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For its seventh and final stop, Prison Obscura will be on show at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon from April 1 to May 28.
I’ll be at Newspace for the opening next Friday night, April 1, 6–8pm. I’ll be installing Wednesday and Thursday so stop by and say hello.
Also, on the Saturday afternoon I’m moderating a panel titled Can Images Counter Mass Incarceration? with some of my favourite artists and thinkers. Here’s the Facebook event page and see bolded events’ details below.
THE BLURB (AGAIN)
No country incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the United States. More than 2.2 million people are currently locked up in the U.S.—a number that has more than quadrupled since 1980. But sadly, the lives lived behind bars are all too often invisible to those on the outside. Prison Obscura sheds light on such experiences and the prison-industrial complex as a whole by showcasing rarely seen surveillance, evidentiary, and prisoner-made photographs. The exhibition encourages visitors to ask why tax-paying, prison-funding citizens rarely get the chance to see such images, and what roles such pictures play for those within the system.
Alyse Emdur’s prison visiting room portraits from across the nation and Robert Gumpert’s recorded audio stories from within the San Francisco jail system provide an opportunity to see, read, and listen to subjects in the contexts of their incarceration. Juvenile and adult prisoners in different workshops led by Steve Davis, Mark Strandquist, and Kristen S. Wilkins perform for the camera, reflect on their past, describe their memories, and self-represent through photographs. The exhibition moves between these intimate portrayals of life within the prison system to more expansive views of legal and spatial surveillance in Josh Begley’s manipulation of Google Maps’ API code and Paul Rucker’s animated video. Prison Obscura builds the case that Americans must come face-to-face with these images to grasp the proliferation of the U.S. prison system and to connect with those it confines.
Prison Obscura is made possible with the support of the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, Haverford, PA.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Newspace is hosting a series of events related to the prison industrial complex and the role images play in exposing the structures of the U.S. criminal justice system.
OFFSITE Panel discussion: Can Images Counter Mass Incarceration? Saturday April 2, 2-4pm: Panelists Lorenzo Triburgo, Sarah-Jasmine Calvetti and Barry Sanders. Moderated by me. OFFSITE Location: Native American Student and Community Center, Portland State University (710 SW Jackson St). Sponsored by Portland State University Camera Arts Society.
Discussion: Re-Envisioning Justice: What Is Between Reform and Abolition of the Criminal Justice System?: Sunday, April 24, 4-6pm. At Newspace (1632 SE 10th Ave.)
Community Discussion: The Ethics of Photography: Thursday, May 12, 6:30-8pm, organized in collaboration with the Oregon Jewish Museum. At Newspace (1632 SE 10th Ave.)
All public programs are free, open to the public. Please note event location.
Expanding Photography: Discovering the Stories Behind Your Work: May 9 – May 23, 6:30 -9:30 pm | Instructor: Gregory Parra.
Education Lecture Series: The Screen Politics of Public Projections: May 17, 7:00 – 8:30pm | Instructor: Dr. Abigail Susik.
Build Your Own Pinhole Camera: June 5, 12:00-4:00pm | Instructor: Pete Gomena.
INFO + HOURS
Newspace Center for Photography, 1632 SE 10th Ave, Portland, OR 97214
Mon–Thurs 10am-9:30pm; Fri–Sun 10am-6pm
For press inquiries, contact Newspace Curator Yaelle S. Amir at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503.963.1935.
This is mind-boggling. But perhaps not surprising. It’s another very large leap in AI/robotics/super-computing.
At Google, Tobias Weyand and his team have trained a deep-learning machine to work out the location of almost any photo using only the photo; only the pixels it contains.
They fed the neural network–which they’ve named PlaNet–126 million images along with their accompanying Exif location data. Based upon that info, when fed a new image, PlaNet analyses visual clues (buildings, topography, vegetation, weather, etc) to determine the most probable location.
“PlaNet is able to localize 3.6% of the images at street-level accuracy and 10.1% at city-level accuracy,” say Weyand and co. What’s more, the machine determines the country of origin in a further 28.4% of the photos and the continent in 48% of them.
So that’s 3 in every 100 PlaNet puts right at the front door. 1 in 10, it knows the city, and in over a quarter the neural network correctly identifies the country. Impressive.
What’s the future looking like? For the first time, I’m really fretting over the strength of the global human community to make the right–and ever-recurring–decisions on the ethics and control of AI. After a computer beat the world’s best Go player this month, the making of AlphaGo (another Google project) warned against hasty application of AI technologies. Stephen Hawking has been erring caution for decades. AI is still is a long way from applying learning from one system to another so we needn’t worry about self-driving cars learning to control markets or journalism robots changing careers and taking the reigns of power.
But who’s to say that in a few decades, you won’t be able to connect the automated detection of news events in, say, social media, to trigger the dispatch of drones pre-programmed to make photos (behind police tape/above breaking stories/inside toxic environs)? Then the images are sent images to the systems of robot journalists which in turn publish a story in a template. Possible? Maybe. Fine-tune the identifying capacity of PlaNet and you’ve accurate captioning info enough to furnish a news agency … and dispose of the photojournalist!?!
Such a scenario would take care of breaking news, but I’ll still wager on humans, not robots, to fashion the long-form documentary projects. Hell, by then, documentary photography stories might be one of the few things left connecting us!
Thanks Robert Gumpert for the tip off
HERE NOW: Digital Stories from the San Francisco
In December, I was a guest at San Bruno Jail, near San Francisco, for morning of screenings of HERE NOW: Digital Stories from the San Francisco Jails. The 18 film-shorts were made inside San Bruno Jail drawing on both the drama therapy expertise of the University of San Francisco’s Performing Arts and Social Justice Department and the community media skills of the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC).
The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP)—a longstanding collaboration Community Works and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department with programs inside the numerous San Francisco County Jail system–hosted the 12-week course and that inaugural screening.
Tomorrow, January 27th, a screening of HERE NOW will be held for the public. It’ll be at Noh Space which is in the Potrero Hill neighbourhood of San Francisco, specifically at 2840 Mariposa St (b/t Florida St & Alabama St), SF, CA 94110. The screening will include a panel discussion with restorative justice practitioners and members of the project.
Within the confines of one of San Bruno’s jail pods, the 20-or-so prisoners made use of every space, surface and angle to visualise their stories. The “digital stories” they developed include percussion, spoken word, movement, writing, and visual imagery. There’s some large leaps of faith to be made here. Firstly, the men must be comfortable sharing personal tales, then they must be willing to process them with a group, firstly and for a general public audience latterly.
“The men came in with strong visual concepts and artistic choices and we followed them as they were the directors for each of their stories. I approached each production as a camera operator and followed their carefully crafted shot list,” says Kristian Melom, one of the facilitators with BAVC and HERE NOW.
Furthermore, not being experts, the prisoners handed over some control of the editing and sequencing. At least those bits that they couldn’t master on their successful, short and steep learning curves!
“In the editing process, the students from each of the classes worked together and essentially learned digital film editing as they collaboratively made these pieces. It was really inspiring to see how much can happen in the edit when you have very little recording time allowed and lots of improvisation is needed,” says Melom. “We had a blast.”
In advance of tomorrow screening, I wanted to share a handful of notable videos.
In Motivation Through Life’s Struggles, J. Howard organizes the loneliest dinner party. One at which photographs of his loved ones substitute for the persons themselves. A lone 4×6 print on each seat.
You don’t even see Delon Barker’s face in Where I Grew Up, which is a clever tool because it makes his powerful story–about knowing where a hidden gun was and using it at the age of 5–all the more powerful.
“Where I grew up, I was taught to be bad and fight everyone.”
JDJ’s ode to his daughter simultaneously shares his joyful memories of her earliest words but also the pain of being apart. All this plays out to a video track composed of dozens of portraits of her.
June’s Baby Skee is the comic turn of the bunch. June recounts the first time he was charged with changing a diaper.
Testimony Of A Moth is Jack MacLennan’s space to reflect upon, and reenact, a moment he was the victim of gun violence. But also in that moment he reflexively protected those close to him, by literally putting his body on the line. How conflicting to find pride amidst violence. This is a reconciliation of those contradicting emotional memories.
I Kill Time is a bittersweet look back at, well … it’s your guess. Is this a clear metaphor for drug selling? Or is that a presumption? Either way, Vinnie was adamant from the very start that the 2 minutes would be played backward, meaning that action were acted out in reverse. Killing time? He’s playing with time. Very effective and a little disconcerting. Great soundtrack too.
The participants made four short interludes to sit in the middle and at each end of HERE NOW. These four shorts make use of the most expansive cinematography, song and percussion. They’re also the moment that most participants are actors in a single reel.
I spent last Friday inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison watching the presentations of TEDxSan Quentin. Most talks were by prisoners and almost all were moving, reasoned, hard-hitting. It reminded me, once more, of the incredible intellect of men, women and children inside America’s prisons. It made me think again of how foolish we are as a society to waste talent, ignore positive contributions and crush lives through our addiction to incarceration.
Arthur Longworth was not at that TEDx; he is imprisoned not at San Quentin, but at Monroe Correctional Complex near Seattle. Nor did Longworth make the presentation (above) at a TED event. While Monroe has had its own TEDx event, the prisoners own Concerned Lifers Organization (CLO) has been hosting an annual conference for longer.
Longworth’s talk Mass Drownings at the 2015 CLO Conference is an eloquent, 18-minute-long metaphor of the prison industrial complex as the ocean. Longworth was sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP) meaning he has for the past 30-some-years lived behind bars knowing he’d never get out from them. This is a special-type of torture reserved for he and tens of thousands of other Americans. Longworth has witnessed more and more people tossed into the ocean and describes the cruelty of hope.
“This news that people outside of the ocean are actually talking about what’s happening in it spreads across the water in the form of hope. A piece of which you reach out and grab on to. Your instinct isn’t to hold on because by this time you’ve been in the water so long and you don’t know what hope is. But when you try to let go you discover that you can’t bring yourself to do it because this thing you’ve grabbed on to is warm and buoyant. For the first time since you were put into the ocean you cease to shiver and you feel like there might be something to swim toward.”
It’s here that our relationship with those on the inside comes into sharp focus. Politicized prisoners know that there’s a major shift in public attitudes. They are working, too, to help in the balanced and restorative debate we have ackowledged we need. Recognising there’s a problem is the easy part; we need to find the solutions. We need to meet these mens’ hopes. We need to replace a bloated and cruel, cruel system with humanity.
I watched this video for the first time in the wee hours of Thursday, 14th January. I was due that afternoon to open Prison Obscura at Evergreen State College. I have presented so many times on Prison Obscura and the ideas around it that it’s hard not to feel jaded at times. Sometimes, I go into auto-pilot. But, just because I have communicated things multiple times doesn’t make the human rights abuses to which they respond any less urgent.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Longworth several times during my role as a teacher with the University Beyond Bars at Monroe (2009-2011). We never spent any time in the classroom together. He had no use for the art classes I taught and it was not feasible for me to take his Spanish lessons! Arthur Longworth is a brilliant mind and an inspired leader. From within a system that has abandoned its moral compass he has maintained his own. Somehow.
Longworth bristles with controlled fury and a nailed-on sense of injustice. He can’t fathom why a society might throw people away so readily. Then he recalls the monarchy system from which the United States emerged. Kings used to condemn men by decree without ever seeing their faces. Only high and mighty arrogance could enact such disregard.
Mass Drownings reduced me to tears. I also felt shame; shame that I’d got lazy, on occasion, with the presentation of Prison Obscura. The show remains on the walls of Evergreen State College through March 2nd, but I am inclined to tell Washingtonians to watch Arthur Longworth before they seek out any online video about Prison Obscura. Longworth’s argument, grace and dignity are why the fight against mass incarceration must continue. His words carry more meaning and weight than any I, or any other outside activist for that matter, could ever.
Of course, to people familiar with prison literature, this is no surprise. Longworth won the PEN Center ‘Best Prison Memoir’ Prize in 2010. Pulitzer-winning novelist Junot Diaz read Longworth’s Walla Walla IMU, a story about ants in solitary confinement, on stage to a New York crowd. College students nationwide are assigned his works. Last year, The Marshall Project published an essay of his. Longworth has been the feature of Seattle Times and KUOW pieces about LWOP.
Listen to Longworth. Simply put, he’s one of the few remaining persons who talks any sense about a maddening system that condemns hundreds of thousands of men, women and children without ever seeing their faces.
I’M JUST GOING TO GO AHEAD AND CALL THIS CHILD ABUSE
I thought the video above was a fake at first. I thought that it was a satire made by green-screening the kids’ performance onto a backdrop of a Trump Rally. But it’s legitimate and just proves Trump can make our worst nightmares come true.
I can explain the headline by saying that today is Martin Luther King Day and I cannot think that this type of glitzy performance was the type of civic engagement for future generations that King had in mind when he urged a more equitable, caring and empowering society. The girls, an entertainment group named USA Freedom Kids, have been trotted out here by conniving, cynical adults. No-one should deny youngsters their wishes to dance, sing and move their bodies, but no adult should be filling children’s minds, lyrics and identity with partisan and jingoistic rah-rah. Shame on those adults.
Guy Debord is turning in his grave because even he, the infamous contrarian and vitriol-fueled leftie, has a heart. He’d see that the kids are victims here. He’d also identify this performance as the example par excellence of the Spectacle–human existence fully mediated by the image and diffuse within it. Ugh, such young lives crushed by the small-minded political fears of the parents’ generation. Identity squished into a For-Cable-TV skit. Self-esteem pulverized into the shape of a faux-patriotic act that exists for the entertainment of adults and at the expense of the children’s curiosity and development.
Johnson, Reagan and Eisenhower are turning in their graves because they are the presidents that did the most for education in the United States and they, from all sides of the political spectrum, would agree that children being primed for the stage of a racist, misogynist, xenophobic billionaire is child abuse at another order of magnitude. Shame on those adults.
I don’t think I’m getting old or jaded and I don’t think I have less optimism than I did than, say, when I was in my twenties. As best as I can evaluate, though, I think America is losing the plot more and more. Even after Bush Jr., Sarah Palin and the Tea-Partiers, the political intelligence of America continues to plummet. Along with it curiosity. And along with it, often, a sense of decency. Trump is a loathsome package. I take no pleasure from seeing the Republican establishment disrupted when the disruption comes from an arrogant, smarmy, full-of-hate loudmouth. Trump’s reckless disregard is no better summed up by this illustration and this politician’s reason.
Trump is disgusting. His rallies reflect that.
Photo: Kristen S. Wilkins, from the series Supplication
Bit of housekeeping folks! I need to let you know three things about Prison Obscura:
- Prison Obscura is going to Washington State.
- Prison Obscura is going to Oregon.
- Prison Obscura will be retired in June, 2016.
The exhibition opens at Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington this Thursday, January 16th, from 4pm-6pm. I’ll be there giving a curator’s talk.
Prison Obscura Installation in progress, Evergreen State College.
The show is up January 14 – March 2 at Evergreen Gallery, Library 2204, Evergreen State College, 98505 (Google Map)
Mark your calendars waaaaaaay in advance for the opening reception 6-9pm on Friday, April 1st (no joke). I’ll be in Portland all weekend, giving a curator’s talk at the opening and then convening with others for events and panels.
1632 SE 10th Ave., Portland, OR 97214. (Google Map)
Supplication #4, Landscape. From the series ’Supplication.’ “The Pryor Mountains. It is so special to me because I am from Pryor and I miss home. Castlerock at sunset.” Photo: Kristen S. Wilkins.
Supplication #4, Landscape. From the series ’Supplication.’ “The Pryor Mountains. It is so special to me because I am from Pryor and I miss home. Castlerock at sunset.” Photo: Kristen S. Wilkins.
RETIRING ‘PRISON OBSCURA’
To say that the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford had never travelled a show before, they–namely Matthew Callinan–have done a magnificent and utterly-indispensible job in administering Prison Obscura over what will be seven venues.
I didn’t know exactly what was involved in traveling a show such as this and I’m so so grateful that Callinan had the support of his peers at Haverford College to produce an exhibition that could stretch beyond Philadelphia where it all began. We learnt together.
It’s been a great run. After Olympia and Portland though, it’s time to say goodbye. I celebrate Prison Obscura‘s unexpected and gratifying success, but I know that after 2-and-a-half years, it’s time to move energies on to other things. I need to step back and to think about what next, if anything, is appropriate for a prison-based exhibition.
There are massive amounts of vital work and organizing being done around prison activism, policing, power and community-empowerment. I’d like to learn more; take the time to hear and see. Observe and act more; perhaps talk and type less–for a while, at least.
No doubt, I’ll have more to say when Prison Obscura wraps up in Portland, the final show, toward the end of May. For now, I hope that if you are in the Pacific Northwest you’ll be able to check out the show and engage with the ideas its artists propose. Thanks to Alyse Emdur, Robert Gumpert, Steve Davis, Mark Strandquist, Kristen S. Wilkins, Josh Begley and Paul Rucker and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the men of the Restorative Justice Project at Graterford Prison.
David Wells, Thumb Correctional Facility, Lapeer, Michigan. From the series ‘Prison Landscapes (2005-2011).’ Photo: Anonymous, courtesy of Alyse Emdur.
Michael Ireland – Springfield, MO
“A cookie-cut subdivision, a mall parking lot, a rural country road. Linking these unremarkable pockets of America, and hundreds of places just as ordinary, is the fact that they’ve all been sites where people were killed by U.S. police officers.”
Like many of Begley’s previous works, he makes use of third party (activist/research/journalism) data to image a geographically-disparate but nationally-important issue. For Officer Involved he used The Guardian’s data from The Counted.
In 2016, there were 1,138 deaths in which a U.S. law enforcement officers was involved.