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Uganda Chief Justice_01_17-Low1400-1800pix

Uganda, May 2010, from the series “Law and Order.” Chief Justice Benjamin J. Odoki is his office in Kampala. Like other judges, he has a huge backlog. Judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, with the approval of Parliament.


When our Skype call connected, Jan Banning was rubbing his brow. He was trying desperately to chase down statistics with which to give his three years of photographs, across four continents, context.

banningBanning has, since 2012, worked on a project called Law and Order looking at the institutions–prisons included–that result from different philosophies and systems of justice. Banning recently successfully crowdfunded a book which includes photographs from four nations: France, Uganda, Colombia and the United States.

Banning spends a lot of time traveling, but more time in his studio synthesizing all his images and their meaning. While he labors, he listens to everything from Frank Zappa to The Kinks to African beats.

Jan lit a cigarette, apologized for the disregard for his health, but said the stress of hunting stats required some nicotine to take the edge off. I wanted to know how he viewed different prisons from around the world, how they compared, and what it was like to make photographs within closed facilities.

And so we began …

Kirinya Main Prison, Uganda, 2013. Uganda’s second maximum security prison, in Jinja, was built for 336 prisoners. It now holds 922 prisoners. Here, a primary level biology class is taught by a prisoner sentenced to death, known because of his uniform is white in color.

Q & A

What’s up Jan? How’s the work? The book?

I try to make work that contributes to the public debate. The book will include statistics about the long term development, trends and crime rates for the four countries I photographed, but also for other relevant countries. ‘Relevant’ in two senses: for one, Holland should be involved. Secondly, Germany, UK, Canada are relevant because they are industrialized too.

We can make fair comparisons?

To a degree. And make contrasts. Also, possibly Norway because of its extremely liberal prison policies. And possibly Japan because of its really low murder rates.

An American audience will find this book interesting — to really see, in line graphs, how much higher the levels of incarceration are in the U.S. compared to a lot of Western European countries and how that relates to recidivism rates. Finding reliable sources on murder rates, incarceration rates, recidivism rates and remand rates is the big problem. But they’re essential.

Have you tried Prison Policy Initiative? Or the Vera Institute?

I have. I’ve been looking mostly in Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United Nations and the World Health Organization. These websites are incredibly confusing. You can find one year but not another. For example, U.S. murder rates starting in 1900, but the sources are so ridiculously confusing I cannot judge whether they are reliable or not and I do not want to include sources that are not verified.

Premier president Mme Dominique Lottin heads the business of the court at the Palais de Justice, Douai, Nord/Pas de Calais.

Holding Cell #1, Dekalb County Jail, Atlanta. Built in 1995, with around 3,000 prisoners it is the biggest jail in Georgia.

Two court writers of the court, Cartagena. Colombia, Sept. 2011, from the series “Law and Order”. Gina Marcola Perez and Mahira Julio Amigo finish the paperwork and processes that still go forward under law #600 even though the law has been abolished. Courts in Colombia have a huge backlog.

How did you decide on the four countries–Colombia, France, Uganda and the U.S.?

I started with Uganda as because I had good connections. A friend of mine was working in the Dutch Embassy in Kampala. It was kind of an experiment to see if I could visualize this whole thing—a visual comparative analysis of law and order—in a let’s say, different or interesting way. After Uganda, I concluded that it would be tough but interesting.

Uganda, May 2010, from the series “Law and Order”. Kakira Police Station, Jinja Town. Police Constable #11431, Ndalira John, 54. He earns 205,000 shillings (54 Euro/US$72) a month.

The chapel at Putnam County Jail in Eatonton, Georgia, doubling as sick bay.

I had some private courses in criminal justice from a professor here in my home town Utrecht. He said I should contact the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg which is the top European institution on criminal justice. The director there advised me. I wanted to a geographical distribution so it’s four different continents. I wanted to include the two major lines of justice so the civil system in which France played a big role. And secondly, the common law system, a more Anglo-Saxon system. Of course I could have gone to the UK where it originated but it made more sense to pick the U.S.

A more extreme application of that type of law?

In a way. Certainly I wanted a State that still employed the death penalty. I ended up in Georgia basically because I had the best contacts there.

Ah, I thought it would be more targeted than that because Georgia leads the way in many of the wrong statistics—disproportionate numbers of minorities, high levels of female incarceration, poor folks locked up too.

Those things played a role, but so did the practical side.

First, I actually tried Texas because it kills the largest number of people but I just couldn’t get access. Then I saw that Georgia holds a larger percentage of people under control of the whole judicial system than anywhere else on earth. Approximately 1 in 13 adults is either in prison or in jail or in parole or on bail in Georgia.

Colombia is in Latin America. It’s a big country and it had high murder rates for a long period. Uganda seemed interesting because of its colonial heritage of common law whereas Colombia is from the Spanish sphere of influence.

Then, there are the religious-based justice systems such as Sharia. But after talking to several specialists, I learnt that real Sharia in the criminal justice system is only practiced in Saudi Arabia and Iran and they are not exactly easy to access.

The communist system is not easily accessible either and I didn’t want to fall into a kind of PR trap by trying China, so unfortunately that had to be left out.

Canning greens at a canning factory at which the workers are prisoners of the State of Georgia. Of the 1500 prisoners at the medium security Rogers State Prison near Reidsville, 350 work. Some unpaid. The products of the Georgia Correctional Industries manufacture plants, food production and processing factories are sold to government agencies. This plant producing one million cans of vegetables per year.

Disciplinary cell in the Grand Quartier of the Maison d’arrêt de Bois-d’Arcy, in France, was opened in 1980. Designed with a capacity of 500 prisoners, it now houses 770.

Luzira Women’s Prison in Kampala, Uganda, 2013. 370 women and 30 children (of convicted mothers) are locked up here.

Can you go name all the different prisons you visited?

Oh my goodness, that’s a long list! In Uganda I went to ten prisons including the big ones of Luzira, Jinja and Luzira Women’s Prison. Four in France after struggling to get access for two years. Five in the U.S. of which three will be included in the book. I’ve still to make a return visit to Colombia to photograph more but it’s as many, if not more, than in other countries.

Part of reception area of Luzira Upper Prison, Kampala, Uganda, 2013. Here, uniforms are adjusted for new prisoners. Luzira Upper Prison is Uganda’s biggest maximum security prison. Built to accommodate 600, the prison held in March 2013) 3114 prisoners.

Clearly you have a broad interest in systems and institutions of justice. How did you arrive at prisons, specifically?

My project Bureaucratics looked at one of the three pillars of the state: the executive. Law and Order looks at the judicial, the second pillar of the trias politica.

And the third pillar?

The legislative.

How do different societies handle crime? Police are involved. Courts involved. But I am fascinated by prisons. I studied of history so I’ve always gravitated toward a more structural analysis. As a photographer, I’ve been really interested in the news or in short term of events and developments.

San Diego Women’s Prison (Carcel de Mujeres de San Diego), the city of Cartagena, Colombia, Sept. 2011. From the series “Law and Order”. Rosa Martinez Meza (left, age 20) is serving ten years on aggravated criminal conspiracy charges. She studied Marketing and sales. Eliana Sofia Gonzalez (right, age 23), is still under investigation, accused of attempted extortion. She studied business administration and is self-employed. They share their room with ten other women.

Uganda Chief Magistrate’s Court, Buganda Rd, 2013.

You’re taking the longer view. An overview. So what are prisons supposed to do?

They can function an instruments of revenge for society, to punish. But as instruments of correction and as instruments to bring down crime rates, I don’t think they work.

French prisons are no hotels but they had the most humane atmosphere. U.S. prisons, in Georgia, were horrible. Of course prisons in Uganda are primitive and there’s a lot of bad things that can be said about them—corruption and bad personnel. But prisons in Uganda still gave me a much more humane impression than those in the U.S. Even in the maximum security prisons in Uganda, I was allowed to roam around freely. I had some nice relaxed chats with prisoners, even the most heavily sentenced prisoners would be patting somebody on the shoulders.

The maximum security prison in Jackson, GA had a horrible atmosphere and I think that is noticeable in the photographs. For example, if you look at the photographs from Uganda, it’s earth colors, it just looks nicer, now of course that can be deceitful, but in this case I don’t think it is. In the U.S., it is all steel and concrete, like an ice cold industry. You walk around with a couple of old marines who are heavily armed and wear bullet proof vests. Prisoners had to turn around and face the walls as I passed them in the corridor and that brings me to the conclusion that the U.S. was really extreme.

Court, Quartier Maison Central, Centre Penitentiaire de Lille-Annoeullin, France, 2013.

Colombia, Sept. 2011, from the series “Law and Order”. “Establecimiento Carcelario de Reclusion Especial” in Sabana Larga is a special facility with only 100 prisoners, 18 guards and 5 administrators. Over half of the prisoners at the small medium-security prison are officials who have been convicted or are under investigation i.e. governors, mayors, police officers, judges. Leonel Silvera Padilla (20) is under investigation for theft.

Latin American prisons have a reputation for being overcrowded and in squalor.

At first they allowed me into relatively mild prisons in 2011. Recently, however, I went to some disgusting facilities in Colombia. At times it felt like I was making propaganda for the prison authority. It’s a long story I cover here.

Do you think as an Dutch photographer, an outsider, you are able to tell reveal something new about U.S. prisons to the American public?

I made a photograph of a guy who is bathing in a jail. Obviously I would never use that photograph in a news context for which one photograph is being used to illustrate the Georgia prisons or jails. However, as part of a series it finds it’s place.

Meeting of committee of the

Meeting of committee of the “lifers” — men with a life sentence, at Georgia State Prison which is a medium security prison near Reidsville with 1500 prisoners.

I think my photographs give two different messages at the same time. There’s a photograph of a group of lifers that are being trained to advise other prisoners. Management matters are playing a big role there (the prison is probably trying to keep the lifers occupied there so they are not coming up with ways to make life hard for the guards).

And use them to bring other prisoners around to a more compliant set of behaviors.

True. So, something is being done for people, but it is in the surroundings which look like an old factory. I’m trying to come up with a nuanced picture and to paint a confusing picture and I hope that that will somehow contribute or stimulate people to ask questions Confusion is my main purpose.

In some ways, it’s more important to me that this plays a role in the public in the U.S. than in Europe because we have less tendency to be tough on crime and to lock everybody up than the U.S.

Putnam County Jail in Eatonton, Georgia.

The U.S. needs more introspection, relatively?!

Absolutely. Homeless people are absolutely unable to get housing because of their criminal past. From a European perspective it was astounding to hear that this information on them would be out on the internet so they couldn’t get a house because it was registered, they often couldn’t get a job because the employee would go on the internet. Now this is a weird situation. Let me put myself in the position of an employer and one of these women comes out and has a job interview with me and I am going to go on the internet and I am going to see what I find about them. I have found very few people who are somehow shocked by it. When I tell people in Europe or in Holland or in Germany, people are absolutely flabbergasted.

And this informed your side project of portraits of women at Pulaski Women’s Prison?

Law and Order has a distant approach, but soon I wanted another aspect. This is confusion for me as well as the viewer. Anywhere in the world, people are trying to make clear distinctions between criminals and us—to define them as different and as bad people but I don’t think they are, actually. I could have been in prison myself many years ago. I wasn’t so I am “a decent citizen”!

I wanted to bring these two groups closer together so that’s why I photographed the female prisoners the way I would photograph my family members or the Dutch Prime Minister.

But yet more confusion. I had to get permission to photograph them and yet all their portraits are on the Department of Corrections website!

But this work is not in your forthcoming book?

No, it was a parallel project. It’s formally different. The Law and Order book is not about portraits; it stresses on the consequences and environments of different systems.

I was only allowed to ask very few questions. I was not allowed to ask, why they were in prison or for what they were sentenced. But all that information was on the website of the Georgia Department of Corrections. So all the text that you find in my portfolio was found on the internet.

There’s a couple of other artists I know who’ve taken umbrage at the public exchange of mugshots for entertainment, Jane Lindsay and Kristen S. Wilkins. But you’re the first male to adopt such empathy. You’re also non-American.

Apparently for U.S. citizens it’s quite normal to trade in the personal details of felons.

What the people in Holland think of America and Americans?

The U.S. seems to have an image problem. I happen to I often find myself in the strange situation, to some extent, defending the U.S. or bringing up nuances in conversations with friends. For Dutch people who have not spent much or any time in the U.S., it is hard to see these nuances or to have a sympathetic view of Americans.

Etablissement Pénitentiaire — Maison d’Arrêt / Douai, Cell 10, Batiment B. Jean Michel, France, 2013.

What’s the situation like in Holland in terms of criminal justice and crime statistics and prisons?

Our prisons are underpopulated. We’ve started renting them out to Belgium and Norway because they are getting empty. A nice development. I think Holland would, in American terms, be called “soft on crime” and I think we’re doing pretty good.

The murder rates have been going down here since the 90s here and in a lot of other countries. As far as I know, crime rates are going down as well. The reasons still allude researchers. But we can definitely say that the bigger the social difference between the richest and poorest, the higher the crime rate. That is an interesting point to put to an American audience, don’t you think?

I do. Thanks, Jan.

Thank you.

This conversation was edited for length and clarity.

Jan Banning is a photographer based in Utrecht, Netherlands. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


I spoke with Jan Banning yesterday. What a lovely fellow. He reads more than he photographs. He does non-fiction more than he does fiction. He does academic papers more than anything else right now. He’s been reading up on the philosophy of punishment, the biological roots of murder, and social control of “transgressive” women. What a lovely fellow.

Anyhoo, it’s going to take me a while to transcribe our hour long conversation which doesn’t help Jan in the immediate as he raises funds for his new book Law & Order.

Law and Order is a photo project that compares the criminal justice systems in Colombia, France, Uganda and the United States of America. Jan opted for this quadruplet after consultation with the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law (MPI) in Germany … and after reading hundreds of pages of journal articles.

Law and Order gives a human face to the authorities responsible for the investigation (police), trial of offenses (judges and lawyers) and the execution of sentences (prisons). Jan was able to gain access to these institutions – often with great difficulty – and he was also able to photograph suspects and convicts. Law & Order raises questions such as: How do we deal with criminals? What is the relationship between punishment and crime? Is confinement, besides being an instrument of punishment, also effective as a means of correction?”

It’s not just prisons. Jan photographed in police stations, courts and remand centers too.

The book will be designed by Peter Jonker, will be 144 pages, with 75 photos and measure 240 x 320 mm. Ipso Facto (Utrecht, Holland) is the publisher. Prison specialist, Michiel Scholtes provides an introduction and experts from the Max Planck Institute are contributing essays. Infographics and stats will abound too. Sounds like a dream.

Here’s the problem though. The pre-sales through the crowd funding have gone gangbusters in Holland and Jan hightailed it past his original target a long time ago. However, at the time of writing, Jan has only three pre-sales from people in the United States.

Jan didn’t use Kickstarter and so the fundraising campaign just didn’t run those media channels in America that Kickstarter has got locked down. That’s just the way it is. Ultimately though, it matters to Jan and it matters to his publisher and, quite frankly, it matters to me that interest exists among an American audience. At $55 (postcards too!) the book isn’t even an out of reach price-point.

Personally, I am looking forward to the new directions conversation will take once Jan and his Plancker friends crank the comparative cogs between these four geographically disparate spots. (Spoiler alert: the U.S. possessed the worst prison system Jan encountered).

So while you’re waiting for me to publish our conversation, you’ve time to go pre-buy Law & Order HERE or HERE (direct pre-buy at


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


“Prisons are the stuff of fantasy, but there’s nothing spectacular about the reality I experienced there,” writes French photographer Grégoire Korganow in the artist notes for his current show Prisons: 2011 – 2014 at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) from Feb 4th-May 4th, 2015.

“What really turns the ordinary into a nightmare and creates the hell of incarceration,” he continues, “are the multiple and repeated acts of degrading treatment — demeaning rules, solitude, promiscuity, insalubrity, idleness, absence of prospect, discomfort.”

According to Korganow, a suicide attempt is made every three days in French prisons.


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


Parloir, 2012. © Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL.


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


MEP is presenting 100 of Korganow’s photographs for the first time. He began making photographs in French prisons in 2010 during the filming for the documentary film by Stéphane Mercurio, In the Shadow of the Republic which describes the work of Jean Marie Delarue, The Comptroller General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty (CGPL).

When filming wrapped up, Delarue asked Korganow, if he’d his team and make a document and inventory of contemporary French prisons. It was an unprecedented, unorthodox and remarkable opportunity. Between January 2011 to January 2014, Korganow photographed twenty prisons — remaining in each for between five and ten days.


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL

“I penetrated to the heart of incarceration in France,” says Korganow. “I could photograph everything, inside the cells, the exercise yard, visiting rooms, showers, a solitary confinement … day or night. No place was forbidden.”

Delarue and Korganow had an agreement. Any and all of Korganow’s images could be used to illustrate CGPL reports. Then, at the end of Delarue’s term in May 2014, Korganow was free to publish the work under his own editorial.

“This is a first in France,” says Korganow. “Never before has a photographer moved so freely in prisons.”


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


Korganow admits to apprehension in the beginning.

“I wondered how those detained would welcome me. I too had a caricature of the prison and was afraid of not being able to return in connection with them.” Korganow wrote for Vice. “My relationship with detainees were frank. I spent a lot of time listening to them because the prison is a place that suffers from a lack of listening. I did not judge or ask them what they had done. I was benevolent, sometimes even when some inmates were unsympathetic to me. Fights between detainees are common. They start with a pair of coveted sneakers, a debt of cigarettes or a dirty look. I noticed that they were often brief, silent and extremely brutal.”

“It’s this closeness of confinement I’m trying to capture in colour, up close and personal, with no effects,” explains Korganow to MEP. As best he can Korganow avoids focusing on faces and individuality. He doesn’t want viewers to get stuck on speculations of who and what the prisoners are and did. Instead he tries to unleash an emotive narrative that describes the oppression of the place.

“I use little touches, soak up the geography of the prison, the light, sounds, smells and stories of the inmates. I capture the inexpressible, time standing still, life shrinking, fading,” he says. I offer the possibility to feel [the prison].”

Baumettes Jail in Marseille was the worst Korganow encountered — deplorable dirt, odor, noise or “Hell!” as he describes it. The photos were later published in the French outlet under the title ‘Prison of Shame’.



Korganow has made the most of his phenomenal access producing an unrivaled and varied of body of work about the French prisons. Nothing as engaging has emerged since Mohamed Bourouissa’s Temps Mort, Mathieu Pernot, Les Hurleurs, and (going way back) Jean Gaumy’s Les Incarcérés.

TimeOut Paris feels Korganow’s study deserves a place alongside the great social documentary of the medium — beside Lewis Hine’s factories, Charles Nègre’s asylums and Jacob Riis’s slums.

“It’s a hard-hitting show, but without drama or ‘miserabilism’,” writes TimeOut.

It’s a bleak picture for sure. Pay attention to any individual aspect of the work and you’ll be rewarded. The color of his images is dirty. In an effective way. Does that make sense? To me, the work, the scene and the entire enterprise feels tainted.

True colors fall away and dissipate under the weight of the hardware, walls and grills they coat. Everything is tinged, chipped damaged. Colour plays second fiddle to line. Form and line themselves describe constant claustrophobia.


Ronde de nuit, 2010. © Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL.


Salle d’attente, 2012. © Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL

Subtly, at first, and then over time building to a cacophony is Korganow’s use of windows, apertures and grates. His near anonymous subjects peer out and through portholes. In many cases, this use of inside/outside metaphor and a yearning for the great beyond comes across as trite but not in Korganow’s Prisons. He succeeds in his aim to describe the foreign, oft-fantasied world of prisons. He presents a world defined by its fabric and that fabric assumes it’s own operative force. Korganow recalls meeting a 36 year old prisoner. He’d been locked away aged 19, on an original sentence of 3-years.

“He had accumulated an incredible amount of penalties for offenses committed within the prison abuse, violence, arson, etc,“ wrote for Vice. “He who refuses to submit to the authority of the prison administration will probably never be released. He is buried alive.”

When the not so young man spoke to Korganow, his release date was 2040.

© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


Distribution des cantines, 2010. © Grégoire korganow pour le CGLPL.


© Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


The book Prisons – 67065, by Grégoire Korganow, is published by Neus Les Belles Lettres. The “67065” in the title refers to the number of prisoners in the French system at the time of publication.

Couv Korganow PRISONS 67065


Grégoire Korganow graduated in Applied Arts from the Ecole Estienne, Paris. Following his studies, in 1991, he documented change in the former Soviet bloc. His photographs of the 1993 riots in Goutte d’Or, Paris, propelled him into the press limelight. Korganow makes images “as an invitation to look at the flaws, paradoxes, contemporary disorders. He is interested in off-screen, with the remote. The body, stigma, and social transformations are central in his work.” He has photographed housing crises (1994), undocumented persons (1995), the Mapuche Indians of Chile (2003), Iraqi victims of war (2010) and alcoholics (2011) .

Korganow’s practice spans photo, film band broadcast media, as well as criticism of those same forms. IN 2001, he was co-founder of Air Photo magazine. He was a creative director of the Being 20, the Alternative photobook collection. He’s worked with directors Stéphane Mercurio and Christophe Otzenberger. Also, attracted by the off-screen, he’s photographed the 2002 French presidential election, production stills for movie production, and fashion shows

In 2008, his series Wings and Next about the lives of families of detainees, showed at Rencontres d’Arles. Between 2011 and 2014, as Controller of Places of Deprivation of Liberty, he made a long form survey of confinement in France titled Prisons.

Korganow’s work has been published in L’Express, Télérama, Marie Claire, Geo, National Geographic, and The New York Times. He was a member of the Métis Agency (1998-2002) and is now a member of Rapho (2002-).


 Cour de promenade, 2010. © Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLpL


© Leon Collin


Some enchanting photographs among the collection of Dr. Léon Collin. The problem is that not all are benign and not all were intended to be enchanting. Some were meant to outrage. The photographs of Dr. Collin recently surfaced after decades in the dusty attic of the Collin family home in Saône-et-Loire, France.

The visual difference and the enjoyment allowed by this historical (detached?) collection reminds me of those well-loved Australian police mugshots portraits. Beautiful character studies from absolutely abject circumstances.


Between 1906 and 1911, Dr. Léon Collin made thousands of glass plates and manuscripts depicting the life of prisoners — from their departure from (outpost island) Île de Ré to their imprisonment in French Guiana or New Caledonia penal colonies.

Most of his photographs he made during crossings of the ocean, but Collin also made certain to make pictures on land, in the penal colonies. He was outraged by the harsh living conditions and, once, anonymously submitted his photographs to Le Petit Journal Illustré to denounce and expose awful conditions.

What an inspiring early political use of imagery. Although, I doubt they had much change-making effect. The intent was there.


Collin’s grandson Philippe Collin discovered the boxes. The Musée Nicéphore Niépce de Châlon-sur-Saône digitize them. Philippe Collin sold the rights to the city of Saint-Laurent. In anticipation of an upcoming exhibition at the future Centre d’interprétation de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (CIAP). So far, nearly 150 photographs of Guyana prison camps have been brought together for the CIAP show. CIAP is built on the site of a former transit camp. Today, they photos landed on l’Oeil de la Photographie which has a dozen examples and I couldn’t help myself.

Thanks to Hester for the tip.

Negrel, Christophe

Prison by Christophe Negrel is shot in French prisons and focuses on the physical regimes kept by prisoners. Some great studies of moment in the portfolio.


Yesterday, Gwen Lafage emailed, “I came across Grégoire Korganow‘s photos in a French newspaper and I thought of you. They’re taken inside a prison in Marseilles, south of France. It’s quite incredible how bad it is.”

I agree. It is incredible … but not totally surprising.







Paraphrasing the introduction to Domestic Slavery: The cold and stark photographs of ordinary-looking buildings in and around Paris by Raphael Dallaporta are combined with Ondine Millot’s texts to become chilling portraits of hidden agony. The texts describe what went on in these photographed buildings, confronting the viewer with stories of abuse and cruelty, forcing us to consider the idea that behind the façade of the ordinary can lie a discomforting reality. […] Domestic Slavery bears witness to the banality of everyday inhumanity.

Some of the stories in Domestic Slavery are harrowing, and in some cases not least because the abusers are women, or a collection of individuals from the same extended family. These are tales of evil made normal.

From Domestic Slavery:

“For four years Violette slept without a mattress on the tiled kitchen floor of an apartment in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Her work timetable was carefully planned. In the morning, she got up at 4am to prepare breakfast for Sahondra, her employer, and her son; afterwards, she travelled into central Paris where, at 6am, she began work for a cleaning company run by Sahondra’s brother-in- law; at 10am she returned to Sahondra’s apartment where she did the housework and prepared lunch and dinner; at 4pm, she travelled to Massy-Palaiseau – about 20kms from Paris – where she cleaned the apartment of Mamy, Sahondra’s brother. When she returned to the 13th arrondissement around 10pm each day, there was more work: a pile of washing-up or ironing kept her busy until midnight, either at Sahondra’s or in her sister’s next-door apartment. For four years, during which time she was hardly fed, Violette worked 18 to 20 hours a day. She had left Madagascar aged 22 in the hope of earning enough money to feed her child, who she left behind. During the whole ordeal her four employers paid her nothing.”

“With the aid of the CCEM, the Committee Against Modern Slavery, she took her employers to court. Her case was heard in 1999 in Paris and it became the first-ever case of modern slavery dealt with in France under penal law. Her employers were ordered to pay Violette €22,900 in damages and interest; they were also fined and given suspended prison sentences.”


The type of sorrowful external view (long after the matter) employed by Dallaporta brought to mind Angela Strassheim‘s stake-out street shots of former crime-scenes for her series Evidence, of which I have written about previously. The two leave me feeling so differently however, I’d like to explore the reasons.

Both Dallaporta and Strassheim found their building-subjects due to information on public record following judicial process/trial. Neither photographer makes effort to show the architectures as extraordinary – because they are not. Yet, Dallaporta’s photography leaves me morose and confused about the human condition. I think it has something to do with closure – or lack of – in each of the projects.

Strassheim’s work leads the viewer through the crime. In the titles, she lists the weapons used. Strassheim shows us the traces of metals, that are traces of DNA, that are traces of blood, not only by being their but by using specialist forensic techniques. She literally reveals the marks of homicides.

Strassheim’s effort is two-fold in showing us the evidence but more crucially the conclusion of violence. It was bloody murder, but it was brief and it is over. Dallaporta’s works on the other hand don’t offer me an out. I am not mollified by the idea that this was a collection of one-off final acts. Often the buildings are only one of multiple sites of abuse.

I have no idea about the prevalence of domestic slavery in France, but I presume it is no different to other Western nations. If I need homicide figures I can find them, but if I want figures on illegal imprisonment and servitude I’m at a dead-end. Dallaporta’s work is an attack on our complacency.

In describing the bare details of each abuse, Dallaporta and Millot succeed in positioning domestic slavery as anywhere and everywhere; they present it as a national issue and as everyone’s problem. Domestic Slavery might just be the harshest indictment of absent community in our societies. Dallaporta’s work certainly plays on the unknown.

Inside of me, Domestic Slavery induces fear of the unknown. I can understand murder – it has been explained to me since I was a young child – but I do not understand modern slavery. Dallaporta’s work brings that to bear and, for me, that it is what makes Domestic Slavery so successful.



The daily game of pétanque, de Liancourt Detention Centre, France 2001. © Nicole Crémon

Nicole Crémon’s decade-old L’âge en Peine/The Age of Pain peers jejunely at a French prison used to lock-up old men. Even so, I just wanted to share this image. What the photograph lacks in composition it makes up for with its baffling scene.

The most secure game of bowls since yesterday’s game.

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