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Unexpectedly, my posts on prison tattoo photography have been very popular – [1], [2], [3], and [4]. Continuing the theme, I’d like to feature the work of Herbert Hoffman.

From an early age, Herbert Hoffmann (1919-2010, b. Pommern, Germany) was drawn to people with tattoos. He was educated in Berlin. During the Third Reich, tattooed people were seen as criminals and consequently, the tattoo culture diminished. In 1940, Hoffman signed up for basic military service with the German army. From 1945-49, Hoffmann was held prisoner of war by the Russians. When he returned to Germany he worked as a travelling salesman, and encountered many persons who were tattooed despite the old Nazi ban. While working Hoffmann always took along his camera and photographed the people he met. In 1961, Hoffmann opened his own tattoo studio in Hamburg, Germany.

FIRST TATTOOS, THEN PHOTOGRAPHS

Hoffman distinguishes himself from photographers who look in at the tattoo culture from the outside. He defined the culture and then adopted the lion’s share of documenting it. Hoffman’s DIY method is like that of graffiti artists who return with a camera to make images of the surfaces which they have earlier decorated. (Notably, Hoffman’s tattooing preceded the rise of graffiti and its recognition as art/culture in the 1970s/80s.)

Aged 91, Hoffman passed away on June 30th of this year. Despite the indisputable novelty of his photographs, and his central position to German tattoo culture, Hoffman only received mainstream recognition very late in life. No surprise really; Hoffman was working with the maligned, ‘lowly vernacular’ medium of photography, to record the re-emerging tattoo subculture.

TEN HAAF EXHIBIT

Hoffman’s images are on show at Ten Haaf Projects in Amsterdam until December 18th. Ten Haaf Projects, Laurierstraat 248, 1016 PT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Tel: 020-4285885 www.tenhaafprojects.com. And how good is this? At the Ten Haaf opening in October artist Henk Schiffmacher tattooed Hoffman’s designs on exhibition goers.

EXHIBITS / BOOKS

Hoffman’s books are here and a picture gallery of Hoffman’s life here.

Selected Solo Exhibitions: 2010 ‘Living Pictures’ Ten Haaf Projects Amsterdam; 2010 ‘St Pauli’s Souvenirs’ Galerie Lehmann Berlin. Publications: 2008 ‘Skinscapes, Die Kunst der Körperoberfläche’, text Herald Kimpel, Hrsg: H . Kimpel, Marburger Kunstverein Marburg; 2006 ‘Signs and Surfaces’ by Andreas Fux, Herbert Hoffmann, Ali Kepenek Hrsg Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin; ‘Mensch! Photographien aus Dresdner Sammlungen’, Hrsg: Wolfgang Hesse und Katja Schumann; ‘Kupferstichkabinett’, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

ALL IMAGES © HERBERT HOFFMAN

An interior view of the dining facility at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Wathiq Khuzaie for Getty Images Europe.

An interior view of the dining facility at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Wathiq Khuzaie for Getty Images Europe.

Yesterday, my good friend Debra Baida sent me through the link to the New York Times Abu Ghraib – Baghdad Bureau Blog. This came at the same moment I was preparing a post to discuss the first images to come out of the renamed, refurbished and relaunched Baghdad Central Prison.

By far the best, and possibly the only, extended photo essay of Abu Ghraib Baghdad Central Prison is by Wathiq Khuzaie of Getty Images Europe. There is also this brief video from the BBC.

Iraqi security personnel stand guard at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice has renovated and reopened the previously named "Abu Ghraib" prison and renamed the site to Baghdad Central Prison. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe

Iraqi security personnel stand guard at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice has renovated and reopened the previously named "Abu Ghraib" prison and renamed the site to Baghdad Central Prison. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe

New Era, New Penology

The BBC noted, “Along with the change of name, the Iraqi justice ministry is trying to change both image and reality, billing it as a model prison, open to random inspection by the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations.”

This transparency is a refreshing change to the policy of Abu Ghraib’s former operators. The work is not yet complete though and the upgrade is ongoing. The BBC describes, “[The prison] will eventually be the city’s main jail, holding about 12,000 inmates. Initially, only one of its four sections will be used. There are already about 300 prisoners there to test it out and, once the prison has been officially inaugurated, that figure will rise to 3,500.”

So, not only do Iraqi authorities want to repurpose the institution, they want to make it the penal institution of “The New Iraq”. This is an ambitious policy riddled with dangers; the site is loaded with memory and controversy. As the New York Times notes, “the promise of a new era can also be a time for remembrance.”

I highly recommend one goes onto read accounts from Iraqis, correspondents and photographers who lived and recorded Abu Ghraib’s recent history, particularly photographer Tyler Hicks’ account of Saddam’s prison amnesty in October 2002 that turned from celebration to human catastrophe.

Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe

Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe

An interior view of one of the cells at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe

An interior view of one of the cells at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe

Two things struck me about the photographic series of the new prison. Firstly, the number of flags, insignia and national colours across walls, above fences and emblazoned on uniforms. The Iraqi authorities have stamped their identity all over this project. It is the presentation necessary to supersede Abu Ghraib’s reputation.

Secondly, the pastel palette of many of the interior shots – namely the ubiquitous lilac. I want to know who has the decision-making power at Baghdad Central Prison! However, I suspect lilac paint was cheap and readily available; so it wasn’t so much a decision – more a fact created by circumstance.

Interior view of the barbers shop at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe.

Interior view of the barbers shop at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe.

Following that logic, one could presume lilac and purple fabric & thread is also at a surplus in Baghdad…

Interior view of sewing machines at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe.

Interior view of sewing machines at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe.

I don’t want to sound facetious, I was just shocked by the light purple, which according to colour theory is supposed to evoke emotional memory and nostalgia. Darker purples are supposed to represented, nobility, royalty and stability. From those evocations one is instilled with wisdom, independence, dignity and creativity.

If Baghdad Central Prison is to spur such emotional response in its inmate population it will succeed where many, many prisons have failed.

Basically, I am hopeful that the new prison can operate justly and succeed with the rehabilitation it emphasised this week. And despite all the lilac, soft-furnishings and current open media access – in reality it remains a prison with doors, locks and guards.

Interior view of cell doors at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice has renovated and reopened the previously named "Abu Ghraib" prison and renamed the site to Baghdad Central Prison. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Justice about 400 prisoners were transferred to the prison which can hold up to 3000 inmates. The prison was established in 1970 and it became synonymous with abuse under the U.S. occupation. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe.

Interior view of cell doors at the newly opened Baghdad Central Prison in Abu Ghraib on February 21, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice has renovated and reopened the previously named "Abu Ghraib" prison and renamed the site to Baghdad Central Prison. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Justice about 400 prisoners were transferred to the prison which can hold up to 3000 inmates. The prison was established in 1970 and it became synonymous with abuse under the U.S. occupation. Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images Europe.

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