You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘El Salvador’ tag.

clarke_giles_el_salvador_vice_prison-pit

Giles Clarke is a photographer with the bit between his teeth. Last summer, he wandered into a story about squalid cages being used by El Salvadorian police to hold men accused of gang-related crimes. The pictures — published in the August 2013 issue of VICE — caused some outrage, a lot of gawking and general throwing of hands in the air.

(Click on an image to see it larger.)

It was an unplanned chain of events that led Clarke to the stinking cages. It began on a Saturday night in February of last year when Clarke’s fixer, a local breakdancer who works with youth to divert them from crime, took him to the police station in Quezaltepeque, a town 15 outside of San Salvador.

”I told the police I wanted to ride along and went straight out into Barrio-18 territory,” says Clarke “Bare in mind these gangs are armed to the teeth and control huge swathes of the towns. Armed police units are joined by the military.”

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

At the time of Clarke’s visit, there was a fragile peace truce between Barrio 18 (18th Street Gang) and MS-13  in place. Mostly, the night was eerily quiet but it was later punctuated by violence.

“We responded to a shoot-out at a traffic junction. The shooter had fled and not hit anyone but units swarmed the area. I was told to lie down behind one cop till all clear given. It turned out drunk driver had got in the face of a friend and the friend had popped off a few shots to shut him up. Then we spent another couple of hours searching, pulling kids and gangers over.”

The next day, Clarke returned to the station. A new female officer responsible for caring for victims of domestic abuse asked her captain, “Have you shown him the cages, yet?” The captain of 17 years – who was a bit more enlightened than his rank and file (and also a surfer and guitar enthusiast) — liked to talk about his work and saw value in showing a foreign journalist the cages.

“The captain was very aware of what he was doing [by letting me photograph the cages]. He has a big heart for the issues he is facing,” says Clarke. “The El Salvador legal system is a disaster — with the explosion of gang violence in the last 15 years, the lack of new prisons along with the huge rise in US deportation rates — the justice system can’t handle it so these cages are springing up everywhere. 35 men in each one.”

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

There were three cages at Quezaltepeque police station — one for Barrio 18, one for MS-13 and one for “common criminals.”

“I took the photo (top) that ended up being the VICE cover shot within 10 seconds of seeing it. I knew it was important. That visual hit me first, then came the smell,” says Clarke. “They shit in the back of the cages. It’s fucking disgusting. Stinking hot. It must have been 95 degrees in there.”

The police officers didn’t want Clarke there and were getting nervous, so he worked quickly and started gleaning as much information as he could from the prisoners.

“One kid (below) had been there 17 months. He was there the longest. Waiting for sluggish El Salvador system. Some of the prisoners have not been charged,” says Clarke.

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

Another prisoner, in the common criminals cage, was a army veteran with one leg who’d been locked up for protesting the loss of his veterans’ benefits. Most locals don’t know about the cages (CLarke’s fixer didn’t) but some must as the police do not feed the prisoners. Families and friends must bring in food for them. The prisoners spend their time shredding clothes and hand-weaving hammocks to maximize used space and make sleeping on top of one another a fraction less harrowing.

“Every Thursday, they are shackled, brought out the cages, searched, and sprayed down. The police find drugs. They get in there. You can assume guards are paid off.”

Clarke learnt that most of the gang members had been deported from Los Angeles. Many had fled civil wars, or their families had, and they’d lived in East Los Angeles, Long Beach or other parts of L.A.

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

© Giles Clarke

El Salvadorian gangs are an American product. After serving time in California prisons. many gang members were deported back to El Salvador along with their social tensions, survival modes and high violence. There’s no doubting that Barrio 18 and MS-13 have committed heinous crimes. So far down the rabbit hole, only truces, the reduction of poverty and societal buy-in provides a way out for many of these men. The situation is confounding.

“They all read the bible, just like reading the newspaper,” says Clarke. “I was very surprised. That mixture of high crime and fervent religion is confusing.”

© Giles Clarke

The issues are complex and transborder. Clarke shows us the worst of El Salvador but before we condemn the authorities abroad and dismiss this as someone else’s problem, it might be worth bearing in mind that America has its own cages.

FORTHCOMING GILES CLARKE SERIES ON PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY

Having lived in the U.S. since the mid-nineties, British-born Clarke has always been aware of the abuse in, and uncontrolled expansion of, American prisons but this story in El Salvador ignited an interest in cages at home. Since this story, Clarke has been photographing in prisons here and abroad.

This is the first of a series of posts featuring Clarke’s work. Prison Photography will bring publishing original images and b-roll from Clarke’s other prison stories, always alongside his biting commentary.

GILES CLARKE

Giles Clarke is a social documentary photographer based in New York City. He is a featured photographer represented by Reportage by Getty and aWHITELABELproduct. A wandering photojournalist and frequent contributor to VICE, his travels in 2014 have taken him from Guatemala to the Netherlands; from Chiapas to Columbia; and from old frontlines in Sarajevo to new frontlines in Ukraine. 

All images: Giles Clarke/Getty images

Advertisements

Last week, when Foto8 ran Katarzyna Mirczak‘s article about of the detached and preserved skin of prisoners’ tattoos, I was, of course, compelled to post about it. But, in truth, I need to do a lot more than duly note a story published elsewhere.

HOW HAVE PHOTOGRAPHERS TAKEN ON THE SUBJECT OF PRISON TATTOOING?

The simple answer is with limitations. Photography can describe tattoos very precisely, but description is not comprehension. Often, prison tattoos are a tactically guarded language.

Even if tattoo symbols are deciphered, they may carry different meanings in other cultures. Prison systems exist across the globe, within and “outside” different political regimes, thus the tattoos of each prison culture should be considered according to their own rules – and this caveat applies even at local levels.

Janine Jannsen offers a good introduction to the history of different tattooing cultures. She summarises tattooing in “total institutions” (navy, army, the penitentiary); tattoos and gender; and tattoos and the demarcation of space.

With regards to prison tattoos, maybe it helps us to think of photography as secondary to sociological research. Photography should be thought of as an illustrative tool to aid external inquiry.

That said, there are a number of photographers who have made honorable efforts to describe for a wider audience much of the significance of prison and gang tattoo cultures.

Araminta de Clermont

After their release from prison, Araminta de Clermont tracked down South African gang members and discovered their stories. Interview with Araminta and her subjects here.

© Araminta de Clermont

Donald Weber

Donald Weber mixed with former prisoners (‘zeks’) in Russia and concentrated on how their prison tattoos relate to their identity and criminal lifestyle. The relationships of these men with female criminals and prostituted women (‘Natashas’) who become their companions feature in Weber’s complex investigation.

“Some rules are simple: you can only get a tattoo while in prison.”

September 1, 2007: Vova, zek. The origins of Russia’s criminal caste lie deep in Russia’s history. Huge territories of Russia were inhabited by prisoners and prison guards. Thieves, or zeks, distinguish themselves from others by tattoos marking their rank in the criminal world: there are different tattoos for homosexuals, thieves, rapists and murderers. © Donald Weber / VII Network.

Rodrigo Abd

Rodrigo Abd‘s portraits of Mara gang members in Chimaltenango prison in Guatemala illustrate gang tattoos that are used less and less (from 2007 onwards) due to the unavoidable affiliation and violence they brought the bearer; “After anti-gang laws were approved in Honduras and El Salvador, and a string of killings in Guatemala that were committed by angry neighbors and security forces, gang members have stopped tattooing themselves and have resorted to more subtle, low profile ways of identifying themselves as members of those criminal organizations. Today, gang members with tattooed faces, are either dead, in prison or hiding.”

© Rodrigo Abd / AP

Luis Sinco

In 2005, Luis Sinco of the Los Angeles Times documented Ciudad Barrios Penitentiary in El Salvador, home to 900 gang members, many of whom have been deported from the US. Ciudad Barrios incarcerates only members of the MS-13 gang, which traces its roots to the immigrant neighborhoods west of downtown L.A.

“In the woodshop, inmates made a variety of home furnishings, most of which featured the MS-13 logo. The items sold outside the walls help supplement the prisoners’ meager food rations.”

“It was a of microcosm of L.A.’s worst nightmare transplanted. Claustrophobic, crowded tiers led to darkened, bed-less holding cells and fetid latrines overflowing with human waste.”

Multimedia here.

 

 

Moises Saman

In 2007, Moises Saman documented the anti-gang activities of Salvadorian Special Police and the inside of Chalatenango prison, El Salvador. At times Saman’s project focused on the tattoos but is more generally a traditional documentary project. More here and here.

© Moises Saman

Isabel Munoz

Much of Isabel Munoz‘s portraiture deals with markings of the body – what they reveal and conceal. For example, she has previously photographed Ethiopian women and their scarification markings. For her project Maras, Munoz shot sixty portraits in a Salvadorian prison of ex-gang-members. She also photographed the women in these mens’ lives. More here and here.

© Isabel Munoz

Christian Poveda

In El Salvador, Christian Poveda photographed and filmed Mara Salvatrucha (known as MS) and M18, the two Las Maras gangs in open conflict. Poveda wanted to describe their mutual violence and the absence of ideological or religious differences to explain their fight to the death. He described the origins of their war as “lost in the Hispanic barrios of Los Angeles” and as “an indirect effect of globalisation.”

Poveda was shot dead aged 52 as a direct consequence of his journalism. His work from El Salvador was entitled La Vida Loca. Full gallery can be seen here. B-Roll from his work can be seen here.

© Christian Poveda

More Resources

Ann T. Hathaway has collated (disturbing) information and links here about a number of prison tattoo codes.

Russian criminal tattoos have warranted their own encyclopaedia.

Klavdij Sluban and Jim Casper of LensCulture talked about Klavdij’s photography workshops in juvenile prisons across the world.

Klavdij Sluban

Early in the interview, Klavdij discloses his personal sadness that prisons exist. This emotion may be raw but it is not naive; Klavdij is balanced and realistic about what he can achieve with a camera in these specific distopias. He also says in seven words what I established this blog to say “Jails are a world to be discovered.”

He went to the prisons not as photographer, but as a concerned citizen. He realised if he were to go inside it would need to be with some reciprocity … so he took cameras and used them.

In terms of engagement and commitment to a population – the youth prison population of the world – Klavdij Sluban could and should be considered a ‘Concerned Photographer’. He deserves that loaded epithet.

Book Cover

Cornell Capa, to some extent, lived in the shadow of his older brother Robert. I guess, it is easy for complacent men to adore the still and fallen martyr than to keep apace with a passionate and piqued practitioner. Cornell’s and Robert’s legends are one; Cornell ceaselessly fought his brother’s corner authenticity debate surrounding The Falling Soldier.

Cornell’s indebtedness to his brother was fateful and self-imposed:

“From that day,” Mr. Capa said about his brother’s death, “I was haunted by the question of what happens to the work a photographer leaves behind, by how to make the work stay alive.”

Disappointingly, it is only in extended surveys of Cornell Capa’s career that mention of his fifties photojournalism in Central and Southern America arises. Otherwise, Cornell is celebrated for his political journalism and particularly his campaign coverage of Adlai E. Stevenson, Jack and Bobby Kennedy. Cornell’s photographs from Latin America are often neglected, even demoted.

RobertKennedy

NYC19480

The Kennedys were the foci of American progressive attitudes, and so, in the sixties, Cornell documented the concerned politician. Cornell was (not in a negative way) passive and the sixties were not formative. It was in the fifties that he actively worked to define the persona, the ideal: ‘The Concerned Photographer’.

Family Planning Honduras

Tractor

Cornell’s work in Latin America:

Beginning in 1953, Capa traveled regularly to Central and South America. He focused extensively on the explosive politics of the region, particularly issues such as elections, free speech, foreign investments, and workers’ rights. His first trip was to Guatemala for Life. Capa photographed banana workers and peasants, and the complicated relationship and struggle for power between the local leftist leaders, President Jacobo Arbenz and the U.S.-owned United Fruit Company. In his most dynamic news story, he covered the collapse and fiery aftermath of the regime of dictator Juan Peron in Argentina in 1955. A year later he photographed in Nicaragua following the assassination of dictator Anastasio Somoza.

In 1956, he was sent to Ecuador by Life to cover the brutal murder of five Christian missionaries. This was to be a life changing experience. Typical of the way Capa was to engage with his subjects over many years, rather than taking the photographs and leaving the scene, he continued to photograph the story over time. In particular, he focused on one of the widows, Betty Elliot, and her extraordinary, understanding relationship with the Indians with whom she and her young daughter lived for several years, as she pursued her missionary work and research into the native language and customs.

In 1956, Cornell was in Nicaragua reporting on the assassination of President Anastasio Somoza García. Somoza was shot by a young Nicaraguan poet; the murder only disrupting slightly the Somoza dynasty that lasted until the revolution of 1979 (that’s where Susan Meiselas picks up).

In the aftermath of the assassination over 1,000 “dissidents” were rounded up. The murder was used as an excuse and means to suppress many, despite the act being that of one man.

capa_cornell_life_011

Nicaragua Prison

I have no knowledge of what happened to these men after Cornell photographed them and I am sure you haven’t the patience for speculative-art-historio-speak.

I do wonder … if having witnessed revolution, early democracies, military juntas, coups, communism, social movements, grand narratives and oppression in various forms, if Cornell picked his subjects with discernment back in the United States.

As early as 1954 Cornell was working on a story for Life about the education of developmentally disabled children and young adults. Up and to that point in time, the subject had been regarded by most American magazines as taboo. The feature was a breakthrough.

In 1966, in memorial to his brother, Robert, and out of his “professed growing anxiety about the diminishing relevance of photojournalism in light of the increasing presence of film footage on television news” Cornell founded the Fund for Concerned Photography. In 1974, this ideal found a bricks and mortar home on 5th Ave & 94th Street in New York: The International Center for Photography.

Attica Chess

This institutional limbo that eventually gave rise to one of the world’s most important photography organisations was not a quiet period for Cornell. In 1972, he was commissioned to Attica, NY, to document visually the conditions of the prison. Capa presented his evidence to the McKay report (PDF, Part 1, pages 8-14) the body investigating the cause of the unrest. Cornell narrates his personal observations while showing his photographs to the commission.

Moving Prisoners, Attica

Yard, Attica

At a time when, the photojournalist community seems to have crises of confidence and purpose at an alarming rate, it would be wise to embrace his spirit in full recognition his slow accumulation of remarkable accomplishments.

Rest In Peace, Cornell.

Coffin

PHOTO CREDITS.
Robert F. Kennedy campaigning in Elmira, New York, September 1964. Accession#: CI.9685
New York City. 1960. Senator John F. KENNEDY and his wife, Jackie, campaigning for the presidency. NYC19480 (CAC1960014 W00020/XX). Copyright Cornell Capa C/Magnum Photos
Three men pushing John Deere machine, Honduras, 1970-73. Accession#: CI.3746
Watching family planning instructional film at Las Crucitas clinic, Tegucigalpa, Honduras], 1970-73. Accession#: CI.8544
Political dissidents arrested after the assassination of Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, Managua, Nicaragua, September 1956. The LIFE Magazine Collection. Accession#: 2009.20.13
NICARAGUA. Managua. 1956. Some of the one thousand political dissidents who were arrested after the assassination of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. NYC19539 (CAC1956012 W00004/09). Copyright Cornell Capa/Magnum Photos
Prisoners escorted from one area to another, Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York, March 1972 (printed 2008). Accession#: CI.9693
Two men walking around prison courtyard, Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York, March 1972. Accession#: CI.9689
Inmates playing chess from prison cells, Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York, March 1972. Accession#: CI.9688
Man on scooter carrying coffin, northeastern Brazil, 1962. Accession#: CI.8921

All photos courtesy of The Robert Capa and Cornell Capa Archive, Promised Gift of Cornell Capa, International Center of Photography. (Except for ‘The Concerned Photographer’ book cover; the Jack Kennedy photograph; & the second Nicaragua prison photograph.)


EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

Prison Photography Archives

Post Categories