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14/38 (Not The Man I Once Was) © Amy Elkins, from the series Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night

Cruel and Unusual, the 2012 exhibition of photographs from prisons, co-curated by Hester Keijser and I is on the move.

Originally commissioned and debuted at Noorderlicht in the Netherlands [ 1,  2  &  3 ], Cruel and Unusual has since been to Amsterdam and Photoville in New York [ 1,  2  &  3 ].

In 2013, continuing its journey, Cruel and Unusual will travel to Sydney, Australia for the Reportage Photography Festival, May 24th – June 13th. It was selected by Photoville as one of three exhibits. To be shown alongside Russell Frederick’s Dying Breed: Photos of Bedford Stuyvesant and Bruce Gilden/Magnum Foundation’s No Place Like Home: Foreclosures in America.

As one presentation ends, another begins. Cruel and Unusual travels to the Sirius Art Center in Cobh, Ireland. On view from June 13th – July 22nd. Hester will be doing a talk at the reception on June 22nd at 2pm.

I’m really happy to see the exhibition live on, and grateful to those who are making it happen.

Special thanks to Peg Amison at Sirius Arts Center, to Sam Barzilay at Photoville, Olaf and the team at Noorderlicht for their ongoing support.

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

It was 75 degrees Fahrenheit at 7:30am as I stepped out the Delta Airlines terminal at JFK. I sweated my way through the subway to pick up a friend’s bike, on which I would only sweat more.

83 degrees.

Cycling down to Brooklyn Bridge Park would have been more enjoyable had I cleaned off the excess degreaser I’d applied to the chain and sprockets; the brakes were less responsive with every heaving, muggy second that passed.

Cruel and Unusual is to be inside two 40 foot containers slap-bang-wallop in the middle of the Photoville grounds. As installers and photographers busied themselves hanging work, moving hardware and swilling gallons of water, I sat in one of Noorderlicht’s two empty containers. FedEx says the work will be here by 3pm Thursday “at the latest.”

The plans, PDFed by Marco weeks ago, were open in a window on my laptop. A virtual reminder of the install not getting done.

It’s not actually a huge issue; we’ll just move quicker tomorrow.

84 degrees.

After milling around a bit and checking out the other exhibitors’ works, I decide to take some photos. If inaction is the order of the day, then I might as well blog about it.

Inside the containers are lights, wires and one of ours had a table.

88 degrees.

I met Nicholas Calcott who is part of the Tierney Fellowship show. We *met* years ago through the photoblogosphere. And there he is in the flesh, Ray Bans and Levi’s.

Aloys Ginjaar explains that his “Wonder of Woman” show is the fruit of ten months labour searching on the internet, Facebook and magazines. 64 prints all by Dutch photographers.

Wyatt Gallery‘s Tent City looks great and big, but not too big. The PDN showings are a mixed bag but hold my attention.

It feels a bit strange getting excited about pictures on a upright surface when there’s a monster cityscape around and over every container.

89 degrees.

Photoville is providing all things necessary to stave of hunger, dehydration and UV rays. Of all the Photovillers, Alexis Percival is the one I met with today. Friendly faces abound.

I have to say, I am well looking forward to hobnobbing with photofolk on opening night (Friday) and over the weekend for the talks and lectures. I get this giddy feeling every time I come to NYC.

The surroundings are pretty awesome. If you ask the city, we’re at Pier 3. If you ask me, we’re in the midst of one of the world’s greatest skylines (albeit hazy).

A glance to the south and you’d see the statue of liberty.

Turn 90 degrees and you peer north to the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s certainly still a lot to be done on site, but there’s no doubt it’s coming together impressively.

Another 90 and there’s two elevated (noisy) roads.

See what I did in the photo below? Visually, I mean? It’s a visual pun. It’s Pundemonium

91 degrees.

The view from the restrooms is smashing.

The day topped out at 93 degrees. The forecast for tomorrow? 96 degrees.

Stay tuned.

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?

Cruel and Unusual, an exhibition of prison photographs that I co-curated with Hester Keijser at the Noorderlicht Photo Gallery in Groningen, Netherlands closes on Sunday (8th).

You probably know about it because I haven’t been shy to promote it; it is one of my proudest achievements. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the Noorderlicht team and publish some installation shots. Part debrief, part abridged journal entries.

The show balanced two interrelated parts. One could not exist with out the other.

The main section of Cruel and Unusual looked exactly like a tradition photo show – ordered, framed prints of 11 named photographers. Cerebral and reliable. Mindful. The mind.

The counterpart was the PPOTR wall – a “mayhemic reflection” of some of the stories and images I encountered during Prison Photography on the Road. It included the photographs and quotes of another 18 photographers.

The PPOTR wall was messy, imperfect, unmediated, and attached to the core of my sprawling interest in prison imagery. It was the best solution Hester and I could think of to reflect our frantic immersion in international, blogging photo-territories. Physical, with tentacles, corporal. The body.

Body and the mind are inseparable. They communication with one another through a central nervous system. Noorderlicht, our host was backbone, nerve centre and sensitivity.

Outside of my home country (and my comfort zone) I clamped onto my host. Noorderlicht gallery connected mind and body; perfection with imperfection; polished ideas with raw, in-process threads; finished photographs with found stories.

The PPOTR wall was the first time I’ve tried to bring my sprawling project to some sort of overview suitable for visual consumption (lecture Powerpoint presentations excepted). As such, I was required to direct the PPOTR installation.

It is at the point of installation, one begins to appreciate the attitudes of the host and its staff.

As a practitioner with little experience in installation, the Noorderlicht installation team of Marco, Ype and Margriet were supportive without qualification, enthused, and willing to make gentle interventions when necessary. Their relaxed professionalism is one reflected through the organization from top to bottom. I worked with Charissa Caron on press liaison, with gallery director Olaf Veenstra on business decisions. Geert printed the work. There was always fresh coffee on hand. There were flowers in the gallery. At the opening they let dogs come in to see the artwork!

Noorderlicht is more than a workplace. It is a home.

It was somewhat of a risk for Noorderlicht to commission two photobloggers to curate. Yes, we have the knowledge and the online networks, but blogging (writing emails, forging prose, editing online galleries) is very different to herding photographers and liaising with gallery staff for a physical show.

I should say that Hester is a much more accomplished gad about phototown with a long CV of collaborations and in the past year has taken on the role of curator at large for the Empty Quarter Gallery, Dubai. Her knowledge and discipline propelled the pre-show nuts-and-bolts organizing. Without her, I’d have been knocked on my arse early in the venture.

There is a reason Noorderlicht took a risk on us though. It is because they do it often. Noorderlicht is probably best known for its international photography festival. The size and reputation of their festival is astounding given the foundation’s modest size. Take a look through the festival archives and see how many big name photographers showed their work at Noorderlicht before they became big names. They are pioneers.

Groningen is in the north of the Netherlands, 3 hours drive from Amsterdam and the rest of the cultural heart of Holland in the west and south (den Haag, Utrecht, Lieden and Rotterdam). Because of this Noorderlicht often gets overlooked or pigeonholed. I think in some cases, folk might be slow to acknowledge Noorderlicht’s accomplishments. We know how London and NYC dominate the cultural psyches of the UK and the U.S., and I think a similar imbalance persists in the Netherlands. If I am in anyway correct – and I wish I were not – then this is everybody’s loss.

The risk paid off.

Cruel and Unusual was extended by a week due to public demand. Visitor numbers have been substantial and the Dutch press went doolally over it. National radio, newspapers, magazine features – the whole shebang.

This does not surprise me. For many reasons, the subject matter is compelling. But I think the show has been a success because there is a dearth of discussion about prisons in Europe. As grand an ambition it may sound, Hester and I hoped the show would be a warning shot across the bows of Europe: DON’T REPEAT AMERICA’S MISTAKES. DON’T MASS INCARCERATE! It would seem people were hungry for Cruel and Unusual because the topic was a challenging breath of fresh air. Much of the work was also being shown in Europe for the first time. As thrilling as photography can be, I think the show was a thrill.

At the opening, were visitors from Amsterdam photo circles. It was huge validation to welcome knowledgeable folk venturing such a distance from their reliable cultural locale. Another indicator of legitimacy.

I am grateful the show was a success. Prior, I didn’t think about it; I didn’t know how to define success with a show. And I don’t know what I’d have done if it had been a flop!

I’m happy for all the beautiful staff at Noorderlicht that it has worked out. Hester and I were treated like family. That’s not an exaggeration – I’ll leave you with the words of Ton Broekhuis, Noorderlicht Foundation Director as written to me in an email following my return to the U.S.

“Pete, you mentioned ‘being welcomed into the Noorderlicht family’. You did not mention leaving the Noorderlicht family, which is reasonable. Everyone who joins the family by free will makes – at the same time – a promise to come back. Family is family. It is forever.”


American Photo: “There’s a wide range of photography blogs on the internet, but how would it be possible to measure their impact on the real world? It’s difficult to see the offline effect of an idea published online. […] We’re interested to see what other ways photography bloggers choose to usher their projects into the real world, and Brook certainly sounds excited. “This is going to sound crazy,” he said, “but I’ve never seen these works any bigger than 600 pixels wide on a screen.” Spoken like a true 21st-century curator.”

Elizabeth Avedon: Noorderlicht Gallery is producing a ‘must-have’ catalog for Cruel and Unusual, designed as a newspaper by Pierre Derks in an edition of 4,000. Along with visuals from the main exhibition, the catalog contains articles, interviews, ephemera and material from photographers Pete Brook encountered during his crowd-funded road-trip through the U.S.” (One and Two and Three)

Daylight Magazine: “What steps are being taken to productively rehabilitate inmates, rather than simply secluding them from society and releasing them once their term is up? The Nooderlicht Photogallery has curated a show from nine women photographers to explore the effect that mass imprisonment has had on our sense of justice and virtue.”

Marc Feustel: “Brook and Keijser write two of the most dynamic and esoteric blogs that you will find on the web. To state the obvious, prisons are not exactly a sexy subject and the fact that they have managed to put this show together is very impressive. Instead of a ‘traditional’ exhibition catalogue, the curators have put together a newspaper in an attempt to reach more readers than an expensive photobook could. The world of photography online can be an exasperating, sprawling mess, but the fact that it can lead to projects such as this one makes it genuinely worthwhile.”

Stan Banos: “If you’re interested in documentary photography and interviews with the top notch photographers who made the work, Cruel and Unusual [newspaper] is very much worth the look.”

Greg Ruffing: “How citizens (aka taxpayers) understand the prison system and life behind bars, and how do they formulate their thoughts and convictions about mass incarceration based on the information they receive (and where that info is filtered through)? Cruel and Unusual gets to the heart of that issue by examining how prisons and prisoners are presented in images, and how those images are created, distributed, and consumed.”

Colin Pantall: “It is testament to how the internet and blogs are having a real impact that is breaking new ground and making new visual discoveries and connections.”

No Caption Needed: “Cruel and Unusual will provide another occasion to consider how the carceral system condemns those within and without, and how photography can reveal and build relationships where before there was only confinement, within and without.”

re-PHOTO: “Regular readers will know that I’ve often mentioned Pete Brook’s Prison Photography blog on these pages. He’s someone who has often raised interesting issues, both photographic and political, and the forthcoming show Cruel and Unusual at Noorderlicht which he is curating together with Hester Keijser looks to continue in that vein.” (One and Two)

Lens Culture
Eastern Art Report
La Lettre De La Photographie
Wayne Bremser
GUP Magazine

Dutch Press
Hamburg Art & Culture blog
Dutch free daily, De Pers ran a double spread of Scott Houston’s Arizona Female Chain Gang work. Dutch and Google translated English.
Noorderlicht has links to the De Pers article as a PDF and also a PDF of the Vrij Nederland feature on Alyse Emdur’s work (Dutch only)

Hester did three interviews for Dutch Radio
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
NOS, Netherlands Public Radio (Dutch only)
VPRO, Netherlands Public Broadcaster (Dutch only)


Hester with the announcement and the backstory, and Hester reflecting on the churn that was newsprint catalogue design and production.

Prison Photography: Announcement, thoughts on the newsprint catalogue,  newspaper distribution.

And finally, a Feature Shoot interview I did with  about how the road-trip and exhibition have shaped the Prison Photography “Project”.


For the upcoming Cruel and Unusual exhibition, Hester Keijser and I opted for a newsprint catalogue. We did this for several reasons.

Firstly, the message behind the exhibition is one that calls for political thought and hopefully political change. Shifts in attitudes come about through public education; it made sense to distribute information as far and wide as was possible. Not everyone can afford a photobook/catalogue, but 4,000 free copies of a newspaper nullifies the issue. Some might call the newspaper medium democratic, but I just call the solution common sense.

Secondly, we had a lot of photographers to feature. 32 pages of a tabloid-sized newspaper is a sizable amount of column inches with which to fairly deal with the many issues in the photographers’ works.

And third, Hester and I wanted to bring attention to the fact that [photo]bloggers continue to shape, react to, and distort new media economies. As we say in our curatorial statement:

Cruel and Unusual looks at the utility of freelance online publishing. As bloggers with academic backgrounds, we happily invest time and intellectual capital in our research and writing. Our blogs and those of colleagues have become resources – almost contemporary libraries – that others utilize and perhaps even capitalise upon. For a host of reasons, printed journalism is in decline. Simultaneously, bloggers refine their messages unhindered. Related, but not necessarily causal, we want to acknowledge these two trends and the disruption at hand.”

We aren’t particularly worried about not knowing what the future holds, because for now we are propelled by opportunities to create things in the present.


Most people are probably aware of Alec Soth’s Last Days of W. President Bush was a constant source of partisan news stories, and Op-Ed’s on Bush were divided and divisive. Given that Bush was a leader who orbited world events without necessarily controlling them and given that he was a Commander-in-Chief whose war cabinet tried to warp media to its own message, Soth’s use of a newspaper is ironic and appropriate. Jeff Ladd noted that Soth’s subjects look worn out and exhausted as if reflecting the American psyche after eight years of Bush. A newspaper will soon yellow and show aging – perhaps Soth hoped his newspaper would be short lived like the memory of Bush and the reparations required following his presidency?

Recently, Harry Hardie at HERE has collaborated on two newsprint photo publications.

CAIRO DIVIDED (32 pages) sequences the photos of Jason Larkin with an authoritative essay (in both English and Arabic) by Jack Shenker about suburbanization around Egypt’s capital. Since January 25th of 2011, Egypt has not been out the news, and yet this project is not about revolution. It is however about poverty, wealth and class stratification and as such provides a good context for the revolution in Egypt. Excellent design with eye-opening photographs. Highly recommended. More info here.

Guy Martin’s The Missing is borne of a collaboration between Panos Pictures, HERE and Martin’s alma mater The University of Falmouth. Each of its 48 pages has a large image of a missing poster photographed by Guy Martin. The posters “adorned the walls of the courthouse and justice rooms on Benghazi’s seafront.” Martin estimates that in Libya, 30,000 men are missing after the 8 month conflict. As such, the quasi-legal vernacular documents he re-photographed in-situ were the making of “communal place of memory and mourning.” The newspaper acts as a bulletin existing somewhere between the makeshift and the permanent; between memory and knowing; and – as with those pictured – in ambiguous flux with time. More info here.

Shifting gears, Portrait Salon 11 is not about political events. It is, however, a political stand against institutional exclusion. In the tradition of the 1863 French Salon des Refuses, the London-based Portrait Salon is a curated showcase of photographs that were submitted but not selected for the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. The use of a newspaper is a mischievous challenge to the immobility of a gallery exhibition that chose 60 works from 6,000 submissions; the newspaper can move cheaply and in large quantities beyond gallery walls. Furthermore, the accompanying Portrait Salon exhibition projected portraits in order to include more photography and not be limited by physical space. The exhibition and newspaper were organised by Miranda Gavin, Wayne Ford and others. For purchase.

I’ve highlighted these projects and in each case tried to justify why the choice of newsprint was appropriate and theoretically consistent. I believe that the Cruel and Unusual newspaper is those things too.


A non-printable, non-downloadable, non-alterable screen-preview version is available online.

Starting February 18, the newspaper is also available for free in the Noorderlicht Photogallery and for sale in the webshop.

The exhibition is split into two sections: 1, a traditional presentation of 11 photographers, and 2, a heady mayhemic wall of work-prints, background material contact sheets from Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR).

Similarly, the newspaper is divided into two sections. A 20 page PPOTR pullout is enveloped in 12 pages of descriptions of the photographers in the main part of the exhibition.

Below are the opening page and the back page of the PPOTR pullout. The portrait on the opening page was made by Tim Matsui who documented my workshop at Sing Sing Prison.

The back page is a list of 32 of our favourite international photography blogs with QR codes linking to their websites. This was our cheeky riff on the classifieds section of newspapers!

And below are two pairings of PDF pages and Hester’s photographs of the actual printed object. The paper is really beautiful … so Hester tells me; I’ve not held one yet! I would like to thank the designer Pierre Derks who worked with Hester and I. He has expertise, patience and put in some hard graft.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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