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Jon Lowenstein

This is the third and final post about Photoville. We’ve had the beginning, the middle and so now, the end.

Of the two dozen photographers in the show, only three had actual objects (Sye Williams’ darkroom prints, Jane Lindsay’s bottle caps and Deborah Luster’s tintypes). Given the cost and hassle of shipping, it was decided that the re-used Noorderlicht exhibition prints would not be returned.

I was given instructions to destroy all prints.

It occurs to me that a lot of people don’t talk about this aspect of contemporary exhibition-making. It’s not really sad to see them go, because they never belonged to anyone. They only belonged to the show. And besides, knowing they were to be destroyed, I put most of them up with double sided sticky tape, so there was no preserving them after that ultra-adhesive abuse anyway.  Super-strong magnets are hardly kind to bare prints either!

We do plan to travel Cruel and Unusual (make Hester, Noorderlicht and I an offer!) and as such we’ll see shiny versions printed again.

Until then, think on these images of photogaeddon, wanton destruction and image massacre.

Araminta de Clermont

Stephen Tourlentes

Jenn Ackerman

Steve Davis

Richard Ross

Jeff Barnett-Winsby

Tim Gruber

Yana Payusova

Lori Waselchuk

Joseph Rodriguez

Adam Shemper

Sean Kernan

Marilyn Suriani

Scott Houston

Lloyd Degrane

Harvey Finkle

Lizzie Sadin

Nathalie Mohadjer

Brenda Ann Kenneally

Alyse Emdur

There’s a new photo festival on the scene. It’s called Photoville and it is in New York. Specifically, it is in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photographs will be displayed in 30 shipping containers. Public submissions will hang on a big fence.

Hester Keijser, my co-curator, and I are honoured that Noorderlicht selected Cruel and Unusual as the exhibition to represent them on these American soils.

We’ll have two containers to fill. Cruel and Unusual showcases 11 photographers work in the main part of the exhibition. I shall be installing a wall with the images of 20+ more photographers that I met during Prison Photography on the Road.


Yesterday, Photoville announced its schedule of talks and events.

Included is a panel discussion that I’ll be moderating titled “Cruel and Unusual: The Prisons, the Photography or Both?” Panelists include the hyper-talented Deborah Luster, Brenda Ann Kenneally, Lori Waselchuk and Yana Payusova.

Photoville literature describes a talk by me “about documentary, institutional, vernacular and legal photography and the political uses of images by media, activists and families” but this is in fact going to be a very brief introduction by way of explaining my interests. The majority of the time will be exploring the stories behind the Luster, Kenneally, Waselchuk and Payusova’s images (sampled below).

The panel discussion “Cruel and Unusual: The Prisons, the Photography or Both?” is from 3:30pm – 4:30pm, on Saturday, 23rd June. It would be great to see you there.

Stick around for Michael Shaw/BagNewsNotes‘ discussion about “The State of the News Photo” immediately after. I’m looking forward to that.


This welcome opportunity for the photographers, Hester and I at Photoville comes at a worrying time. Well-documented is the threat of Noorderlicht’s closure (here, here, here, here and here) after being refused 500,000 Euros of funding from the Dutch government for the years 2013-2016.

Ironically, the Dutch Advisory Board to the Cultural Council thinks that Noorderlicht doesn’t engage enough with other global organisations. This is false. Cruel and Unusual at Photoville is a typical example of Noorderlicht – a pioneering institution of international scope and influence – collaborating with an equally pioneering organisation.


Photoville director, Sam Barzilay, used to work with the New York Photo Festival (NYPH). He doesn’t any more. If it is a schism, or a parting of ways, a clash of ideologies or just new opportunities being seized I don’t know.

I do know NYPH had come under some criticism for poor prints, a certain lack of organisation and even elitism. I should say I have never attended NYPH; these are things I’ve read or heard. I have not heard how this years NYPH (last month) went either.

Given that Photoville runs over nine days with six days of viewing, given that it is free, given that they’re involved the public’s photographs, given that there’s a beer garden and a dog park and it is in a park, I suspect Photoville with be quite different in character to many photo festivals, NYPH included. I’m imagining something quite free and easy, welcoming and fun, underpinned by serious photography. It wouldn’t surprise me if I end up juggling a hacky-sack while discussing the merits of the documentary tradition!?

I digress.

On the talks and events schedule alone there is Ed Kashi, Janelle Lynch, Ben Lowy, Michael Itkoff, Taj Forer, ICP, Adriana Teresa, Wyatt Gallery, Elinor Carucci, Lori Grinker, Glenn Ruga, Lomography, Mediastorm, ASMP, En Foco, Michael Foley, Ariel Shanberg, CFAP, Jennifer Schwatrz and Camera Club of New York.

I’m intrigued by the ‘Activism & Photography’ panel, but the panelists are yet to be announced. It’s the mystery card, so to speak. There’s a stack of socially engaged photographers I’d like to hear speak. We’ll have to wait and see.

The exhibition containers will showcase an impressive line up of which you should just read through.


© Deborah Luster

© Yana Payusova

© Brenda Ann Kenneally

© Lori Waslechuk


Running from June 22nd – July 1st, 2012, Photoville is a new Brooklyn-based photo destination; “a veritable village of 30 freight containers transformed into temporary exhibition spaces.”

Occupying more than 60,000 sq. feet in the heart of Brooklyn Bridge Park, Photoville includes exhibitions, lectures, hands-on workshops, nighttime projections, a photo dog run, a camera greenhouse, and a summer beer-garden with food trucks to “create a photography destination like no other.”

Photoville will be located on the uplands of Pier 3, along the Brooklyn Waterfront between DUMBO and Atlantic Avenue.

It is a project by United Photo Industries.


In operation since 1980, Noorderlicht is a many-faceted and international platform, originally only for documentary photography, but now for any photographer who has a good story to tell. It has a sharp eye for new developments, but averse to trends and hype.

Noorderlicht organizes an annual photography festival, mounts exhibitions in its photo gallery, organizes photographic commissions and arranges discussions, lectures and masterclasses. Noorderlicht publishes exceptional catalogues and photo books.

With its distinctive, cutting-edge programming and outstanding publications, Noorderlicht has built up an international reputation as an institution that is able to couple engagement with visual beauty. Noorderlicht productions are imaginative and compelling, enthusiastic and critical, personal and socially committed.

Noorderlicht is headquartered in Gronignen, The Netherlands.


The title of the exhibition refers to the English Bill of Rights from 1689 and the Eighth Amendment to the America constitution, which stipulates that citizens must not be subject to  ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ But when is punishment cruel and unusual? To assist in the public discussion of this issue, photography helps by providing insight into the various facets play a role in the question.

Cruel and Unusual looks at how the prison system is presented in images, and how these images are created, distributed and consumed. How do citizens – tax payers and empathetic humans – come to an understanding of life in prisons on the basis of the information – politicized or not – which they receive? 

Photographers Alyse Emdur, Amy Elkins, Araminta de Clermont, Brenda Ann Kenneally, Christiane Feser, Jane Lindsay, Natalie Mohadjer, Deborah Luster, Lizzie Sadin, Yana Payusova and Lori Waselchuk, each use their own strategies, materials and techniques. Given the extent of access to prisons, they work with amateur photography, alternative processes, texts, painted images, digital manipulation or traditional black and white documentary photography.

Cruel and Unusual takes a startling and sometimes disconcerting look behind prison walls around the world. It asks: how do current practices of mass incarceration reflect our changing sense of decency and justice?

Normally, I would be quite skeptical of poetry set to photography, but in this case the blend is stark, current and relevant. Both art forms win in this mix.

In 2009, Susan B. A. Somers-Willett collaborated with photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally and radio producer Lu Olkowski to create “Women of Troy,” which documents the effects of the economic crisis on women living below the poverty line in Troy, New York.

The multi-media Women of Troy combines poetry, photography and audio footage to create “documentary poems” for radio, the web, print and iPhone.

Women of Troy is not a new project so I apologise for those who are familiar with it already. However, if you are not familiar with Kenneally’s work it is you who should be apologising.

Kenneally’s work is possibly the most relevant American photography of the past decade.It is about depressed economies and daily hardships; themes Kenneally has grappled with since long before America’s middle class and global banking began to wither in the global recession. It’s the type of economic disenfranchisement we should be aware of all the time, because depressingly it’s the type of poverty that abides despite the bubbles and bursts of marco-economics.

Untempted by “larger” stories in other lands, she has focused on the difficult lives in her own communities; seven years in Brooklyn, on the border of Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant and since then repeated visits to her home town of Troy in upstate New York.

From 1996 onward, pursuing her Masters in Photography at NYU, Kenneally says, “The education that I got came not from the lecture hall but from the streets in my new neighborhood.”

I was first ware of Kenneally’s photography when I came across her 5-part documentary series on mother and child, Tata and Andy. As a viewer, voyeur, empathetic soul or human in search of solutions, Tata’s monologue for part 3 “The Prison Interview” is very difficult viewing. This and all of Kenneally’s production group can be seen at The Raw File.

Kenneally has made successful use of collaboration and exhibition beyond the usual photo-distribution routes. Her work in Troy began with Upstate Girls, a project that follows seven women for five years as their escape routes out of generational poverty have lead to further entrapment. “I am looking to compile a generational history of the emotional spiral of those resigned to the lower class in The United States,” explains Kenneally.

Kenneally, “The proud aspirations of America’s beginning are seen in stark contrast to Troy’s present social conditions. In 2007 16.3% of all children in Troy were living in households headed by a single female, of these 16% reported income below the U.S. poverty line. Minimum wage jobs with little or no benefits are what most families in Troy survive from. The median income for a family of three is 16,796$.” (Source)

Between The Raw File and Upstate Girls, Kenneally and her colleagues have created a wealth of information. Spend some time.

Lastly, you should check out BagNewsNotes’ recent slideshow with audio commentary from Kenneally. Of which, Kenneally says, “I’ve been trying to figure out why people often feel separated from themselves and their earliest desires and loves and aspirations.”

Further reading

Kenneally on New York Times Lens Blog.


Kenneally’s photographs and Somers-Willetts poems appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review. (Fall 2009). Somers-Willett’s Women of Troy poems have aired on the Public Radio International/WNYC program Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen and BBC Radio.

Women of Troy won the Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media in 2010.


Susan B. A. Somers-Willett

Somers-Willett holds an A.B. from Duke University, and an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in American Literature from The University of Texas at Austin. She has taught poetry and creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University, The University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities. Somers-Willett has received fellowships from the Millay Colony for the Arts and the Center for Arts in Society, and her honors include the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize, the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award, VQR’s Emily Clark Balch Poetry Prize, a Gracie Award, and a Pushcart nomination. She currently teaches creative writing and poetics as an Assistant Professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

Brenda Ann Kenneally

Brenda Ann Kenneally is a mother and an independent journalist whose long-term projects are intimate portraits of social issues that intersect where the personal is political. She is working to push the boundaries of the social document, using the web as a tool to expand and contextualize her immersion style of reporting. Her many awards include the W. Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography, a Soros Criminal Justice Fellowship, the Mother Jones Documentary Photography Award, the International Prize for Photojournalism, a Nikon Sabbatical Grant, the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism award, and the Cannon Female Photojournalism Grant.


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