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Joce, Ottawa, 2010 © Tony Fouhse.

Despite being four years deep in his project USER, Tony Fouhse is more confused than ever by what it all means.

I recommend you read his latest blog post. Fouhse talks about beginning his fourth and final year on the project, subjects who have died, and the gratitude of one of his subjects now she is clean.

The post is a reflection and it is as much for him as it is for us.

USER

I hope that you are all aware of his work photographing the crack addicts in Ottawa – not forgetting the interviews, the coverage, the love and the controversy that follows any project such as this that positions addicts as the subject of fine art.

So, I want to say a few things.

– Tony has been very open to discussion and criticism of his work. He will also defend his work with vigour, as often criticism leveled at his work is – in some guise – puritan criticism of photography in general.

– Tony’s subjects love his work; many go to the USER exhibition openings. Dawn was one of Tony’s subjects; her letter is included in Tony’s latest blog post: “I would like the picture so I can remind myself that I do not want to look that horrible or be that desperate again. I really do appreciate your work and all that you do. I have followed your work since I got clean. Please let me know if you have a copy of the picture.”

– Tony has shown real commitment to his process and the subjects. Yes, he is trying to construct a meaningful “complex sequence”, but that doesn’t mean he is manipulating his subjects, dropping in and out of their difficult lives. The best illustration of this is the map below. Every portrait over the past four years he has shot on this same corner. He knows all these men and women.

Portfolio at his website: http://tonyfoto.com

© Rana Javadi

© Rana Javadi. (This image is not in the show, but the artist is.)

Photoquai‘s mission : to highlight and make known, artists whose work is previously unexhibited or little known in Europe, to foster exchanges and the exchanging of views on the world.

The 2009 Photoquai biennial is directed by Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, an Iranian gallerist and founder of the Silk Road Gallery, Tehran – the only space in Iran dedicated to exhibiting photography.

Photoquai shows the work of 50 contemporary photographers from around the world, unknown or little known photographic talents in European terms, who come from Latin America, North America, Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

© Nomusa Makhubu

© Nomusa Makhubu

Presumably, Photoquai will propel debates about diversity and representation. I desperately wanted to write something important about Photoquai.

It is a photo-festival hell-bent on avoiding the usual names and well-worn paths of sight and (re)appreciation. But …

As part of my due diligence (sat on my arse, browsing the web, dipping into sources) I was stopped in my tracks by Colin Pantall’s “rant”:

Even 10 years ago, if you wanted to see somebody’s work, you had to buy the book or look in a magazine – which made buying a book or looking in a magazine that much more exciting and attractive. Now you just link to it and see it twittered and facebooked and blogged in a random stream of pictures that you have neither the time nor the will to linger on or contemplate. You can pretend viewing pictures like this is worthwhile in some way, but it’s not and it doesn’t allow for intelligent comment or insight to appear.

The idle, rapid-fire online viewing of photography has it’s knock on effects to writing about photography. Both are debased. I am as guilty as the next person.

So why should you listen to my opinion when I’ve not left my desk in the hour since I became aware of PhotoQuai? Read the following reviews from people who actually went and stood in front of the prints.

Jon Levy of Foto8 gives a pretty anemic description of his preview tour, but is ultimately thankful that new events are still blossoming despite the “undoubtedly harsh” climate for photojournalism.

Diane Smyth at 1854, the BJP blog, first has an overview of Photoquai. Smyth then provides a description of an “unusual exhibition in the Pavillon des Sessions at the Louvre. Portrait croises pairs a selection of 40 images from the Musee du Quai Branly’s extensive archive with indigenous sculptures and artworks from around the world.” Personally, the curatorial premise of this exhibit seems problematic – mainly because the pairings would seem to devalue the original meanings and conditions of production, if not strip them completely.

Marc Feustel of eyecurious loved the ambition but was “pretty disappointed” by the quality throughout. He felt guilty for criticising a small, brave, new-festival-on-the-block but couldn’t forgive the “photographers who should be tried for Photoshop crimes against photography.”

If you look through Jim Casper’s LensCulture gallery, you’ll sympathise with Feustel’s point.

© Daniela Edburg

© Daniela Edburg

© Nadiah Bamadhaj

© Nadiah Bamadhaj

Conclusions:

Iranian photography gets special attention on the 30 year anniversary of the revolution, and the approximate 20 year anniversary of the end of the Iran/Iraq war.

Afghanistan photography inevitably remains within the implications of its ban during Taliban rule.

Only a few well-known names are knocking about, noticeably Abbas Kowsari.

Pablo Hare is the darling so far.

© Pablo Hare

© Pablo Hare

A29

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Why?

There have been two prevailing attitudes toward the proposed conference/symposium dealing with issues of race and diversity in photography:

a) That it is absolutely necessary & b) It is a terrifying prospect.

The first point speaks for itself, and the second point becomes clear when one considers the kerfuffles, misunderstanding and (dare I say it) vitriol that has accompanied much online discussion.

I have been in contact with some, but by no means all, people who could contribute to an extended dialogue. These include Amy Stein, Ben Chesterton, Colin Pantall, Daniel Cuthbert, Daryl Lang, Jean-Sebastien Boncy, Joerg Colberg, John Edwin Mason, Mark Page, Matt Lutton, Michael Shaw, M. Scott Brauer, Nathalie Belayche, Qiana Mestrich and Stan Banos. They have been very generous in response.

Originally, I suggested mixing things up by means of an in-person meet. This was intended to directly address the inadequacies of online discussion. However, when Qiana Mestrich of Dodge & Burn alerted us to SPE‘s conference in March, 2010: “Facing Diversity: Leveling the Playing Field in the Photographic Arts” it was clear that we may just end up replicating (on a smaller scale) SPE’s efforts.

The early feeling was that to piggyback on the back of an existing photography festival could leverage most involvement and impact. Boncy has had good feedback from Houston Fotofest and Lang believes that PDN would want to collaborate and lend a hand for an event at New York Photo Festival. These are very, very encouraging early signs.

In terms of organisation, these prospects are a far cry from the normal activities bloggers. Bearing in mind that this idea was conceived to challenge the tried and tired modes of photography blog discourse, it is difficult to conceive of good reasons to forsake our collective blogging strengths (wide-reaching audiences, maximum engagement, a breadth of coverage and investigation and first rate methods).

We haven’t abandoned a desire for a face-to-face meet and indeed we’ll continue to lobby established photography festivals and industry expos for the inclusion of extended discussions about race and diversity.

But, we are aware of our strengths. Simply put; a focused and concerted online effort will impact and forward dialogue more than a bunch of bloggers gathering in a single room could.

Early plans

This will be an Online Symposium. I would like see a concerted effort among photobloggers: I offer an open invitation to all those who wish to get involved.

The online symposium will look something like this:

– Occurring mid/late spring 2010
– A one week long, coordinated series of photo-features, interviews, op-eds, inquiries and articles.
– All written works will aim to compliment and build upon one another, not repeat or needlessly criticise.
– All written works will be subject to peer-review (a grand term for “read by another blogger”) prior to publication.
– It will incorporate the widest mix of experiences in the industry as possible. Discussion may vary from academic speculations on representations to the everyday experience of the working photographer.

Aims

– To communicate the wide experiences, attitudes, facts and myths in photography as they relate to race and diversity.
– To achieve respect and understanding among photographers, contributors and readers.
– To test the reach and strength of blog-networks as they relate to photography.
– To be progressive instead of reactive in our tone and objectives.
– To leave a legacy and record of this community action that will be of use and reference for continued learning.

What Should You D0?

– Please think seriously about your experience and knowledge and if you’d like to share that as part of this community project.
– Spread the word. If you don’t wish to get involved, perhaps you know someone who would have a valuable contribution?
– Share your ideas, initially through comments below, or directly with me [prisonphotography at gmail point com] and later on a devoted website.

Thanks! Please don’t hesitate to be in touch/throw ideas about. The projects’ outcomes depend on the quality and commitment of your input.

BBCPressPhotographers

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clark1

I just keep coming back to Edmund Clark‘s work. And his book isn’t even out yet. It doesn’t help when venerable folk like Jim Casper and Colin Pantall are spending time and energy on his efforts – most recently from Guantanamo.

(BTW, Pantall has been posing some really good questions and posting some really good photography these past few weeks.)

Anyway, upon returning to Pantall’s site I picked up this quote by Clark:

“There is a lot of long lens imagery of Guantanamo showing the prisoners in their orange boiler suits, but I don’t know what that’s telling me.”

It seems to touch upon many of my frustrations with photography from Guantanamo. Many inventive photographers will find manouveurs to draw out a novel image at Camps Delta, X-Ray, Iguana and others. Of course it is worth remembering that the majority of photos coming out of Gitmo will be consumed by the masses through media served by newswire coverage relying on long lens images of faceless orange boiler suits.

Clark has widened the scope of Guantanamo imagery by following the detainees to their homes and picking up on the underwhelming details of their “free” lives. The sterility and parallels between incarceration and home are sometimes frightening.

clark3

With Pantall’s permission I reissue Clark’s words here. Pantall interviewed Clark for the British Journal of Photography. (Underlining for emphasis is mine)

My last book was called Still Life/Killing Time and was about a prison in Britain. I’m interested in the themes of confinement and entrapment. Guantanamo Bay stands out as a symbol of confinement and my imagery is about the symbolism of that confinement. The starting point was going out with detainees who had been released and seeing how they were surviving. These people had been in prison for years, had never been charged but still had this massive label of being the worst of the worst stuck on them. I was interested in what their personal spaces said about them and if they were any traces of what they had experienced in Guantanamo.

Access was very difficult but started with their lawyers and slowly progressed to the point where I could photograph their homes. Once this was done, the second part was getting into Guantanamo itself. I applied to the Pentagon and made it clear I wanted to photograph both the American Naval Base side and the prison side. It took me 6 months to get clearance and then it was another 2 months before I went. Once I was there I was fortunate enough to get paired up with Carol Rosenberg, a journalist from the Miami Herald who had been reporting on Guantanamo since it opened as a prison. She knew how to deal with the Guantanamo media team (who were new in their jobs) and how to get past their obstruction.

I spent 8 days there in total, including 4 days on the naval base. It was like so many expatriate places, more American than America itself. It was interesting to look at the schools, the shops, the restaurants. It was like a little bit of America in Cuba, with reflections both of America and of entrapment; models of old refugee camps, a shrine to the Virgin Mary where she almost seems to be imprisoned, A Ronald MacDonald statue surrounded by fencing and wire. It looks like he’s banged up.

I don’t have any images of the detainees except for one – which shows a guard reflected in the cell window. But that’s not what my work is about. There is a lot of long lens imagery of Guantanamo showing the prisoners in their orange boiler suits, but I don’t know what that’s telling me. My work is about the spaces and what they evoke and how they relate to the spaces people live in once they have been released.

The work is about memory and control and dragging the work out of Guantanamo into where people are living now. I’m doing that through the edit of the 3 different spaces I photographed: the homes, the American Naval Base and the prison. When I got back, I started to edit the pictures in sequence as a narrative, but then I began to mix them up so you’re never quite sure where you are. I juxtaposed images, put one things together so one image sets off ideas that enriches the idea of what it is both to have been in Guantanamo, but also to have that experience inside you.

There are also strange details that I’m not sure off, such as the picture of the Duress button. We were told this was in an exercise room but we think it was one of the interrogation rooms and this was a panic button for the guards. Another picture shows a row of Ensure jars with a plastic tube next to it. Ensure is an energy drink they used to force feed hunger striking prisoners and the Americans had it on display to show their ‘duty of care’.

The detainees brought home and kept the strangest of things, a red cross calendar with the days ticked off. Only the best behaved prisoners would get this because there was a strategy of total disorientation. When prisoners first arrived they had no idea of where they were, what day it was or what time it was.

Then I looked at other bits of people’s homes, especially windows because in Guantanamo they have no windows with a view. There are no views. Being released and being able to choose what to look at, to have a view, is quite a thing. Sometimes people chose not to have a view.

I’m working with Omar Deghayes on an edit of all the letters he received at Guantanamo. When people received letters, they didn’t get the original, they got photocopies or scans of every page, even blank pages, including the front and back of the envelope, each page bearing a document number and a Guantanamo stamp.

clark2

All Images © Edmund Clark

Words

Prisoners All posits that we are all severely impeded, individually and as a community, because of bad politics, poor policy and family devaluation. The posts are really well composed.

The anonymous author – by the pseudonym of Zebulon Brockway – has “worked many years in [California] prisons, and worked many years in journalism” and believes “much written about prisons is misleading at best and wrong at worst. The false impressions and false information are not helpful to public discourse”.

Moving Images

John Malsbary contacted me at the start of the Summer to tell me of his new venture Prison in Cinema.

John’s moving across a country at the moment. His few posts suggest he’ll be worth watching. John brought to my attention the film The Jericho Mile made on location at Folsom State Prison in 1979. Anthony Friedkin photographed Folsom convict portraits twelve years later.  Mann’s directing and Friedkin’s shooting share in visual dialogue.

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.

Reading

Governing through Crime; WA State Library; Grits and Bid’ness in Texas; and Ben Gunn (Serving prisoner) and John Hirst (Released) in the UK.

Followed LEAP’s twittering and other ones …

Stats

The Dallas News reported the ‘Circumstances, Evidence, Problems and Outcome’ of five cases of arson in Texas under re-examination. That includes the Cameron Todd Willingham case. (via The StandDown Project)

‘A Paperclip and a CD’

Matt Kelley at Change.org had a well reasoned rallying call for support of prison book programs. Take Action.

Edmund Clark

A favourite of mine. Since recommended by Nathalie Belayche. Colin Pantall (recently back from a summer blogatical) and LensCulture showing Clark‘s new prison series, ‘If the Light Goes Out: Home from Guantanamo’.

Naval Base Cemetery by Edmund Clark

Naval Base Cemetery by Edmund Clark

Naval Base Cemetery (above) is not typical of the project. It is outside. ‘Home from Guantanamo’ uses the same detailed look at everyday institutional and domestic objects in their place. I don’t think it is as successful as ‘Still Life: Killing Time’, as I don’t think this approach lended itself as well to the War About Terrorism as it did to the Geriatric E-Wing of Kingston Prison, Portsmouth. ‘Killing Time’ is best viewed as a slideshow with Erwin James’ commentary.

Reciprocity Success

And finally, thanks to Stan for his coordinations and libations. Stan recommends Courthouse Confessions, as do I.

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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