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A few months ago, you may recall, I mounted a show in a brewery in Seattle. It was a prison art fundraiser organised by University Beyond Bars and an appended exhibition of prison photography from Washington State – including the work of Bettina Hansen, Tim Matsui, Steve Davis, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott and Erika Schultz.

During the opening, there was a couple of filmmakers snagging folk for interviews and trying to make sense of what college education can do for a prisoners’ community and why an art auction and photography show can bring those ideas to the public.

Well, the resulting video has just been published. It’s not the slickest media production you’ll find but it is earnest and the film recognises the work of the many individuals and volunteers who quietly work to make prisons more humane and hopeful.

“The world does not yet know the importance of Missy Prince’s photography,” is a tweet I sent out last month with a link to her Flickr account. Missy has only been making images earnestly for 4 or 5 years, but she’s loyal to film, has nailed down an aesthetic and (though she probably won’t acknowledge it) has nurtured an admiring photo-public.

Like most Portland photographers, I first met Missy at a Lightleak meeting. She wears cowboy boots and straight, straight blonde hair. No fuss. I don’t know what she drives but looking at Missy’s photographs you’d reckon it a Vanagon, Lincoln Towncar or a veggie-oil bus. Her wheels have to be fun as she gets out into landscape often.

Now, I’m not one to romanticise Portland or the Pacific NW, but if you are looking for a photographer who can capture the allure of the outdoors in a modest, meaningful and evergreen way then Missy’s the one. So verdant are many of her photographs, she could be a one-woman tourist-board for Oregon. Logging roads, trucker hats and fields of wildflowers; it’s the misty, damp images of the PacNW, Missy is known for but I wanted to feature some of her new stuff.

These four photos are from West Las Vegas which, remarkably, is just a stones throw from the strip. Historically it is a Black neighbourhood. It has been largely overlooked during Vegas’ tumorous, gilded growth and accommodates its fair share of the social problems that go along with economic marginalisation.

But in these images of sun-bleached streets there is the same appeal that exists in her work from Cascadia. Missy plays with time. Part of it is due to the texture of film, but part of it is her attention to the vernacular and the overlooked. Missy celebrates Americana; she does not patronise it. And, how does she always find that classic car?

Her photographs gently point out what is all around us, if we can be bothered to get out the front door. Not idealised views, not scenes intended to manipulate, just straight up, well-composed vignettes. She treats photography like an exploration and you too might encounter within it moments of discovery.

What exactly is Missy’s background? In a 2011 interview with LPV magazine, she said:

“I haven’t studied the medium’s history in any formal manner but I think I have a fair grasp of it. My intake is haphazard, I go through phases of not looking. Many of my influences are film makers. David Lynch’s take on The Pacific Northwest in Twin Peaks occupies some prime real estate in my brain. The photography of Tarkovsky and Wim Wenders have stayed with me over time. Road movies and westerns. Two Lane Blacktop, The Passenger, The Hired Hand.”

You check out her other interviews with American Elegy, Orange Juice and The Great Leap Sideways. I only had one question for her.

How do you characterise the Portland photo scene?

The photo scene in Portland is pretty vibrant. There are a lot of photographers here. There are also a lot of galleries, publishers, and events, and there are thankfully still public black and white and color darkrooms. It’s a very photography friendly city, maybe partly because it is surrounded by land that begs to be photographed. I’m probably not a very good judge of the overall scene. What largely attracts me to photography is being out in the environment I am photographing, the meditative solitary experience. Taking photos is almost secondary. I could just as easily be out there sketching what I see. I’ve only been taking photos in earnest for a few years. A little over a year ago I was invited into a collective called Lightleak, which meets once a month to share work and talk about photography in a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s probably the deepest I’ve immersed myself in the scene. The great thing about those guys is they are all fellow film devotees who print their own work. As much as I enjoy the exchange with like minds, I have not deliberately sought many other photo-centered associations. I like when connections happen naturally. So far the internet has been my main resource for looking and sharing. I’ve actually become friends with a few local photographers whom I first encountered online. Perhaps that so many online roads seem to lead back to Portland is evidence of its enthusiasm for photography.

Missy is a faithful Flickrer and has Tumblr is Sea Of Empties. You can buy prints here.

Ever wonder how many stories you’ve missed? Ever wonder if your world-view could be different?

Take a camera into a prison and you’re going to hear some honest tales. When people are going through a process of self-forgiveness or asking for forgiveness from others then honesty pours …

“I Knew a Man Named Simon”

In this film, M.K. talks honestly about his life as a British driug dealer – from the romance of guns to the denial of past customers. He talks with great frankness about his family, feelings and forgiveness.

The Forgiveness Project is an international charity which, among other activities, offers free digital media courses in British prisons. At the end of each course, the prisoners produce a short film on the subject of forgiveness

M.K’s story is well-delivered and uninterrupted by the questions or expectations of society. Other films from The Forgiveness Project are less gripping, but the purpose isn’t solely to entertain – it is to provide a medium through which an individual can unravel their thoughts, (often) guilt and apply forgiveness in a form that rings true.

Prisoners Offering Advise for New Prisoners

Brixton prison was in the news recently with the success of its radio station, so it should be no surprise it would also embrace film as a means to self-rehabilitation. According to the introduction, this is “the first ever film made by prisoners about life in a British prison uncensored and uncut.”

H.M.P. High Down also hosted The Forgiveness Project

Alistair Pirrie has been the lead on The Forgivness Project’s work in prisons.

The Sybil Brand Institute for women, Los Angeles. Photo Credit: LA County Arts

The fixations of Prison Photography on the infrastructural order of sites can as easily be applied outside of carceral space.  The Center for Land Use Interpretation has terminus container ports, petrochemicalscapes, first responder training sites, landfill waste streams, pacific coastlines, nuclear proving grounds and even the Trans-Alaska pipeline covered by roving reconnaissance.

There is even a brief field report from the Angola Prison Museum, but I’ll have to come back to that.

I’d like to present the archive for the CLUI’s 2001 exhibit, On Locations: Places as Sets in the Landscape of Los Angeles.

Have you ever questioned the fabric of prison environments in TV or film? There were plenty prison (visiting room) scenes in The Wire, but I was too engrossed in episodes to pay the backdrop any mind. Well, this should get you thinking.

Filming in active prisons is generally not permitted for obvious reasons, and as a result, prison sets are built in soundstages, back lots, and inside other locations. A few prisons in Los Angeles are currently closed, and are regular filming locations. The Sybil Brand Institute, at the County Sheriff’s complex in City Terrace, east of downtown, was the primary Los Angeles County correctional facility for women before it closed in 1997. Though still managed by the sheriff’s department, it is now used exclusively for filming.

 Credit: CLUI. Portions of the Sybil Brand Institute are familiar from films shot there. This visiting area has appeared in several films.

Credit: CLUI. Sybil Brand Institute's visiting area has appeared in several films.

Built in 1963, Sybil Brand was a minimum to maximum security facility, with a design capacity of 900, and a peak occupancy of 2,800. It once housed Susan Atkins (whose confessions to a cellmate at the prison led to the arrest of Charles Manson and family), and Susan McDougall of Whitewater scandal fame. When Sybil Brand closed, inmates were transferred to the new Twin Towers complex. The County may renovate the building and open it again as a prison, but in the meantime it offers modern looking prison rooms including cafeterias, hallways, recreation areas, visiting areas, infirmaries, and cells from solitary confinement to dormitories. As it was a women’s prison, the interior walls have a pink color, which is usually painted over for filming.

Productions film here at a rate of two or three per month. The film Blow, about cocaine dealers, recently spent five weeks shooting all over the prison. Other productions include Arrest and Trial, Gangland, X-Files, and America’s Most Wanted.

Though older and more run down, the City of Los Angeles jail in Lincoln Heights is also closed, and is used regularly as a film location, appearing in NYPD Blue, Unsolved Mysteries, and other film and television projects.

Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times. VISITING ROOM: L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Jack McClive peers through safety glass, while standing in the visiting room, during a tour of the Sybil Brand Institute Women's Jail in Monterey Park.

Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times. VISITING ROOM: L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Jack McClive peers through safety glass, while standing in the visiting room, during a tour of the Sybil Brand Institute Women's Jail in Monterey Park.


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