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Scott Fortino‘s book Institutional: Photographs of Jails, Schools, and other Chicago Buildings (2005) is important because it hit the shelves two years prior to Richard Ross’ Architecture of Authority (2007).*

People tend to think of Richard Ross’ Architecture of Authority as being the authoritative (pun unintended) photographic statement on use of identical spatial psychologies across the breadth of contemporary institutions. Perhaps Fortino can, and should, disrupt that position.

Patently, the publishing date of a book doesn’t close the argument, but I think it is apt to call these two photographers contemporaries in every sense of the word.

There are differences between Fortino and Ross’ work. Fortino’s work looks exclusively at Chicago institutions, whereas Ross – powered by a Guggenheim grant – took his survey international.

Fortino has an unusual bio, working as a photographer and police patrolman. Ross, on the other hand, is a professor in photography for the University of California, Santa Barbara. Interestingly, Ross, the son of a policeman is open about his father’s influence on his work.

I’d really like to see Fortino sat down giving a commentary on his work, just as Ross has here. Better still, I’d love to see Fortino and Ross at the same table!

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Scott Fortino’s Institutional portfolio, and more here from the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago.


Scott Fortino is a photographer who also works as a patrolman with the Chicago Police Department. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the LaSalle Bank of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, and numerous private collections.

* The synopsis provided for Institutional: Photographs of Jails, Schools, and other Chicago Buildings by UC Press, for me, misses the mark completely. Fortino’s work isn’t about the “subtle warmth and depth” of these spaces but of the disciplinary form written in the materials, demarcation and use of these spaces.


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