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Sébastien van Malleghem has been awarded the 2015 Lucas Dolega Award for Prisons his four years (2011-2014) of reportage from within the Belgian prison system.

I’m a big fan of the work having previously interviewed Sébastien while the work was ongoing and applauded the time he spent three-days locked up in Belgium’s newest most high tech prison. That experience helped van Malleghem understand that there are some very thin but very significant thread that connect the cameras and lenses of security, with the cameras and lenses of photographers and journalists, with the cameras of news and entertainment.

In his formal statement to the Lucas Dolega Award, van Malleghem says:

These images reveal the toll taken by a societal model [the prison] which brings out tension and aggressiveness, and amplifies failure, excess and insanity, faith and passion, poverty.

These images expose how difficult it is to handle that which steps out of line. This, in a time when that line is more and more defined by the touched-up colors of standardization, of the web and of reality TV.

Always further from life, from our life, [prisoners] locked up in the idyllic, yet confined, space of our TV and computer screens.

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In an interview with Molly Benn, Sébastien (mashed through Google translate) says a couple of valid things. They answer key questions young photographers have, firstly about access, and secondly about behaviour in the prison.

No one will tell you up front “You should contact so-and-so.” I went to see the mayor of Nivelles. I forwarded to the director of the prison in Nivelles, who referred me to a government worker. Those exchanges took  8-months. Every time I was asked to re-explain my project. Eventually, I received written permission by email but, still, each warden could still refuse me if he wished.

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In prison, everything is constantly monitored. My first challenge was to get out from under the constant control. Upon entry into prison, you are immediately assigned an agent, supposedly for your safety but mostly to monitor what you’re doing.

But the prison officer ranks are often understaffed. I quickly noticed that they preferred to work their usual job than  be my baby-sitter. So. I asked questions, showed interest in their profession, and I gained their confidence. After this, they let me work quite freely. 

Basically, photographing in prison is a precarious exercise. I recall the words of one photographer who reflected on this best when he told me he never presumed he’d be let back in the next day or next week. He made images as if that day in the prison was his last.

Van Malleghem’s prison work follows on from years documenting Belgian police.

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LUCAS DOLEGA AWARD

Lucas von Zabiensky Mebrouk Dolega grew up between Germany – his mother’s homeland, Morocco – his father’s – and France. Never one to respect authority for authority’s sake, he needled the inconcstencies and the inbetween spaces of persons’ experience and identity. On January 17th 2011, in Tunis, Lucas died on the streets amid a riot. He was covering the “Jasmin Revolution” in Tunisia.

The Lucas Dolega Award honours Dolega’s spirit and contribution. The award recognises freelance photographers who take risks in the pursuit of infomration and informing the world. Previous recipients are Emilio Morenatti (2012), Alessio Romenzi (2013) and Majid Saeedi (2014).

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