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"Francois. 34 ans. Arret de Developpement intellectuel conscentif. Idiotisme." From ‘Traites des Degenerescences', by Morel (1857)

"Francois. 34 ans. Arret de Developpement intellectuel conscentif. Idiotisme." From ‘Traites des Degenerescences', by Morel (1857)

Green Hill, 2000 (C) Steve Davis

Green Hill, 2000 (C) Steve Davis

A couple of comments that have blown me away in the last 24 hours.


From Patrick McInerney;

The similarity between Steve’s photographs and the scientific studies of psychiatric inmates the mid nineteenth century asylums is striking. (For a particularly good example see pictures of psychiatric inmates in Benedict Augustin Morel’s 1857 ‘Traites des Degenerescences: physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l’espèce Humaine

And its interesting that they have a similar effect today as the early images did in the past, i.e. they encourage us to read the prisoner’s “true” character in their faces, with all the difficulty that incurs. It was obviously not Steve’s intent to mimic 19th c. scientists but maybe its quite understandable he feels that the style has become a bit jaded … it has after all been around for some time!

Steve was jaded not only by the limits of the portrait to communicate but also by the disconnected agendas viewer brought to his works, “People respond to these portraits for their own reasons. A lot of the reasons have nothing to do with prison justice. Some of them like pictures of handsome young boys; they like to see beautiful people, or vulnerable people, whatever. That started to blow my mind after a while.”

It is a serious issue within photography that we are all lazy viewers. The less curious and less open we are, the more likely we are to fall back on pleasing, self-affirming bias.


Three months ago I posted some images of the Prison Ship/Torture Museum, The Success

Wooden Coffin / Wooden Maiden / Iron Maiden?

Wooden Coffin / Wooden Maiden / Iron Maiden?

Today, I received this;

I believe it was around 1944 that a prison ship, maybe it was The Success came to Cleveland Ohio at Lake Erie. I remember seeing the torture devices and one sticks in my mind to this day. I was told it was called the ‘Iron Maiden’, but your photos call it the ‘Wooden Coffin’.

Although I saw it as a child the memory stays with me to this day.

Age following age has propagated its own fascination with the macabre and majority-assigned human defect. From “scientific” research to childhood memory the will to understand difference has played out (and continues to play out) the shifting – and ultimately false – parameters of normal.


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