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I recently sent out the last of the goodies to the Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR) funders. The packages included the PPOTR Mixtape (actually a CD) and I wanted to share its content with the wider world too.

On the road, I went through hundreds of CDs while driving those 12,500 miles, but I kept coming back to a compilation of soul put together – shortly before my departure – by my good friend Brendan Seibel. He used to work at Amoeba Records and in the realm of music, has forgotten more than I will ever know. Thank you Brendan.


Track 1

Lette Mbulu – Kube

Track 2

Jean Wells – Have a Little Mercy

Track 3

Fabulous Denos – Bad Girl

Track 4

Betty James – I’m Not Mixed Up Anymore

No Youtube clip for this one, but some background here and MPS here.

Track 5

Johnny Watson – I Say, I Love You

Track 6

Lee Shot Williams – You’re Welcome to the Club

Track 7

Apagya Show Band – Kwaku Ananse

Track 8

The Psychedelic Aliens – We’re Laughing

Track 9

Horace Andy – Skylarking

Track 10

Jennifer Lara – Consider Me

Track 11

Angela Prince – No Bother With No Fuss

Track 12

Burning Spear – Fire Down Below

Track 13

John Holt – Strange Things

Track 14

Charlotte Dada – Don’t Let Me Down

Track 15

Rosemary – Not Much (Do You Baby)

Track 16

Albert King – Had You Told It Like It Was (I Wouldn’t Be Like It Is)

Track 17

Johnny Knight – Little Ann

No Youtube or MPS for Little Ann, so Knight’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Guitar acts as substitute.

Track 18

Freddy King – Now I’ve Got A Woman

Track 19

Sinner Strong – Don’t Knock It

Track 20

Little Willie John – I’m Shakin’

Track 21

Sam & Bill – I Feel Like Cryin’

Track 22

Marion Black – Who Knows

Track 23

Ken Boothe & Stranger Cole – Arte Bella

Track 24

Freddie McGregor – Bobby Bobylon

Track 25

Jerry Jones – There’s a Chance for Me

Track 26

Mahmoud Ahmed – Gizié Dègu Nègèr

Listen here.

Track 27

Oscar Sulley & The Uhuru Dance Band – Bukom Mashie

“If life is art and art is life, an arts center must breathe.”

Brendan Seibel for Vingt profiles FACE French/American Creative Exchange, collective in the depressed northern reaches of Paris, set up by Monte Laster, an immigrant from Texas. The project’s centerpiece is the transcendence of the individual above the proscribed traps of generalization:

“A far-reaching social experiment threading together disparate populations is set to commence. Prisoners will join their wardens, expectant mothers will join school children, rappers will join poets, all in an effort to examine how environmental conditions reflect people’s expression.”

What I like most about FACE isn’t just that it’s community arts, but that prisons are considered as a matter of course part of the community. That’s a refreshing alternative to prevailing attitudes elsewhere which think of prisons as dumping grounds; sites to be ignored, buried, distanced.

You should know by now that I am obsessed with the l’Impossible Photographie exhibition in Paris (here, here, here and here).

There is a paucity of information about the full line-up of photographers in the show, compounded by very few online  images of those we do know about.

Brendan Seibel, the author of this review, and I have been exchanging emails and he has been filling me in.

First of all, many of the photographs from contemporary shooters had faces intentionally covered. This is due to French privacy laws.

There were shots of juvenile detention for which the photographer intentionally obscured faces through shutter drag or by means of scratched glass or the people covering their faces.

Other photographers shooting adults had either empty rooms, shots of people from behind, or the photos were displayed with marking tape covering the faces. Marc Feustel of Eye Curious thought it was funny, or interesting at least- I found it pretty inexcusable, particularly given the subject matter of the exhibition. Impossible Photography indeed.

I am gobsmacked! I asked Brendan to clarify. He did:

When I say tape on the pictures I mean the glass pane, not the prints themselves. Which is why I assume there’s some gallery work behind this manner of obstruction.

What!? Art-handlers and/or curators took the decision to use gaffer tape to make anonymous the portrait sitters!? Why bother using the photographs at all if you plan to deface them?

To apply tape after the fact is either a fantastic dada-turn (by artist, curator or the two in partnership) or it is the most ham-fisted exhibiting practice in recent history.

You might as well stop caring which way is UP^. What would the Art Handling Olympians say?

The three images above are not prints from the show.

They are illustrations I put together in my front room using a pane of glass, some gaffer tape and three portraits from Luigi Gariglio’s excellent book Portraits in Prisons.

Gariglio was not in the l’Impossible Photographie show.

With the PG&E power plant in the background, from left, Terry Phillips, Jusuw a May-Loto, Meritiana Loto and Justice Phillips relax on their porch on Harbor Row in Hunters Point. Residents successfully lobbied to shut down the pollution power plant in 2005, the single largest stationary source of air pollution in the city at the time. © Alex Welsh


Last April, San Francisco’s Superior Court played host to legal wrangling between the San Francisco Police Department and a young aspiring photojournalist. The ignition to court battle was the gang murder of Norris Bennett in the marginalized Hunter’s Point neighbourhood.

A young (then unnamed) photojournalism student had photographed at the murder scene of Bennett. The SFPD issued a warrant for the images and seized them during a search of Welsh’s domicile.

The photojournalist invoked California’s shield law to regain possession of his images and have them withdrawn as evidence. In July, at the time of the ruling, my colleague, Brendan Seibel, wrote a splendid piece about it for Wired’s Raw File.


A shield law is legislation designed to provide a news reporter with the right to refuse to testify as to information and/or sources of information obtained during the newsgathering and dissemination process.

What is interesting is that the ruling soon became involved in determining whether or not the young photojournalist was “a journalist”. Seibel explains:

Supporters of the student, including professors and professional journalists, highlighted several instances of publication in sworn statements. According to testimony filed in the motion to quash, photographs taken by the student have appeared, both in print and online, in San Francisco State University’s magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the Oakland Tribune. These articles have not been publicly connected to the photographer to protect his identity. The student had also approached the Wall Street Journal about publishing his current project, although the paper had not committed to purchasing the series.

The warrant was overturned and the student won the case. First amendment activists and free press advocates celebrated the ruling.


Fast forward to November 2009 and Alex Welsh (San Francisco State University) wins Gold in the Documentary category at CPoY for the portfolio Hunters Point, ‘We Out Here’.

Welsh is the anonymous photographer.

The final photograph of Welsh’s winning portfolio is of an SFPD officer administering CPR to Norris Bennett’s body, with the added tragic caption that Norris was the second brother of the same family to be murdered.

I must say I was well aware of Welsh’s work at the time of its win. I posted it on my auxiliary blog Photography Prison, linked to Dvafoto’s respect and noted Welsh’s interview with NPPA … but I never put the pieces together.

That was until this week when I read The SF Weekly’s S.F. State student who invoked Shield Law reveals murder scene photo in national contest by Peter Jamison:

Alex Welsh, lowered the shield some time ago. His name was not revealed by police, the judge, or even the San Francisco Chronicle in its coverage of the case, but he did choose to announce it himself — in the country’s foremost student photojournalism contest.

Legally, this is a very interesting story and ethically it is quite troublesome. Obviously, we don’t know the exact nature of Welsh’s digital files from Friday April 17th. We don’t know if his images held information pertinent to the case. Whether he did or not is of no consequence if you look at this case from only a legal argument position.


If one searches Norris Bennett’s name on the internet, the returns are hundreds of articles about the shield law case, none about him, his murder or the investigation since. I don’t know if his murderers have been identified or how his family has coped in the aftermath.

To discuss this case without a curiosity for news on how his community and family fares would not be right. So while we may mull and judge the behaviour of Welsh, the SFPD and San Francisco’s Superior Court we should also think about the behaviour of mainstream media to forsake the emotional and familial stories following Norris Bennett’s murder.

Bennett was young. Welsh wanted to document the “strength, perseverance and hope of youth”. You can decide through Welsh’s images if he does them – and Bennett – justice.


© Michael Jang

As far as I know, Michael Jang has not taken a photograph inside a prison … but he has been to many other altered sites.

My good friends Brendan Seibel (words) and Keith Axline (photos) did the real deal this week with an interview and gallery over at Raw File.

Blake followed a train of thought set up by Bryan this week about photography’s late-bloomers. Jang might have words of encouragement along the same lines. He hasn’t exactly had the typical career track; he was exhibiting at a high school seven years ago.

And photographs can change:

Put [a photo] away and let it age like a fine wine. … Some of the work I question, like the Beverly Hilton or the Jangs, if it would have been good when it first came out, or appreciated. I think maybe not. I think maybe you need to age 30 years so that we can look back on it.

Jang comes across as a man who has as few answers as the rest of us:

In the ’70s you could pick a subject: freaks, twins, brothers and sisters, and you’d be the first one to get it. Everyone’s done everything now. You’ve got dead body parts — we’ve done everything. So how do you carve out a niche for yourself now as a photographer? Is it more about the best person who can market themselves? The best schmoozer? The person who can make the connections? It’s a whole new ball game. I don’t know what I would do now.

Times were raw and opportune back then:

In the ’70s I happened to get a guy who committed suicide in Golden Gate Park. I knew I had the only pictures — I sold that stuff to the 11 o’clock news. But now it’s like, “send it to us for free” and you go, “yeah, I can get my name on there.” That kind of sucks for photographers making a living, right? It’s just so diluted now.

And, Jang’s response to the uncertainty? Keep shooting.

My daughter had friends that were in a band in high school and I said, “Oh man, can I shoot this?” and she said, “No! … Oh please? … No!” So what happened is they played the band shell in Golden Gate Park one day on a Saturday. Look, that’s fair game. They’re out in public. So I go there and I’m laying back; I don’t want to embarrass my kid. Eventually I start shooting and one kid kind of comes up and he starts talking to me and I end up telling him that I shot The Ramones. And that was it.


© Michael Jang

Jang also photographed around Preston, ID where Napoleon Dynamite was filmed.


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