You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Inequality’ tag.

Mitch Epstein 1

Liquidation Sale VII, 2000. Mitch Epstein New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana II, 2005. Mitch Epstein

After six months of media pantomime and make-America-proud electioneering, the U.S. presidential scrap finally kicked off last night. At last, we got to the beginning of the start of the business end of choosing the candidates who are to duke it out in November.

The Iowa Caucuses threw up some winners and some losers, but I was most interested in how the billionaire Trump bombed and how avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders went toe-to-toe with the SuperPAC-fuelled Hillary machine.

Strangely, early in the races, news commentary threw Trump and Sanders in together as outsiders and insurgents. They both represented challenges to political orthodoxy. Bernie adheres to the principles of leftie politics; he’s almost by-the-book socialist. A pure version of the left. (Whether Trump is the pure version of rightwing politics, I’ll leave to others to debate. He does seems to have taken conservatives’ hatred to it’s extreme.)

Presidential campaigns invariably come down to economics and 2016 has proved no different. The United States is more than seven years on from the Great Recession and yet still wealth disparity is at the forefront of political debate. Either we (oil) barrel our way out of economic malaise hoping that everyone wins a piece of the wealth-pie or we seek to tax the United States’ gradually growing economy to redistribute the wealth.

Iowa was fascinating because it was the first taste of how voters think about daring approaches to national fiscal management. Trump, an anti-establishment bully of capitalism, lost out in the Hawkeye State whereas Sanders, the optimistic, social program-loving senator held his own.

In this moment, we must remember that the term “The 1%” did not exist in public lexicon before the Occupy Movement. Sanders resonated because he faces the economic facts. We know the economic gap is larger than ever before. What’s this got to do with photography? Well, depicting economic forces and inequality is no easy task. Not one image can do it, but perhaps a collection can. No collection does it better than Myles Little’s 1%: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality.

In a follow up to my article Photos of the 1% and the Interests They Protect and to mark the occasion of Lyttle’s exhibition making it to book, I have shared Geoff Dyer’s introductory essay on Vantage.

Geoff Dyer on Globalization, Inequality and Photography

This resilience [as read in Lange and Evans’ photographs] was easily incorporated into the ideology of ceaseless endeavour that continues to underpin the system of exploitation that condemned them to destitution in the first place. It’s just that now, instead of loading up your jalopy and heading for California, you take a second, badly paid job; The Grapes of Wrath has turned into Nickel and Dimed. The iconic photographs of the Great Depression, meanwhile, have acquired a kind of stonewashed glamour.

Read the piece in full: Geoff Dyer on Globalization, Inequality and Photography

Jorg Brueggemann 2

Refugees arriving on Kos, Greece, in August 2015. Jörg Brüggemann—OSTKREUZ 
Untitled #5, from Hedge. 2010. Nina Berman—NOOR
Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo, Monaco 2009 David Leventi
Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo, Monaco. 2009. David Leventi
untitled # IV, mine security, north mara mine, tanzania-from the
Untitled #IV, Mine Security, North Mara Gold Mine, Tanzania. 2011. David Chancellor
Chrysler 300. 2007. Floto+Warner 
A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from a hot air balloon excursion before serving them champagne in the middle of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. 2012 Guillaume Bonn
A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from a hot air balloon excursion before serving them champagne in the middle of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. 2012. Guillaume Bonn—INSTITUTE
Princess Studio, a wedding photo studio in Shanghai. China. Tong (29) posing for her wedding pictures.
Tong, aged twenty-nine, poses for her wedding pictures at Princess Studio, a wedding photo studio in Shanghai, China. 2013. Guillaume Herbaut—INSTITUTE 
Jeff Koons, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2012 Henk Wildschut
Jeff Koons, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. 2012. Henk Wildschut
Cole Haan, Chicago, IL, 2013. Brian Ulrich
Michael Light 2
Looking East Over Unbuilt “Ascaya” Lots, Black Mountain Beyond, Henderson, NV. 2010. Michael Light
Marchand Meffre
Rivoli Theater, Berkeley, CA, 2013. Opened as a cinema and performance space in 1925, closed in the nineteen-fifties. Subsequently used by various supermarkets. Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre 
A twenty-five-year-old British man in London undergoes surgery to reduce the size of his nose. 2011. Zed Nelson
Mikhael Subotzky
Residents, Vaalkoppies (Beaufort West Rubbish Dump), 2006. Mikhael Subotzky, courtesy Goodman Gallery

Status Update


The Status Update publication which accompanies the exhibition of the same name is now available.

If you’d like a copy email me at prisonphotography(at)gmail[dot]com. Retailing at $25.

A perfect-bound, 128-page, softcover book featuring the work by Lily Chen, Janet Delaney, Sergio De La Torre, Rian Dundon, Robert Gumpert, Pendarvis Harshaw, Talia Herman, Elizabeth Lo, Laura Morton, Paccarik Orue, Brandon Tauszik, Joseph Rodriguez, Dai Sugano and Sam Wolson.

Introduction by Raj Jayadev, coordinator for Silicon Valley De-Bug and an interview with San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
5.5 x 8.5 inches
ISBN 978-0-692-55576-7
Edition of 1,000 (November 2015)

Designed by the genius Bonnie Briant.

Produced by Catchlight, Status Update curated by Rian Dundon and myself is an exhibition of photography and video about change, chance and inequality in the San Francisco Bay Area. It premiered at SOMArts in San Francisco in November 2015.


Laurence Butet-Roch reflected for Time: Witness the Complex Evolution of the San Francisco Bay Area

California Sunday Magazine gave us a showing: Long Exposure: New Exhibit Captures Residents Experiencing the Boom and Bust of the Bay Area

Mark Murrmann wrote a glowing preview for Mother Jones: These Photos Show the Bay Area You’ll Never See From a Google Bus

Stanford Ethics students got to grips with the show: Adjusting our Focus: the Tech Boom through a Different Lens

Mashable threw down a gallery: Photos Capture Inequality and Change in San Francisco Bay Area

Wired offered great support with Laura Mallonee‘s feature: Capturing the Bay Area’s Diversity — and Rapid Change

Erin Baldassari for the East Bay Express reviewed the show with focus on Oakland-based artists: Beyond Black and White: Nuanced Ways of Documenting the Housing Crisis

Silicon Valley DeBug, with whom we partnered in the show posted for their committed South Bay community and following.

And finally, I was interviewed by Doug Bierend for Vice: ‘Status Update’ Captures the Evolution of the Bay Area


The book’s going to last longer than any of the prints and beyond next years traveling exhibit. Whether it will last as long as the issues that are percolating here in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, we’ll see.

If you’d like a copy email me at prisonphotography(at)gmail[dot]com. Retailing at $25.

“I thought it was about the right policies and the right principle. It is really about the money.”

Jeanne Woodford, Former Warden of San Quentin and Former Secretary of the CDC, on the California prison system.

On one occasion in the past, I drew both criticism and praise for an unapologetically emotive tone. In that instance it was on the colliding social issues of Hospitals, Schools & Prisons.

Yesterday, with Beds in Gymnasiums: Prison Guards and Prison Overcrowding in California, I feel I may have ventured into similar territory as per my thoughts on the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). Consider this post a back up and not a back down of my previous sentiments. Consolidation is good for the soul.

So, allow me to describe two important podcasts I listened to yesterday and today and hopefully the dots will join themselves.



Folsom Embodies California’s Prison Blues (NPR) traces the decay of the California Department of Corrections from heights I wasn’t even aware of. Apparently, in the late 70s Folsom Prison was the shining light of progressive American prison cultures. All prisoners lived in their own cells, virtually every inmate was enlisted in a program or had a job, and upon release very few of them returned. It was record envied across the US.

Today, over 4,400 men live in the facility designed for 1,800. Folsom is entirely segregated by race. Education, rehabilitation and work programs are down to a few classes with a waiting list of over 1,000. Folsom and California has the worst recidivism rate of any state – over 70% will return to prison within three years.

The real juice of this podcast is the look at the history of this situation: the lobbying millions of the CCPOA, the disguised money, the pandering and the electioneering. Jeanne Woodford, an inspiring and honest inside voice, talks about how the CDC was hamstrung by the CCPOA’s power. Her sentiments are echoed by the Secretary who succeeded her.


For the past twelve months British comic/rabblerouser, Mark Thomas, has made sense of the global recession by interviewing ‘good’ bankers, economists and policy gurus. All of these are available via podcast.

Professor Richard Wilkinson talks about Western nations and their success/failure in providing a good quality of life for their citizens.

The theory backed up by reputable statistics (WHO and others) is that social problems are more acute in countries with the most inequality. Affluence has nothing to do with social harmony. Wide differences in affluence can destroy social harmonies.


Wilkinson notes in countries such as Japan, Sweden and Finland the richest 20% are 4 times richer than the 20% poorest. In Britain, US and Portugal the richest 20% are 9 times richer than the poorest 20%. In the more inequitable countries depression and mental health problems are more widespread; there is more friction in family life as reflected in the harshness of the unjust society. Wilkinson questions the psychological landscape of western nations and asks, “What sort of society I am growing up in? Will I be fairly treated?”

Inequality is about dominance – not reciprocity – which explains why the harshest sentencing (subjugation) exists in America – the most unequal of societies. Wilkinson goes on to discuss prison systems and how their harshness is in direct correlation with social inequality. IT’S A MUST LISTEN.

On the increase of the prison population in the US, Wilkinson quotes estimates that only 10-20% of the increase is due to increased crime.* The remainder is due to more punitive sentencing.

In possession of this information, we must think about how crime, sentencing and prisons relate to society – YES, PRISONS ARE WITHIN NOT OUTSIDE OF SOCIETY. And that said, I’ll be making a return on this blog to discussion of our exposure to, and consumption of, images of prisons and prisoners.

*Both the UK and the US have been incarcerating more and more people, while crime has been falling.

Jacob Holdt presenting at the New York Photo Festival, 2009. Screen shot from WTJ? Video.

In 2008 it was Ballen. In 2009 it was Jacob Holdt; The highlight of the New York Photo Festival.

I have been a fan of Holdt’s work for a couple of years now. Longer than some and not a fraction as long as others. Holdt has lived across the globe as an activist against racism and a harbinger of love for nearly four decades.

In 2008, Jacob Holdt was nominated for the Deutsche Borse Prize eventually losing out to Esko Männikkö. It was a shrewd shortlisting by a notoriously urbane committee at Deutsche. Holdt’s life and productive trajectory is his own, and much like Ballen does not conform to any norms of expected photographic career paths.

Any nomination – any praise – is purely a recognition of Holdt’s philosophy, his “vagabond days”,  his trust in fellow humans and his rejection of stereotypes, fear and pride. Holdt does not revere photography as others may,  “Photography never interested me. Photography was for me only a tool for social change.”

© Jacob Holdt

© Jacob Holdt

I watched Holdt’s presentation without expectation. I was, in truth, very surprised by the number of times he referred to his subjects – his friends – spending time in prison. It seemed only death trumped incarceration in terms of frequency amongst his circle of friends.

Through a “mysterious mistake” I got locked up in this California prison with my camera and had plenty of time to follow the daily life of my co-inmates. Food was served in their cells where the only table was their toilet. © Jacob Holdt

Prison Meal on Toilet © Jacob Holdt. Through a “mysterious mistake” I got locked up in this California prison with my camera and had plenty of time to follow the daily life of my co-inmates. Food was served in their cells where the only table was their toilet.

Slide after slide: “I can’t remember the number of times I have helped him get out of prison” and, “He’s in prison, now” or “He’s doing well now. He was in prison, but now he is out, has a family, and is doing well.”

Holdt described his method of finding community. Upon arrival in a new place, he would visit the police station and ask where the highest homicide rate was. He’d go to the answer.

Violence was tied up with poverty, was tied up with drugs, was tied up with deprivation, was tied up with hurt, was tied up with punishment and was tied up with prison – usually long sentencing.

Holdt’s series straddles the massive prison expansion experiment of America that began in the 1980s. Also enveloped are the crack epidemics, the racial fragmentation of urban populations and the relocation of middle classes to the suburbs. Holdt’s photographs are the mirror to racial economic inequalities.

Dad in Prison © Jacob Holdt. Alphonso has often entertained my college students about how he and the other criminals in Baltimore planned to mug me when they first saw me in their ghetto. However, we became good friends, but some time later he got a 6 year prison term. Here are the daughters Alfrida and Joann seen when they told me about it at my return. Today Alphonso has found God with the help of these two daughters who are now both ministers.

Dad in Prison © Jacob Holdt. Alphonso has often entertained my college students about how he and the other criminals in Baltimore planned to mug me when they first saw me in their ghetto. However, we became good friends, but some time later he got a 6 year prison term. Here are the daughters Alfrida and Joann seen when they told me about it at my return. Today Alphonso has found God with the help of these two daughters who are now both ministers.

Holdt doesn’t play the blame game. Just as institutions and corporations walked all over many African Americans in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and states across the South, so too did people step on each other, “This is a photo of a man the night after he shot his own brother in the head.” The next night, he was out stealing again and soon after  was convicted for another crime and served 16 years in prison.

Holdt only makes excuses for the failings of his friends insomuch as their mistakes are more likely – almost inevitable – set in the context of their life experience. He doesn’t jump in, drive-by, photo some ghetto-shots nor cadge some poverty-porn. Holdt involves himself directly and tries to open other avenues.

He and his team has lectured across the globe running anti-racism workshops. Holdt had ex-cons sell his anti-racism book on the streets when they were released from prisons without opportunity. He offered pushers the chance to sell his books instead of dope. Sometimes he saw the money and sometimes not, “But, it was never about the money” Holdt adds.

Prisoner cleaning up on Palm Beach. © Jacob Holdt

Prisoner cleaning up on Palm Beach. © Jacob Holdt

One of the most sobering facts of the talk was a double mention of Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida. It was the only facility referred to by name and twice Holdt named friends who’d spent time inside. Lowell is a women’s facility. The female prison population of America has quadrupled in the past 25 years. It is still expanding at a far faster rate than the male prison population. Women’s super-prisons are singularly an American phenomenon. Holdt dropped as an aside, “I have three friends with grandmothers in prisons.”

If he could help, he would. Holdt described a struggling young lady who he desperately wanted to get on staff of American Pictures, but in 1986 she was too strung out on crack. In 1994 he visited her in prison. In 2004 she was released. In 2007 she was still out and Holdt photographed her with her son.

He photographed mothers, lovers, father and sons behind bars. In one case, when the father was convicted the son turned to crime to keep enough money coming in to support the family. He soon joined his dad in prison.

 I was visiting the friend of this inmate when his wife suddenly came on a visit. © Jacob Holdt

Prison Kiss © Jacob Holdt. I was visiting the friend of this inmate when his wife suddenly came on a visit.

But when it would be expected that Holdt may be too deep inside the experience of the poor Black experience, he took the chance to live amid the poor White experience.

Poor whites at a Klan gathering in Alabama. © Jacob Holdt

Poor whites at a Klan gathering in Alabama. © Jacob Holdt

In 2002, Holdt had the opportunity to live with the Ku Klux Klan. He became pals with the Grand Dragon and his family.

“I have spent my life photographing hurt people.” The KKK members were no different. The leader had been abused as a child, subject to incest and beatings. Holdt presumed this but it was confirmed around the time the leader was sent to prison for 130 years for murder.

Holdt moved in with Pamela, the leaders wife, to support her in her husbands absence. Also in his absence he brought the unlikeliest of people together.

Pamela with whit friend. © Jacob Holdt

Pamela with white friend (Jacob Holdt). © Jacob Holdt

Pamela with black friend. © Jacob Holdt

Pamela with black friend. © Jacob Holdt

During this time and only through informal discussion did Holdt learn that the man was innocent – he had voluntarily gone to prison to spare his son, the real culprit, from conviction for a hate crime.

Holdt petitioned and won his release. The former Grand Dragon was unemployed upon release and went on to sell Holdt’s anti-racism book on the streets … just as the dope-dealers of Philly had 15 years earlier.

Holdt’s presentation confirmed to me that the prison is inextricably linked with the social history of America. But this should not be surprising in a society so violent. Holdt paints a portrait of America from the 70s through to today in which the poorest people (both Black and White) held the monopoly on violence, disease, depression, addiction and struggle.

When Holdt was in Africa he showed people there his images of African-Americans suffering. Africans thought the Black communities of America would fare better in Africa, “Why don’t they come back here?”

Two unemployed Vietnam veterans at wall on 3rd St. © Jacob Holdt

Two unemployed Vietnam veterans at wall on 3rd St. © Jacob Holdt

Given the situations he walked into, some may think Holdt is fortunate to still be alive but having armed himself with love he made his own luck … and friends.

Check out more on Jacob Holdt here and here. Here is an article in support of his hitch-hiking activity.

Holdt’s incredible 20,000 image archive American Pictures.

WTJ? 70 minute video of his NYPF presentation.

TYWKIWDBI is garish and off putting to anyone who judges sites on appearance alone. Fortunately for it, and us, it is also one of the best aggregators of online content. It is a one man operation to compete with Digg!

Roy Brown

Roy Brown

I picked up this story and had to relay it. While Christian Milton, former AIG executive, got 4 years for his involvement in $500million fraud, Roy Brown was sentenced to 15 years in Louisiana for stealing $100 from a bank. Brown only took $100 dollars from thousands the cashier handed him and subsequently surrendered himself the next day, ashamed of his actions stating “My mother didn’t raise me that way.”

I don’t know how tied the judges hands were by Louisiana law, but I would resign in disgust if I was a cog in such an abusive system. Fucking disgrace.

Christian Milton

Christian Milton

Searching for images didn’t come up with much (admittedly, it didn’t spend too long) but it occurred to me that the mugshot is the aesthetic of the poor and the street “trialshot” is the aesthetic of the rich. I understand they are captured at different moments in the judicial process, but the qualities and circumstances of the Mugshot vs Trialshot make interesting comparison.

MUGSHOT: Regimented, Artificial light, Institutional, Accompanied by booking information, Less likely recipient of bail, Controlled & private space, Everyday clothes.

TRIALSHOT: Unrestricted, Natural light, Public, Accompanied by caption and news article, Certain recipient of bail, Public space, Selected wardrobe.

These comparisons go some length to describe the influence money and status can have in the legal process and how the procedures accommodate those with money and resources to work with/within the system vs. those who are simply subject to its machinations. Just to drive the point home, when charges were first brought against Milton in February 2008, the probation office recommended a 14 to 17 year sentence. An absolute disgrace. A mockery.

Screenshot of fate. The rise and fall of individuals.

Screenshot of fate. The rise and fall of individuals.


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