” As I started photographing one by one, they spread the news and the interest to have their photo taken became viral in the next days. Almost all of them were friendly with us, with a few exceptions.
PP: Did the prisoners see your photos and/or receive prints?
MP: They saw the photos on the camera display a few moments afterwards. I gave them my website link, so the family could see them online. I did promise prints though, and for sure they will soon receive them. There are still a lot of photos in a finalizing phase so I can start printing and delivering them with pleasure to all the prisoners that collaborated in this project.
PP: Milcho, how do you hope your photographs might alter attitudes?
MP: Hmm, through my photographs I hope people will be able to visualize, feel and understand that we are all at the risk of committing a crime, purposely or not, at any moment of our lives, and of being convicted and facing a sentence. That’s why we should appreciate our freedom, because it’s just one of those big things we usually don’t appreciate until we lose it.
We never know, our future is a dice.
Milcho Pipin was born in Bitola, Macedonia. Based in Curitiba, Brazil, Pipin started photography in 2001 as he journeyed across five continents. He focuses on editorial, commercial, documentary and fine art photography. Pipin is founder and creative director of VRV, international creative agency.
All images: Milcho Pipin, and used with permission. Use, manipulate or alteration of any photo without written permission of Milcho Pipin is prohibited.