Gumpert, Robert - Brook, Pete small


I am not a photographer.

I look and comment.

I work as an independent writer, curator and educator.


San Francisco Bay Area, California. Born and raised in Lancashire, England.


I believe the United States needs to pursue large-scale prison and sentencing reform.

We must stop warehousing people and be creative with rehabilitation. Prisons in the U.S. are socially and economically unsustainable. As they exist, prisons are a liability. Often discussions on prison issues are framed incorrectly. Sometimes prisons are ignored. Problems also exist in other countries.


Cameras and their operators function in recording, and to some degree, interpreting the stories of (and within) prison systems. How varied is the imagery?

If a camera is within prison walls we should always be asking; How did it get there? What are/were the motives? What are the responses? What social and political powers are at play in photographs manufacture? How is knowledge, related to those powers, constructed? Is the photograph for the prisoner, for the photographer, for the audience, or a combination?


Editor and writer, Vantage – November 2014 – present.

Sub-editor, Raw View, Issues 6, 8, 9 and 10  – January 2016 – present.

Writer, Wired – August 2009 – June 2015.

Contributing editor, Photography As A Social Practice – 2014-present.

Contributor, Reading The Pictures – May 2010 – present.

Writing published in Anxy, Aperture, The Atlantic, CNN, The Good Men Project, Huck, Huffington Post, International Center for Photography, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, The Marshall Project, The Oregonian, Outside Magazine, PDX Design Week, Photo District News, Photo-Eye, Polka Magazine, Raw View, SF Bayview, TIME, Timeline, TruthOut, Winterthur Museum ‘Still Searching’ blog.


A Warm Thread, foreword for Operation Jurassic by Roxana and Pablo Allison (2018)

GTMO: Vision Destabilized, catalogue essay for ‘Debi Cornwall: Welcome To Camp America: Inside Guantanamo Bay’ exhibition, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (2018)

Portrait Of Fear, foreword for Bug Out Bag, by Allison Stewart (2017)

Off Paper, foreword for Corrections, by Zora J. Murff (Ain’t Bad Publishers, 2015)

Never Neutral, essay for Ernest Collective exhibition publication Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility (Container Corps, 2015)

What Are We Doing Here? Essay for Try Youth As Youth exhibition catalogue, David Weinberg Photography, Chicago (2015)

The Prying Eye of the Public Lens, Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hillman Photography Initiative (Sept, 2014)

Essay for Amy Elkins’ Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night, Daylight Digital (Dec. 2013)

Essay for Some Other Places We Have Missed newspaper, by Mark Strandquist’s exhibition of the same name at The Bridge PAI, Charlottesville, VA. (June, 2013)

Foreword for Life’s A Blast, by Linda Forsell (Premiss; 1st edition, 2012)

Foreword for Confined exhibition catalogue, Bluecoats Gallery, Liverpool, UK (2011)


Prison Obscura (Jan 2014-Apr 2016). Exhibition of prison non-traditional imagery – surveillance, code, vernacular, workshop photography. Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford, PA. (Jan 24th 2014 – Mar 7th, 2014); Scripps College, Claremont, CA (Sept 2nd-Oct 17th); Alfa Art Gallery & Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (Oct 7th-Nov. 1st, 2014); Parsons New School of Design, New York, NY (Feb 5th-Apr 17th, 2015); University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI (Sept 8th-25th, 2015); Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA (Jan 14th-Mar 2nd, 2016); and Newspace Center for Photography, Portland, OR (Apr 1st-May 28th, 2016).

Status Update (Nov. 2015) Exhibition of photography & video about change, chance and inequality in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the work of fourteen artists, at SomArts, San Francisco. Co-curated with Rian Dundon. Produced by Catchlight. Press including Time, Wired, Mashable, Vice, California Sunday Magazine, Mother Jones, Silicon Valley DeBug, Stanford University, Muni Diaries, Reading The Pictures and East Bay Express.

Seen But Not HeardArtget Gallery, Kulturni Centar Belgrada, Belgrade, Serbia (Dec, 2013). An exhibition of photographs from American juvenile detention facilities. Featuring Ara Oshagan, Richard Ross, Joseph Rodriguez, Steve Liss, Steve Davis and the work of children at the Rhode Island Training School (RITS) taking classes through AS220. More here.

The Depository Of Unwanted Photographs, Photoville, New York (Sept. 2013). A crowdsourced socially-engaged installation over 6 days in which we accepted submissions from members of the public of their forgettable and storied images.

Cruel and Unusual, Noorderlicht Photogallery, Groningen, The Netherlands (Feb 18th-Apr 8th, 2012); Melkweg Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (May, 2012); Photoville, New York (June 22nd-July 1st, 2012); Reportage Photo Festival, Sydney, Australia (25 May – 13 June); Sirius Art Center, Cobh, Ireland (13 June – 7 July, 2013 ).

Women in [Prison] Photography, for the Women in Photography website. (Feb 2012).

Non Sufficient Funds, Vermillion Gallery, Seattle, WA (Apr 2010). A show of prison artwork made by a dozen students from Monroe Correctional Complex. Details here, here and here.


Can Images Counter Mass Incarceration? Portland State University Camera Arts Association, with Lorenzo Triburgo, Sarah-Jasmine Calvetti and Barry Sanders, April 2nd, 2016.

GeekFest, Oakland, September, 2015.

Boreal Bash, Toronto, August, 2015.

Visualizing the Legacy of Mass Incarceration, CUNY School of Journalism + Everyday Incarceration, May 14th, 2015.

Imagery and Prisons: Engaging and Persuading Audiences panel, ‘Marking Time’ Prison Arts and Activism Conference, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University, NJ, October 2014.

Creative Mornings, Portland, August 15th, 2014.

Photo-Based Social Practice, Aperture Foundation, NYC, May 16, 2014. Panel discussion of socially engaged, transdisciplinary, and expanded practices in contemporary photography, co-presented by Magnum Foundation’s Photography, Expanded initiative. With Eliza Gregory, Gemma-Rose Turnbull, Mark Strandquist and Wendy Ewald.

Princeton University, SPEAR (Students for Prison Education And Reform) ‘Building a New Criminal Justice: Mobilizing Students for Reform’ Conference, April 4-5, 2014.

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) lecture, Friends Center, Philadelphia, April 2nd, 2014.

Bearing Witness Symposium, San Francisco MoMA, lecture, March 16th, 2014.

Society for Photographic Education Northwest (SPENW) Conference, November 7th, 2013.

Prison Communities: You Can’t Arrest Your Way to a Solution. Social Practice Engaging the Criminal Justice System panel, Open Engagement, Portland State University, May, 2012.

I was a contributor to the free, online undergraduate photography courses Photography and Narrative (#PHONAR) and Picturing the Body (#PICBOD) at Coventry University, UK.

I’ve been a panelist/moderator for a number of OPEN-i webinars including Edmund Clark on Guantanamo and Photographic Coverage of the Haiti Earthquake.

Lectures at Nottingham Trent University, UK and Coventry University, UK. Lectures at Haverford College, PA; George Mason University, VA, Corcoran College of Art+Design, DC; Evergreen State College, WA; Bowdoin College, ME; Grinnell College, IO; University of North Texas, Denton, TX; School of Visual Arts, NY; Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art (MICA), MD; Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD), WI; School of the Arts (SOTA), San Francisco, CA; Scripps College, CA; Pacific Northwest College of Art, OR; Parsons The New School, NY; San Francisco Art Institute, CA; University of Michigan, MI: Columbia Journalism School, NY; and Yale, CT.

In 2016, I did a Q&A with Years 4 and 5 at St. Joseph’s RC Primary School, Chorley, England.


Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR), Autumn 2011

Between September 24th and December 20th, 2011, I made a 12-week research road-trip across America. I interviewed over three dozen photographers who have documented prisons. In addition, I spoke to two dozen leading practitioners in prison arts, prison education, prison law and activism.

PPOTR audio interviews are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and will be published on a dedicated website (upcoming) for free use. PPOTR was made possible with the support of 182 backers who supported my Kickstarter campaign, Prison Photography on the Road: Stories Behind the Pictures.

Reading The Pictures ‘Salon’ panelist

The Fall of Bin Laden, images about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

The Lens in the Mirror: How Surveillance is Pictured in the Media and Public Culture.


Juror for Photolucida’s 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 Critical Mass.

Juror for 2013 LUCEO Student Project Award.

Juror for 2014 Exposure Award.

Nominator for the Magnum Foundation 2013 Emergency Fund Grants (more here).

Nominator for the Tim Hetherington Visual Media Grant (2014, 2015, 2016)

Nominator for the 2015 Prix Pictet.

Juror for the 2015 SF Camerawork Annual Juried Members Exhibition.

Nominator for the 2016 Baum Award.


Advisory board member to Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR).

Advisory board member to Looking At Appalachia.

Art teacher and board-member with University Beyond Bars, a prison higher education program at Washington State Reformatory, Monroe, WA (May 2009 – Sept 2011).

Volunteer co-ordinator with Books To Prisoners, Seattle, WA (Jan 2009 – Sept 2011).


While I was on the road in 2011, Tim Matsui followed me for a week and made Prison Photography On The Road, a 7-minute short about my work, including a workshop delivered at Sing Sing Prison, NY.

In summer 2014, I spoke to Oregon Public Broadcasting about my research.

In The Other One Percent, I talked with Jeff Emtman and Here Be Monsters about prisons, fear and the unknown.


Howard Chapnick Award ($5,000), from the W. Eugene Smith Fund, for my collaborative work with prisoners at San Quentin State Prison, California. I taught the History Of Photography and then helped usher the incarcerated students final papers on prison imagery to publication in national and international outlets. (Oct. 2018)

Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting Grantee for collaborative work with prisoners at San Quentin State Prison, California. (Fall 2018/Winter 2019)


Beast Best Award. One of 100 best websites as selected by editors of the Daily Beast/Newsweek. (June 2013)

“A global perspective on the gritty and honest reality of incarceration, told through photographs, interviews, and commentary.”

Best Investigative Reporting on U.S. Prisons by ProPublica (June 2012)

10 of the Best Photoblogs by the British Journal of Photography, as selected by Joerg Colberg. (July 2011)

“Given the high incarceration rate in the US, there is no shortage of material to cover. Brook is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about his subject and his mantra might be most obvious from a recent post entitled “Blogging about photography is a political act.”

Top 20 Best Photo Blogs by (May 2011)


“This is heavy, thoughtful stuff — it’s impossible to spend time here without feeling your assumptions about all sorts of issues beginning to wobble — and Prison Photography presents it all with grace, power, and a wry, welcome humor.”


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Top photo by Robert Gumpert.