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okprison

Yesterday, I listened to Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project, describe the “living nightmare” on Mississippi’s death row in 2002. Her words were visceral and painted an image, but of course no images exist.

On that death row, cells had no power. Men languished in “perpetual twilight without enough light to read.” Radios were silent. Summer temperatures soared to a life-threatening 120 degrees fahrenheit. Year-round, mosquitos from the surrounding swamps filled the cell-tiers at dawn and dusk. No toilets worked. The stench was unbearable. Every sense was under constant assault. Prisoners’ shrieks, sobs and babbling filled the air. Suicides and self-harm were routine and the prison officers maintained order with the deployment of pepper spray. The majority of the prisoners had severe mental illness, and of those that arrived in the unit sane, few were lucky to have the strength of mind to remain so.

If an individual treats an animal this way, they’re punished by law and yet in America our law sends people to wallow in such conditions and worse.

Attorney Winter explained that court-orders often provide legal professionals access into prisons that the media has been denied access for years, even decades. Class action litigation alongside advocacy and responsible reporting all contribute to a reliable view of prisons for the tax-paying public. That such deplorable conditions could exist in America in the 21st century surely makes the case for robust and independent monitoring of America’s prisons.

Winter and ACLU only became aware of the abuse after they received letters from dozens of men on death row. As I listened to Winter’s account, I thought back to a day earlier when I’d asked the same audience to consider not only what images they see of prisons, but also the images they do not see.

OKLAHOMA

Right now, Oklahoma is making a case-study of itself. Under the orders of new Dept. of Corrections Director Robert Patton, Oklahoma prisons now allow journalists to enter only with pen and paper. Apparently, the OK DOC has been “slammed” by over a dozen media requests. Slammed!?!? How low is the bar? No cameras or audio recording devices inside Oklahoma prisons.

Unsurprisingly, Patton cites security reasons. Who are we to argue? What do we, the uninformed public know about security? The tone is patronising. A healthy relationship between the press which serves the public and the administrations in control of our tax funded institutions would make me feel safer. This stinks.

The Tulsa World reports that Patton believes that the requirement to search the camera equipment diverts staff resources and time. He also fears images of sensitive security equipment wouldn’t end up in photos or videos.

“It is very staff intensive to process this type of equipment in and out of a facility. More importantly, we need to ensure that any security function not be recorded or filmed in a way that may jeopardize the safety of our facilities,” says DOC spokesman Jerry Massie.

All of this smacks of an institution stretched, stressed and flailing. And indeed it is. The Oklahoma prison system is overcrowded. To add to the pressure, OK has the lowest levels of staffing of any state. Moral is low and pay is lower. Oklahoma has created a tumorous prison machine that does not rehabilitate but just churns up prisoners and staff and spits them out the other side.

No one is doubting Patton’s job is tough, but making adversaries of the press is not any type of solution. If anything he should be using the press more to expose the fractured department and broken lives he’s having to manage.

Unfortunately, some panicked lawmakers in Oklahoma think more private prison contracts are the solution. Private prisons use under-qualified staff, warehouse prisoners for longer, cut corners, and treat humans as commodity. They are based on efficiency models. Trying to make prisons more efficient IS the problem. Patton and Oklahoma’s only solution is to rely on incarceration less. Patton must establish community supervision programs for those prosecuted by law — they are cheaper and more effective.

I urge Patton not to listen to calls for extended privatisation and to put human needs ahead of budget needs. If he doesn’t, he’ll exacerbate the problem and fail the people of Oklahoma to whom he is (theoretically, at least) in service. By banning cameras and story-telling equipment, Patton will only succeed in alienating Oklahomans further.

This Tulsa World editorial hits the nail on the head: “This is no way to treat taxpayers who pony up a half-billion dollars annually to keep their prisons operating.”

FIRST HAND ACCOUNT

If I cannot convince you, perhaps a concerned Oklahoman might? I recently received this email from the loved one of a man imprisoned in Oklahoma.

“I’m aware that a camera inside, in the hands of a loved one, a visitor, is never going to happen. But journalism? Journalism is a must. I recently sent my loved one an article in print. It was about a prizewinning author who is incarcerated for life. The prison mail-guard and the contraband review board withheld that piece. Destroyed it. When I pressed, the reason given was that it contained a photographic image of a prisoner!

Photography is powerful. I imagine what my partner would capture if I could give him a camera — the haunted and defeated look in the eyes, the conditions inside the giant quonset hut housing 66 men in 33 bunk-beds.

Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and one of the highest uses of for-profit prisons. And now no one can take a photo inside? Dangerous stuff.”

This source asked to remain anonymous in order to protect her partner from any punitive response by the DOC.

Image: Seniors Walking Across America.

 

DISASTER PHOTOGRAPHY

I ran across the University College Dublin’s Photography & International Conflict project this week. It operates out of UCD’s Institute for American Studies … and it’s awesome.

Or as awesome as something about war can be … or at least the best academic offering on photos and carnage since Photography and Atrocity served up at Leeds University a couple of years ago.

If you fancy going all rogue-scholar then this is the site for you: Imaging, Africa, ethics, Northern Ireland, the political economies of photography, America, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia and well known academes of the media/photo/critic world.

Anyhoo, this is all by the by, because amongst this thinkers-paradise are some straight video interviews with leading photography editors.

SATURATION POINT

Roger Tooth, Head of Photography for the Guardian UK says (at about 18 minutes and 30 seconds):

I would have thought we are at saturation point for photojournalists, but then you have the colleges churning out thousands of graduates each year, so its all a bit worrying really. I haven’t got a clue what these people are going to do? I would have thought we’ve got enough people to go around at the moment. What I suspect they’ll do in the future, I suspect they’ll do video because that’s going to be the currency.

Well, how’s about that?! Seriously, great site and plenty of food for thought.

Found via the reliably excellent CONTACT blog, which keeps me real with all things Britski.

UPDATE

As if on cue, A Photo Editor has this interview with Vincent Laforet about his switch over to moving images.

Just a quickie. All of these names can be found on my list The Talent, but I figured they can get lost in there and I’d push them up to the surface for you all.

Scan the names and see if you’re missing out on the important/irrelevant bleatings of these notable camera-lords and camera-ladies.

StephenVoss
Steven Voss, Washington, DC
andrewcutraro
Andrew Cutraro, Washington, DC
edkashi
Ed Kashi
heislerphoto
Todd Heisler
rspencerreed
Ryan Spencer Reed
JasonEskenazi
Jason Eskenazi
AlanSChin
Alan Chin, Brooklyn, NY
davidb383
David Burnett, Washington DC
stevebloomphoto
Steve Bloom, England
dpeveto
Daryl Peveto
evanvucci
Evan Vucci
jmott78
Justin Mott, Hanoi, Vietnam
StrazzPOY
Scott Strazzante, Yorkville, IL
jonkgoering
Jon Goering, Lawrence, KS
sinclair_photo
Mike Sinclair, Kansas City
PhotoPhilan
PhotoPhilanthropy, California
radical_images
Radical Images, East Midlands UK
Kastenskov
Henrik Kastenskov, Vejle
maisiecrow
Maisie Crow, New York
jturnley
James Turnley
juansierraphoto
Juan Sierra, Germany
OLOLtoo
Kendrick Brinson, Atlanta, GA
AaronJoelSantos
Aaron Joel Santos, Hanoi, Vietnam
jeffcurto
Jeff Curto, Chicago, IL
martincregg
Martin Cregg, Dublin
consumptive
James Luckett, Ohio
jesshurdphoto
Jess Hurd, London
VizJournalist
John Waskey, Portland, OR
tomtveitan
Tom Tveitan, Norway
fotofugitive
Tim Humble, Noosa, Sunshine Coast
photomorel
Daniel Morel, Haiti
davidalanharvey
David Alan Harvey, NYC, Outer Banks
FredoDupoux
Frederic Dupoux
wemarijnissen
Wendy Marijnissen, Islamabad, Pakistan
dascruggs
Daniella Scruggs, D.C. Metro Area
themexican
Raul Gutierrez
sheimages
Sheila Pree Bright
Moishevitz
Juliana Beasley, Jersey City, NJ
tajforer
Taj Forer, Connecticut
jeffantebi
Jeff Antebi
mattshonfeld
Matt Shonfeld, Bath, UK
jonsnyder
Jon Snyder, San Francisco
americanyouth
American youth book, NYC
douglaslowell
Douglas Lowell, Portland, OR
imaclellan
Ian MacLellan, Lincoln, MA
EmilyShur
Emily Shur
JaneFultonAlt
Jane Fulton Alt, Chicago
brazil_photos
Ricardo Funari, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
toddhido
Todd Hido, San Francisco Bay Area
billvaccaro
Bill Vaccaro
adamvlau
Adam Lau, San Francisco
PipAndrews
Philip Scott Andrews
DannyGhitis
Danny Ghitis, Brooklyn, NY
pangeaphoto
Pangea Photo
prospektphoto
Prospekt, Milan, Italy
terakopian
Edmond Terakopian, UK
NoBarriersPhoto
No Barriers Photogrphy, Vancouver, BC
CollegePhotog
CPOY, Columbia, MO
dsheaphoto
Daniel Shea, Chicago
dominicnahr
Dominic Nahr, Kenya
mrubee
Michael Rubenstein
greglutze
Greg Lutze, Pacific Northwest
reduxpictures
Redux Pictures
johnkeatley
John Keatley, Seattle, WA
hillerphoto
Geoffrey Hiller, Dhaka, Bangladesh
ChrisHondros
Chris Hondros, New York, NY
tammydavid
Tammy David, Manila, Philippines
vigbalasingam
Vignes Balasingam, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
timmatsuiphoto
Tim Matsui, Seattle, WA
coreyfishes
Corey Arnold, Portland, OR
jimbourg
Jim Bourg, Washington, DC
stupilkington
Stuart Pilkington, High Wycombe, UK
Donaldverger
Donald Verger, Portland, Maine
NickTurpin
Nick Turpin, France
noahkalina
Noah Kalina, Brooklyn, NY
terukuwayama
Teru Kuwayama
benrobertsphoto
Ben Roberts, Bournemouth, UK
alvarezphoto
Stephen Alvarez, Charlotte, NC
davidsolomons
David Solomons, London
erikborst
Erik Borst, Amsterdam, Holland
squarerootof9
Trey Hill, Dallas, TX
quesofrito
Emiliano Granado, NYC
50statesproject
50 States Project, USA
RachelPapo
Rachel Papo, Brooklyn, New York
alphabetproject
Alphabet Project
danielemattioli
Daniele Mattioli, Shanghai
shawnrocco
Shawn Rocco, Raleigh, North Carolina
jaredsoares
Jared Soares, Roanoke, Virginia
yingang
Ying Ang, Melbourne, Australia
jennyjimenez
Jenny Jimenez, Seattle, WA
hinius
Hin Chua, London
photogjack
Jack Kurtz, Phoenix, AZ
renaudphilippe
Renaud Philippe, Québec
thetravelphotog
Tewfic El- Sawy, NYC/London
A_Jax
Andrew Jackson, Birmingham, UK
alvarezmontero
Carlos Alvarez Montero
Peter_Marshall
London
mellyvanilla
Melanie McWhorter
ptrbkr
Peter Baker
dellicson
Davin Ellicson, Bucharest, Romania
OlivierLaude
Olivier Laude, San Francisco
matgrandjean
Mathieu Grandjean, Los Angeles
noahbeil
Noah Beil, Oakland, California
demotix
Global
claytoncubitt
Clayton Cubitt, New York
benblood
Ben Blood, Seattle, WA
ianvancoller
Ian van Coller, Bozeman, MT
natelarson
Nate Larson, Baltimore, MD
mrthibs18
Brandon Thibodeaux
gracegelder
Grace Gelder
andrewquerner
Andrew Querner, Alberta
jonfeinstein
Jon Feinstein, NYC
hellenvanmeene
Hellen van Meene, Heiloo, Holland
bendrum
Benjamin Drummond, Seattle, WA
tonystamolis
Tony Stamolis
liankevich
Andrei Liankevich
davewyatt
Dave Wyatt, Somerset, UK
coombskj
Kevin Coombs
miketsangphoto
Mike Tsang, London
lgreen66
Lauren Greenfield
KatharinaHesse
Katharina Hesse, Beijing
aphotostudent
James Pomerantz, New York
NadavKander
Nadav Kander, London
visualjourn
Brent Foster, Delhi, India
balazsgardi
Balazs Gardi
rogercremers
Roger Cremers, Amsterdam
shahidul
Shahidul Alam, Dhaka. Bangladesh
chrisdebode
Chris Debode, Amsterdam
abbiets
Abbie Trayler-Smith
foreilly
Finbar O’Reilly, Dakar, Senegal
rasermus
Espen Rasmussen
stevesimon
Steve Simon, NYC
borutpeterlin
Borut Peterlin, Slovenia
moooose
Mustafah Abdulaziz, Philadelphia
oeilpublic
Oeil Public, Paris, France (Now out of business)
gallagher_photo
Sean Gallagher, Beijing, China
jennackerman
Jenn Ackerman, New York
Amivee
Ami Vitale, Miami
ninaberman
Nina Berman
luceo
Luceo Images, US, Southeast Asia, Mexico
mattlutton
Matt Lutton, Belgrade, Serbia
Nathan_Armes
Nathan Armes, Denver, CO
timgruber
Tim Gruber, New York
timhussin
Tim Hussin, Washington D.C.
alan_w_george
Alan W George, San Francisco
MrToledano
Phillip Toledano, New York
mattslaby
Matt Slaby, Denver
wearemjr
MJR, Brooklyn, New York
caryconover
Cary Conover, Lower East Side, NYC
robot_operator
Dalton Rooney, Brooklyn, NY
loujones2008
Lou Jones, Boston, MA
gerik
Gerik Parmele, Columbia, MO
benlowy
Benjamin Lowy, Brooklyn, NY
tom_leininger
Tom Leininger, Texas
tomasvh
Tomas van Houtryve
timobarber
Tim Barber
newmediatim
Tim Lytvinenko

Matt and Scott at Dvafoto have made some important observations on the behaviour of the press in Haiti.

Dvafoto just got a redesign too, bringing all their commentaries of the past up to the surface again. Well worth swimming about in the visual archive for a while.

[Author’s Note: This is the first in a three part series on prisons in Africa. Through the lens of three different photojournalists, we will see the conditions and lives within prisons of Guinea, Burundi and Sierra Leone.]

© Julie Remy. Inscriptions by young prisoners.

Julie Remy has photographed stories in Rwanda, Mali, Zambia, Malawi, and for her series on prisoners – Guinea.

In September 2008, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began an emergency intervention in the civilian prison of Guéckédou in southeastern Republic of Guinea. Remy’s documented the food and medical aid effort.

“We have problems with food and illness here. There are no medications. There is no doctor. Since 2007, 30 people have died here and the doctor didn’t come.” Inmate, 19 months in prison

Guéckédou was over-crowded, unhygienic and without proper ventilation. As a result, some inmates were malnourished, most dehydrated and many with respiratory and skin diseases. It was recorded that prisoners with tuberculosis shared cells with the general population. Incubation of disease was a major concern.

I have no idea how the prison conditions of Guéckédou compare fifteen months on.

© Julie Remy. At the Guéckédou Civilian Prison, inmates wash only with water on a non regular basis. This prisoner shows the photographer his scabies. Due to poor sanitation prisoners suffer various skin diseases.

Remy worked in dark surroundings. As MSF vouched, “The scene that meets the eye upon entering the chambre noire “dark room” is beyond belief. Some 26 prisoners, crammed into a space of about three by four meters, can only be made out by squinting.” These images are part of a specific, urgent campaign, so it would be offensive of me to pay them any aesthetic critique. The awareness is what matters here.

MSF made good use of Remy’s photographs to produce a short video explaining the situation and dire need for intervention.

I’d like to emphasise that Remy (as a photographer) and MSF were in Guéckédou because of extreme circumstances at the national level. The poor conditions in the prison can be attributed to a number of larger structural instabilities. The men in these photos are one constituency suffering from a regional crisis. MSF explains; “The failure to ensure basic minimum standards in Guinea’s prisons can be linked to the country’s generally poor human and economic development. Ongoing instability and conflict in neighboring countries have long impacted on Guinea, while strikes and civil unrest have emerged in-country over the past few years. The ongoing international increase in food prices, especially in 2008, has exacerbated Guineans’ already precarious living standards and food insecurity.”

© Julie Remy. Malnourished prisoners received plumpy nut provided by MSF at the Guéckédou civil prison.

© Julie Remy. Malnourished prisoners received plumpy nut provided by MSF at the Guéckédou civil prison.

© Julie Remy. A prisoner tells us that he is innocent. That he has done nothing and still has not been judged. He says he does not know why he is held here in the  “Chambre noire” where a dozen prisoners are tied to a bar and held with another dozen in a barely lit cell. Guéckédou civil prison.

© Julie Remy

© Julie Remy

When the opportunity arises, I think it is important for audiences to view images like those two above within each others context. The first image is a dank, alienating environment in which the oppressive shadows and walls dominate. Whereas the second image (probably taken within a matter of seconds) is a well lit portrait centred on the gaze and associated emotions of the man; the prison environment is not stated. Precisely because MSF and Remy were present due to the physical effects of this environment on these men, both are valid photographic approaches.

The consequent written report from this aid intervention released in February 2009 continued with a call for systemic reform:

“Although the sub-standard conditions in Guinean prisons can be attributed partly to poverty and the country’s limited resources, these factors alone do not explain the absence of response to recurring malnutrition and the unacceptable living conditions in Guéckédou and other prisons. Guinean national authorities bear the ultimate responsibility to uphold the fundamental human rights of its inhabitants, including its incarcerated population.”

I, like many others invested in the photojournalism/documentary community, want to see less images of suffering in Africa and more images of the uneventful days; the boring normal times, perhaps some quiet smiles and tears. Add to that some local African photographers and we’re on the right track. (See recent commentary by Paul Melcher, Daniel Cuthbert and Ben Chesterton for more on this).

© Julie Remy

In closing I’d like to offer a caveat for the three part ‘Prisons in Africa’ series.

African prisons – that is, sites of incarceration across a land mass the size of Western Europe, Argentina, China, India and the USA combined – are each unique. Generally, conditions will be poorer than in prisons of developed nations, but every prison has its own culture, rules and circumstance. In Africa, as in the rest of the world, prisons usually exhibit the worst of a nation; retribution and anger, neglect and apathy.

Photographers are compelled to visit prisons known to them through local knowledge or national notoriety; we must expect there is a story to be told. The prisons I will feature in this three-part series will not be pleasant, but I think the three featured photographers are sincere and the stories are important.

While the men in these images may deserve pity, Africa as a continent does not. Africa deserves our respect and our time.

Nations in Africa, as with all places featured in the photojournalism we consume, should be places we think about visiting. I seriously encourage anyone and everyone to make an extended visit. Opportunities to dilute the media images of places and people with first hand interaction with those places and people will only have positive results. If only we had the opportunities, good reason and resources to visit and live in new places frequently.

(Disclosure: I lived in East Africa for five months. That time made more complex and less harried my perspective of the world. The largest culture shock was returning to the UK.)

__________________________________________________________

Official Bio: Julie Remy is an award winning documentary photographer specializing in human rights, health, travel and the environment. What she captures through her viewfinder and what she tells in written word she believes will contribute to bringing hope and respect and perhaps assist in gaining access to the care and knowledge they deserve.

© Andrew Jackson. Black Child, Gulugetu, Cape Town, 2006

© Andrew Jackson. Black Child, Gulugetu, Cape Town, 2006

I have no answers. I have just asked for them. We will get answers but they may be outnumbered by more questions.

I have no answers. And yet, two things struck me this week. They both go to the heart of the necessary cynicism AND optimism toward the photojournalist’s craft. These two contributions are contrary in tone and yet I can agree with them both.

I have no answers.

ANDREW JACKSON

Firstly, from Andrew Jackson and his ‘WrittenByLight‘ blog.

A 4OD episode of the Art Show entitled If asked a number of contemporary poets to produce modern (re)workings of Kipling’s famous poem If. Jackson was compelled to create his own and “perhaps speak of [his] own misgivings of documentary photography”.

If you can meet strangers and develop relationships with them
If you can enter into their lives and ensnare them with trust
Then solicit from them their lives and record this with your camera
And if you can make them believe this to be a collaborative process
Only to end this when your photographs are taken – never to see them again
And if you can raise a profile upon these images
Whilst talking sympathetically of the plight of those you have discarded
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you’ll be a documentary photographer, my son!

FINBARR O’REILLY

In answering such doubts, Finbarr O’Reilly on the Reuters blog gives an honest and balanced appraisal of the global coverage (and his part in it) of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Even as Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-related death toll rose above a staggering five million, making it the most lethal conflict since World War Two, the war in Central Africa remained largely unnoticed and under-reported.

and

The media could enjoy coffee and croissants for breakfast, drive up to the front-line fighting or the squalid camps home to hundreds of thousands of displaced Congolese, then return to file stories and pictures in time for dinner and a night at the bar.

and

There were so many photographers in Congo last year that there’s a running joke at photojournalism festivals and competitions this year about viewers and judges having to sit through “yet another picture story from Congo.”

and

But at least Congo, that beautiful, terrible place, became a highly visible story. It’s easy to be cynical about the idea of a devastating conflict suddenly becoming a trendy cause, but the important thing is that people are finally paying attention to one of the world’s worst catastrophes. U.S. President Barack Obama referred to Congo’s troubles in speeches, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Goma in August and said she was moved by the plight of Congo’s women, many of whom are victims of extreme sexual violence and mass rape.

The temperance of O’Reilly’s opinion – in spite of his closeness to the events – is impressive.

Maybe the foil against the consumption of images of distant plight is to insist that the photographer’s voice and experience is always carried with them. Better still, the voice of those depicted is carried with the images. That way there can be no doubt of the actual conditions in which the images were created.

Finbarr O’Reilly has spent many years on stories in DRC, including eight specific photo series relating to aspects of Congolese experience.

© Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

© Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters. From the series 'Congo Hair'

Munkhbayar is the director of the women's prison just outside Ulaanbataar, her background is in Law. © Grace Gelder

Munkhbayar is the director of the women's prison just outside Ulaanbataar, her background is in Law. © Grace Gelder

Grace Gelder is building a portfolio with some impressive images. She graduated with an MA from Bolton University in International Photojournalism , Documentary & Travel Photography. I am chuffed to promote her work because Bolton is one of many mid-sized cities of England’s Northwest that has been the brunt of dismissive attitudes during my childhood and adolescence.

The University of Bolton is helping reshape those ill-informed attitudes and building a reputation for its photojournalism department. This is helped by its partnership with the Dalian College of Image Art, China. Which helps to explain how Gelder came to work on her far-flung series Professional Mongolian Women. Mongolia is just next door, right?

As the Metro puts it, Gelder “counteracts misconceptions of Mongolia as an under-developed country. Her series of striking colour portraits, each depicting one woman in her professional context, follows up a UN report last year that placed Mongolia first in a league table for women’s participation in the workforce.”

I think particularly with her portrait of Munkhbayar, Director of the women’s prison just outside Ulaanbataar, Gelder succeeds in quashing stereotypes that exist regarding Non-western nations, Mongolia itself, and women in those societies. I am just glad Gelder had a prison warden as one of her subjects; as to provide me an excuse to promote her well-informed work. I recommend reading Gelder’s own description of gender relations and equalities in Mongolia.

(Via PhotoMABlog)

contact_sheet0048

Last week, I threw up a quick post featuring Emiliano Granado’s website images of his photographs of the San Quentin Giants. Here, Granado shares previously unpublished contact sheet images, his experiences and lasting thoughts from working within one of America’s most notorious prisons.

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What compelled you to travel across the US to photograph the story at San Quentin?
This was actually a magazine assignment for Mass Appeal Magazine.  However, the TOTAL budget was $300, so it really turns out to be a personal project after the film, travel expenses, etc. So, the simple answer to the question is that I’m a photographer. I’m curious by nature. Part of the reason I’m a photographer is to study the world around me. I like to think of myself as a social scientist, except I don’t have any scientific method of measuring things, just a photograph as a document.

With that in mind, it would be crazy of me to NOT go to San Quentin! I’d never been in a correctional institution but I’ve always been fascinated by them.  If you look through my Tivo, you’ll see shows like COPS, Locked Up, Gangland, etc. I was also a Psychology major in college and remember being blown away by Zimbardo’s prison experiment and other studies. Basically, it was an opportunity to see in real life a lot of what I’d seen on TV or read in books. And as a bonus, I was allowed to photograph.

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What procedures did you need to go through in order to gain access?
I was amazed at the lack of procedure. The writer for the story had been in touch with the San Quentin public relations people, but that was it. There was plenty of other media there that day. It was opening day of the season, so I guess it made for a minor local news story.

I’m pretty sure SQ prides itself in being so open and showcasing what a different approach to “reform” looks like.

It is my opinion that San Quentin is one of the best-equipped prisons in California to deal with a variety of visitors. Did you find this the case?
Definitely.  Access was very easy. They barely searched my equipment!  Parking was easy. I was really surprised at how easy and smooth the process was. Not to mention there were many other visitors that day (an entire baseball team, more media, local residents playing tennis with inmates, etc).

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Did your preparation or process differ due to the unique location?
Definitely. I usually work with a photo assistant and that couldn’t be coordinated, so I was by myself. I packed as lightly as I could and prepared myself for a fast, chaotic shoot. Some shoots are slow and methodical, and others are pure chaos. I knew this would be the latter.

One thing I didn’t think about was my outfit. SQ inmates dress in denim, so visitors aren’t allowed to wear denim. Of course, I was wearing jeans. The officers gave me a pair of green pajama pants. I’m glad they are ready for that kind of situation.

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You are not a sports shooter per se. You took portraits of the players and spectators of inmate-spectators. How did you choose when to frame a shot and release the shutter?
Correct. I’m definitely not what most people would consider a sports photographer. I don’t own any of those huge, long lenses. However, I photograph lots of sporting events. I think of them as a microcosm of our society. There are lots of very interesting things happening at events like this.  Fanaticism, idolatry, community, etc.  Not to mention lots of alcohol and partying  – see my Nascar images!

Hitting the shutter isn’t entirely a conscious decision. That decision is informed by years of looking at successful and unsuccessful images.  It’s basically a gut instinct. There are times that I search for a particular image in my head, but mostly, it’s about having the camera ready and pointed in the right direction.  When something interesting happens you snap.

There are photographers that come to a shoot with the shots in their head already. They produce the images – set people up, set up lighting, etc.  Then there are photographers that are working with certain themes or ideas and they come to the location ready to find something that informs those ideas. I’m definitely the latter. There is a looseness and discovery process that I really enjoy when photographing like this. It’s like the scientist crunching numbers and coming to some new discovery.

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A lot of photo editors say the story makes the story, not the images. Finding the story is key. Do you think there are many more stories within sites of incarceration waiting to be told?
I’m not sure I agree with that. I always say that a photograph can be made anywhere. Even if there is no story, per se. I definitely agree that a powerful image along with a powerful story is better, but a photograph can be devoid of a story, but be powerful anyway.

Every person, every place, everything has a story.  So yes, there are millions of untold stories within sites of incarceration.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell some of them.

Having had your experience at San Quentin, what other photo essays would you like to see produced that would confirm or extend your impressions of America’s prisons?
Man, there are millions of photos waiting to be made! I’m currently trying to gain access to a local NYC prison to continue my work and discover a bit more about what “Prison” means. Personally, I’d love to see long-term projects about inmates. Something like portraits as new inmates are processed, images while incarcerated, and then see what their life is like after prison.  Their families, their victims, etc.  And of course, if any photo editor wants to assign something like that, I’d love to shoot it!

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Anything you’d like to add to help the reader as they view your San Quentin Baseball photographs?
Yes. When I walked in to the yard, I didn’t know what reaction I would get from the inmates. Everyone was super friendly and willing to be photographed. Everyone wanted to tell me their story. I’m not sure how different their reaction would have been to me if I didn’t have a camera, but I was pleasantly surprised.  At first, I felt like an outsider and fearful, but after an hour or so, I felt comfortable and welcome.  It was a weird experience to think the guy next to me could be a murderer (and there were, in fact, murderers on the baseball team), and not be afraid. There was this moral relativism thing going on in my head. These people were “bad,” yet they were just normal guys that had made very big mistakes. I left SQ thinking that pretty much any one of us could have ended up like them. Given a different set of circumstances or lack of access to social resources (e.g. education, money, parenting, etc) I could very easily see how my own life could have mirrored their life.

And finally, can you remember the opposition?
I don’t remember who they were playing, but I do remember that their pitcher had played in the Majors and even pitched in a World Series. I believe the article that finally ran in Death + Taxes magazine mentions the opposition.

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ALL IMAGES © 2009 EMILIANO GRANADO

Authors note: Huge thanks to Emiliano Granado for his thoughtful responses and honest reflections. It was a pleasure working with you E!

Housekeeping. At the end of my previous post on Emiliano’s work, I postured when San Quentin would get more sports teams for the integration of prisoners and civilians. Emiliano has answered that for me in this interview. He observed locals playing tennis and also states San Quentin also has a basketball team.

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