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

 

Everybody in Portland knows about the recent closure of Newspace Center for Photography. Those beyond the city might not, but they can imagine the damage to the photo community when one of the last accessible darkrooms for film shuttered almost overnight. A hole was left.

I was very fond of Newspace. I’m not a photographer so never used its darkroom facilities but its active lecture series and artist-in-residence program brought many great practitioners to town. It was also the final venue for Prison Obscura in Spring 2016. (Installation shots). I’ve fond memories of the staff, support, volunteers, openings and exhibitions at Newspace. A hole was left.

There’s a larger backstory to the saga, some raw emotions and accusations that better board planning could’ve averted the disaster. But instead of focusing on ‘What if’ or ‘What might have been’ a core group of photo-geeks sunk their efforts, cash and hope into creating a replacement. They showed up at Newspace’s fire-sale of equipment, snagged as much as they could and loaded it onto a flotilla of trucks. They’ve built out a brand spanking new darkroom and are ready for business. Introducing The Portland Darkroom.

 

The Portland Darkroom wants to keep film photography alive and accessible. Rose City needs this resource. They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the first year of operations and get them off to a running start.

I can’t wait to get in the space and meet the photo-peeps who’ve made this happen. Who knows, maybe I’ll resurrect the Eye On PDX series I did with Blake Andrews 2012-2014 to celebrate, and ask questions of, our local image-makers?

Head over to The Portland Darkroom website and sign up for updates. Place some money in the pot. Go on! In return for your support, there’s prints, workshops, stickers, postcards and oodles of thanks from the founders. Head over to The Portland Darkroom Kickstarter page and check out the perks.

 

 

Advertisements

1

For its seventh and final stop, Prison Obscura will be on show at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon from April 1 to May 28.

(Check out official Prison Obscura website and the PP “Prison Obscura” tag for the background and journeying of the exhibition.)

I’ll be at Newspace for the opening next Friday nightApril 1, 6–8pm. I’ll be installing Wednesday and Thursday so stop by and say hello.

Also, on the Saturday afternoon I’m moderating a panel titled Can Images Counter Mass Incarceration? with some of my favourite artists and thinkers. Here’s the Facebook event page and see bolded events’ details below.

THE BLURB (AGAIN)

No country incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the United States. More than 2.2 million people are currently locked up in the U.S.—a number that has more than quadrupled since 1980. But sadly, the lives lived behind bars are all too often invisible to those on the outside. Prison Obscura sheds light on such experiences and the prison-industrial complex as a whole by showcasing rarely seen surveillance, evidentiary, and prisoner-made photographs. The exhibition encourages visitors to ask why tax-paying, prison-funding citizens rarely get the chance to see such images, and what roles such pictures play for those within the system.

 

Alyse Emdur’s prison visiting room portraits from across the nation and Robert Gumpert’s recorded audio stories from within the San Francisco jail system provide an opportunity to see, read, and listen to subjects in the contexts of their incarceration. Juvenile and adult prisoners in different workshops led by Steve Davis, Mark Strandquist, and Kristen S. Wilkins perform for the camera, reflect on their past, describe their memories, and self-represent through photographs. The exhibition moves between these intimate portrayals of life within the prison system to more expansive views of legal and spatial surveillance in Josh Begley’s manipulation of Google Maps’ API code and Paul Rucker’s animated video. Prison Obscura builds the case that Americans must come face-to-face with these images to grasp the proliferation of the U.S. prison system and to connect with those it confines.

Prison Obscura is made possible with the support of the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, Haverford, PA.

PUBLIC PROGRAMS

In conjunction with the exhibition, Newspace is hosting a series of events related to the prison industrial complex and the role images play in exposing the structures of the U.S. criminal justice system.

OFFSITE Panel discussion: Can Images Counter Mass Incarceration? Saturday April 2, 2-4pm: Panelists Lorenzo Triburgo, Sarah-Jasmine Calvetti and Barry Sanders. Moderated by me. OFFSITE Location: Native American Student and Community Center, Portland State University (710 SW Jackson St). Sponsored by Portland State University Camera Arts Society.

Discussion: Re-Envisioning Justice: What Is Between Reform and Abolition of the Criminal Justice System?: Sunday, April 24, 4-6pm. At Newspace (1632 SE 10th Ave.)

Community Discussion: The Ethics of Photography: Thursday, May 12, 6:30-8pm, organized in collaboration with the Oregon Jewish Museum. At Newspace (1632 SE 10th Ave.)

All public programs are free, open to the public. Please note event location.

CLASSES

Expanding Photography: Discovering the Stories Behind Your Work: May 9 – May 23, 6:30 -9:30 pm | Instructor: Gregory Parra.

Education Lecture Series: The Screen Politics of Public Projections: May 17, 7:00 – 8:30pm | Instructor: Dr. Abigail Susik.

Build Your Own Pinhole Camera: June 5, 12:00-4:00pm | Instructor: Pete Gomena.

INFO + HOURS

Newspace Center for Photography, 1632 SE 10th Ave, Portland, OR 97214

Mon–Thurs 10am-9:30pm; Fri–Sun 10am-6pm

Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr | Twitter | Vine

For press inquiries, contact Newspace Curator Yaelle S. Amir at curator@newspacephoto.org or 503.963.1935.

DEMOS: BOOK

I’ve had a lot to say about the mothballed Wapato Jail in North Portland. Last year, I said it’s use as a film set for an activist web series against solitary was the only good thing to come out of the facility, so I was very happy this year when artist collective ERNEST was brought to Portland by c3:Initiative to work on an artist residency about the vacant lock-up.

ERNEST produced a film, photographs, hosted community engagements, a roundtable, artists’ event and a book-club about mass incarceration. They also put out a publication to which I contributed. That essay, I’ll post here with illustrations shortly. But I just wanted to let you know that the book is now for sale.

ernest3

The design of the book is by Container Corps, it’s a bit mad with tip-ins everywhere. And it’s brilliant.

The book features contributions from Ace Lehner, Sarah Fontaine, Ernest Jerome DeFrance, Dan Gilsdorf and the ERNEST team (George Pfau, Amanda Curreri, Llewelyn Fletcher and Hannah Ireland).

ernest1

ernest2

VIDEO

Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility, which is on view at c3:Initiative until Nov 22, probes the many concerns that the vacant jail suggests: breakdowns in democracy, prevailing power structures.

Here’s some “episodes” of themed footage that were woven together for ERNEST’s final centerpiece video installation.

Enjoy!

thibs

I’m one of the critically massive pool of jurors for this years Critical Mass. I take bribes like FIFA.

The 4-week Robert Rauschenberg Foundation sounds sick!

The blurb:

Registration is now open for Photolucida’s Critical Mass competition! Awards include a monograph prize, a solo exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery, a group exhibition juried by Alison Nordström, and a prestigious four-week artist’s residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Captiva Island estate.

Registration deadline is July 28th

Image: Brandon Thibodeaux, Maw Maw’s New Braids, Duncan, MS 2009. (Source)

1

If you live in Portland, Oregon and you’re planning to get wed over Memorial Day weekend, why not let a Magnum Photos photographer come by and make some shots? Via.

ARRESTING POWER

Portland’s a pretty small town. When I lived their I was a fellow panelist with Julie Perini. Jodi Darby once beat me, by mere seconds, to a killer secondhand sweater in a donation pile on the street. I’ve never met Erin Yanke. The three producers have recently completed Arresting Power, a documentary about resistance to police violence in Portland, Oregon.

I supported the Kickstarter to get the film over the finishing line, so I am happy to see it out in the world. On Friday, May 8th, Arresting Power will screen at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA.

Arresting Power – Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon provides a historical and political analysis of the role of the police in contemporary society and the history of policing in the United States. It provides a framework for understanding the systems of social control in Portland with its history of exclusion laws, racial profiling, gentrification practices and policing along lines of race and class. It serves to uncover Portland’s unique history of police relations and community response.

Arresting Power features interviews with the families of people who were killed by Portland police, victims of police misconduct, local historians and community organizers. Utilizing archival newsreel from the Oregon Historical Society’s moving image archive, the film explores the history of police reform and abolition movements that have been active throughout the past 50 years.

Watch the trailer here.

——–

Friday, May 8, 7pm

Kala Art Institute
2990 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA
Sliding scale $5 – $15
Refreshments will be served
Screening followed by Q&A with the filmmakers

11077844_10153143678338550_7663936827816789954_n

0d207adddc00dd5e-haunted_NDaCosta_015

Happy Halloween, folks. Here’s a fun series. Photographer Neil DaCosta went to Oregon’s kookiest Halloween attractions during daylight closing hours. However, the scenes he discovered and shot on color film ended up looking as sinister as they appear when shrouded in darkness and staged for the frightened masses.

Week to week, DaCosta works long hours as a commercial and editorial photographer. But that doesn’t stop him throwing his camera gear in the car and heading out on his free weekends to shoot personal projects. Shooting stuff to scratch his creative itch is what has kept him sane. At least that was the case until last weekend when his excursions to into haunted houses, forests and corn mazes may have just driven him over the edge.

The ghastly result is a series called With The Lights On.

It all started harmlessly enough. DaCosta stumbled across a haunted trail walking his dog and reasoned that photographing halloween attractions during daylight hours would make for interesting pictures.

“When I was younger, I use to volunteer at a similar haunted trail and remembered how spooky it was even during the day,” he says.

Despite his ghoulish memories of younger experience, DaCosta thought a throughly mature and deliberate diurnal examination of the sites would reveal them for the low-budget, facade dependent constructions they are. DaCosta thought his images would draw back the curtain.

And, so, DaCosta trudged with his 4×5 camera to the West Linn Haunted Trail, the Fear Asylum, and The Haunted Maize — tourist spots all within half-an-hour of his hometown, Portland.

“I captured them empty, during off hours, with the lights on,” explains DaCosta. “But the dark humor I was envisioning, ended up being just more dark than humorous. Goes to show that some of our fears don’t rely on the dark to manifest.”

Photographing on site was eerie. Dead dummies swung and tarps billowed in the dank air. DaCosta got the jitters which were not helped by joggers in the forests who crept up while he was under the dark cloth of his medium format camera.

Those that operated the attractions were welcoming. “Everyone was in to it. Owners put a lot of work into these haunts and they are only seasonal. They are excited someone wants to photograph their hard work,” says DaCosta.

Like all good Halloween antics, DaCosta’s unsettling images jangle the nerves and provide relief and laughter.

Being a procrastinator, DaCosta has yet to decide on his costume for tonight, but he’ll be channelling photographer Joel Peter Witkin, who is his favorite macabre showman.

Happy Halloween folks! Enjoy these pics and then get out there, Trick ‘o’ Treat, and spook some people!

04a0cc0636216336-haunted_NDaCosta_007 6cca520fb7637632-haunted_NDaCosta_009 9c92527e1e283f61-haunted_NDaCosta_021 067a7b72159a430a-haunted_NDaCosta_005 82b2f0f2f671562f-haunted_NDaCosta_013 90e285455e7aaf18-haunted_NDaCosta_012 535b7e374e13201d-haunted_NDaCosta_001 2800a3468762fa9f-haunted_NDaCosta_014 6767d61808489f57-haunted_NDaCosta_024 abe535cd93f62999-haunted_NDaCosta_003 b6b7e37dbc4f09f1-haunted_NDaCosta_011 eae127a6cef22170-haunted_NDaCosta_008 ef16ef2e0425e795-haunted_NDaCosta_006 f2b820a6f92abcca-haunted_NDaCosta_025 f083fc0f78ca5fa4-haunted_NDaCosta_002 f6870842cfccbb0c-haunted_NDaCosta_020

-7a128bda83280636

Angel Gonzalez wears a stuffed animal throughout his day as part of parenting classes he is enrolled in at the prison. The stuffed animal will eventually go to his children, one of whom is tattooed on his arm. Snake River Correctional Institution, Oregon.

BETH NAKAMURA

Beth Nakamura is a staff photographer with The Oregonian. In recent months, she and writer Bryan Denson have toured numerous Oregon state prisons with part of “an occasional series” on the Beaver State’s correctional landscape. Thus far, they’ve visited on Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, Snake River Correctional Institution in Malheur County, Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla County, and Columbia River Correctional Institution in North Portland. They’ll visit many more.

Denson and Nakamura have uncovered some mismanagement such as a medical records debacle, but generally the reporting has been neutral and non-too-critical. Just gaining access was a massive victory in and of itself.

OREGON’S PRISONS AND EVERYTHING BEFORE

During her visits to Oregon’s prisons, Beth has been acutely aware of her privileged access and responsibility to report faithfully. Often the word and meaning of “faithfully” is confused with “objectively” which is often interpreted as “robotically” or “without personal response,” almost. It is, however, impossible for anyone to be totally objective. Journalists included. I suspect many journalists deny the extent to which their emotional and human response to stories they cover shape the eventual reporting. When Beth and I chatted it became clear we were speaking to this tension between the professional and personal self.

“I feel like I have a right to my own story,” she says.

This Q&A is a long time in production. Beth and I have jointly edited it from a longer conversation. It’s meandering and there are some loose ends. It exists within the wider context of a changing media landscape and the growing expectations of journalists to report and produce 24/7.

With regards timing, it is a thoughtful release. Beth continues to photograph in Oregon prisons and wants to place her professional responsibilities within the context of her life’s experience dealing with all sides of, and many people within, the criminal justice system.

We talk about Oregon’s death row, Beth’s first visit inside a prison, upbringing, family members’ run-ins with the law, prison administrations’ reactions to journalists and, to end, we reflect upon a heartbreaking jail scene that photography simply could not do justice.

I have selected the images that smatter this interview from Beth’s vast portfolio.

Scroll down for our Q&A

-42ed3c4cf8a435f5

A prisoner in minimum security watches television from his bunk, Snake River Correctional Institution.
josephine county, sheriff's office, jail, tax levy
Stacks of tooth paste in cell block 800, Josephine County Jail, Oregon. Josephine County Sheriff’s Office released 39 prisoners in May, 2012 week from the jail after people voted against a law enforcement property tax levy in a May primary. The measure would have funded the sheriff’s office, district attorney and juvenile justice program. The jail once housed several of the released prisoners, is now being used as an intake area.

Q & A

Prison Photography (PP): Beth, thanks for chatting with me. I got in touch with you soon after your photographs of Oregon’s “new and improved” execution facility were published in the Oregonian. That was a media tour at Oregon State Penitentiary, Salem, right?

Beth Nakamura (BN): Yes. The tour was in advance of Gary Haugen’s scheduled execution, which Governor Kitzhaber intervened and stopped. Kitzhaber is a physician, so here’s a Hippocratic oath guy in office “presiding” over executions. I imagine there was some moral wrestling going on. The execution was indefinitely postponed — against Haugen’s wishes.

PP: Kitzhaber called the death penalty “morally wrong and unjustly administered.”

BN: Yes, but before that happened I toured the chamber. The tour was strangely performative and austere.

PP: The images seemed anemic. The space, flat and deadened.

BN: The warden sat media from around the state and from his podium in a little room *walked us through* exactly what was going to happen during the execution — everything leading up to it, during, and after.

Then we took the tour. “… then we place the bottles on the aluminum table … then we walk to the …” Every step was accounted for. It was one of the most riveting hours of my career. Everything that was described and presented was so ritualized. It had a sterilizing effect. But also consider they hadn’t executed anyone in 16 years.  It felt to me like them saying “we got this” and being officious about it, but I have no idea, really.

PP: Sounds akin to the freaky re-reenactment that Werner Herzog specializes in? How many members of the press were there?

BN: Probably ten. Approximately.

PP: You’ve photographed a quilting workshop at Coffee Creek?

BN: The coordinators of the workshop asked me to photograph. Being a freelance photographer and not a journalist, in this instance, was a whole different experience. Much warmer. I was just with them. And once you take off the journalist hat, it’s disarming for the authorities.

PP: Are Oregon prison authorities suspicious of journalists?

BN: I’m not sure suspicious is the right word. I will say the Oregonian has a fine tooth-comb and they know how to use it. That would make anyone guarded, right? A lot of the DOC’s concerns have to do with security, and with pictures revealing too much. Like the concertina wire, stuff like that. It isn’t stuff we tend to consider as photographers. To them it’s a big deal.

PP: Coffee Creek was where the sexual abuse scandal broke in 2012. It’s my impression that the Coffee Creek administration has been doing it’s best to promote a much improved public presentation of itself. For example, a Kaiser sponsored program is funding an organic garden that went into the center of the yard. They tore up hundreds of square feet of concrete. Diabetes is down, violence is down.

BN: Great program.

PP: Have your attitudes toward jails and prisons remained the same over your career?

BN: I’m 51 years old now! With any luck I have a little bit of a wider worldview and insight into all the different layers that are a part of any system. In my career, I’ve had a lot of dealings with beat cops, sheriffs, lawyers — everyone that’s in all the legal layers as you move outward from the prison cell. I see that it’s complex … but it’s always been complex for me, though.

PP: Why is that?

BN: I grew up in a very gritty little town in New England where it was not uncommon that someone would end up in jail. Mostly, people didn’t get caught, but every once in a while someone would get caught and they would end up in jail.

Sentenced to death

Convicted killer Dana Ray Edmonds, 32, shown in prison with his lawyer the day before he was executed in Virginia. He was the first person in the state to be exectuted by lethal injection. Edmonds murdered a grocery store owner by smashing a brick into his head and thrusting a knife into his throat. He lost last-minute appeals to both the Virginia governor and the U.S. Supreme Court. His final words: “No one can take me from this earth, and I forgive everyone here.”

PP: Was it in your personal life or your professional life you first stepped inside a jail?

BN: Professional. It was a Massachusetts Correctional Institution. Maybe Shirley or Framingham? I was working for a tiny local paper. I don’t even remember the news story.

PP: Describe the experience.

BN: I remember the administration was heavy-handed. I’ll use the word indoctrination, because it really did feel like that. They delivered a weird, scared straight narration. I don’t know if the guard did it all the time or if he preached in order to protect us *little neophyte-media-types*! They’re presuming I’m some upstanding person. It’s like I crossed over.

PP: From your tough upbringing to respected professional? As it is perceived by society?

BN: Yes. I’m crossing over but when you do that you never quite fit in any world anymore.

PP: The position of many journalists, some might say?

BN: Maybe. But they’re saying, “Don’t look them in the eye, don’t do this, don’t do that.” The assumption is that I am somehow different from the people in the cells.

Anyway, we get into the prison area and the first thing that happens is someone calls out my name. “Beth.” I turn around and it was Patrick, an old friend.

“Patrick, what the hell are you doing here?” I asked.

Whatever wall the prison staff had tried to erect around me just completely collapsed in that instant. He was in there for a bunch of nothing — many little things. And that’s what a lot of them, in my experience, have done. Parole violations, driving with no license, petty theft.

I don’t remember so much about how I handled the establishment that day but I remember talking to Patrick distinctly. I was in the vortex of these worlds just swirling in me and around me. I looked at Patrick (and I was close) but he just completely went blurry. It was like I was in a dream. I couldn’t carry everything that was happening. I was just happy to see my old friend, Patrick Beaudette.

It was the late 80s. I recently looked him up. He died. What happened to Patrick happened to so many. He must have died in his forties.

-de8056b4109b5308

Cafeteria and visiting area at Columbia River Correction Institution, which is minimum security, and tries to create a smooth transitions for prisoners before reentering the community.

-b47b221c7b0ba612

Jayson Alderman, Ken Strand and Ralph Kautz participate in Moral Recognition Therapy while incarcerated at Columbia River Correctional Institution. The therapy attempts to teach cognitive restructuring habits, or a kind of rewiring of the mind, to the prisoners.

-9d7180cd7c4a3661

A large mural, painted entirely by inmates, lines a wall of offices at the entrance to Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution.

PP: The 80s were the start of mass incarceration in America. What’s your position on prisons and incarceration, now?

BN: My brother was in in prison. He’d never looked better! He looked clean.

I know there are some really bad people who are better off in prison. I don’t have the instant liberal-Portland empathy for anyone who walks through those prison doors because I also know those people have probably crushed a lot of hearts while outside of that cell. So, I’m not all softy, but at the same time I think a lot of people are in prison for drug addiction and for mental health reasons. These individuals are in the midst of correctional systems that are, now, our de facto mental health institutions.

PP: Hospitals replaced by prisons.

BN: It’s a tragedy. That is an injustice. I don’t pretend to know how to fix it but that’s what they’ve become. A lot of times it starts with people (self) medicating over a diagnosis and creating problems for themselves, compounding problems. One thing leads to another and, however many problems later, they wind up incarcerated.

Some can’t get clean on their own so they are forcibly cleaned up. Sometimes that works. I don’t have a black and white opinion about people being incarcerated but I do feel prisons have become de facto mental health institutions and that’s wrong.

Most of the women I’ve met are locked up for drugs. A lot of the players are male and they’ve got younger girlfriends. You see that dynamic writ large and small all the time, and see how women are involved.

-d43426a822adc4bb

A housing unit inside Columbia River Correctional Institution in North Portland, Sept. 11, 2014.

-a858279272c9e089

Prisoners work as operators at a call center in Snake River Correctional Instituion. Perry Johnson Inc., a south Michigan based consulting firm has employed SRCI prisoners for over a decade. Little has been published online about the SRCI call center in recent years. Here’s a 2004 article about it.

-1a1da1d4cb7648d4

Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, OR, is host to a jeans factory . The business is called Prison Blues.

PP: How does news photography play a role? If prisons are de facto mental health institutions and incapacitate a lot of addicts then maybe prisons aren’t the best place for those groups? Does news photography serve to inform citizens about that?

BN: Not anywhere near enough. I don’t think journalism is doing enough. Journalism can apply pressure in high places and accomplish all kinds of things. But, I see so much documentary photography. It would be much more interesting to me to hear stories from their own mouths and see stories made by prisoners’ own hands; stories not filtered by photojournalists. It’d be more powerful. What do you think?

PP: You’ve got me at a moment right now I’m harboring strategic reservations toward documentary. I’m consciously looking elsewhere so I’m sympathetic to your point. Maybe once I’ve interrogated those other genres or forms or methodologies, then I’ll swing back the other way? If a photographer is invited into a prison, it’s not like they’re doing an exposé. They’ve been invited so with that is a valid argument that they’re an extension of the prison’s power. Well then, for us, it’s incumbent to look elsewhere.

PP: I think it’s the case that photography is not the medium that prison programs use for prisoners to tell their own stories. They use art, painting, creative writing and in some cases they use voice and audio recordings. But photography causes all sorts of problems. A camera is a security threat.

PP: Why do you think journalism isn’t doing enough?

BN: One: It’s a resource thing. Two: These are complex issues that are harder to make a clear narrative out of.

When you look at any (crime) story in depth, often there’s no clear bad guy or clear good guy. There are complex histories, many characters. For journalists, those types of stories are doable and they’re more effective, but they require a lot more resources and higher skill.

What do people want from journalism? That question has got to play into this conversation. In the news, stories about the public school district, whether the streets are being fixed, will likely interest more people.

-4b707c5cdb97b2d3

Inside Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution.

-9b198f5d5c44fbea

Vance Lee Moody, left, John William Belcher and William Harley Dugger participate in group programs held for inmates at Columbia River Correctional Institution in North Portland on Sept. 11, 2014.

-c8671cf777398d6c

A prisoner looks over a workbook during a group session on Sept. 11, 2014, at Columbia River Correctional Institution in North Portland. Prisoners attend cognitive restructuring group programs while incarcerated at the facility.

BN: Stories about people locked up for crimes, whatever the reason and however complicated and however frayed the threads are that got them there, people may just be closed off or uninterested. We can be very emotional and very dogmatic, too. How do you break through the “lock them up and throw away the key” attitude?

PP: For me some of the most interesting photojournalist bodies of work have been when there’s been tension between the rank-and-file and the administration or between the administration and the politicians.

BN: Right.

PP: When there is an internal power play and political battle staff of administrations can think, “If we bring press in here then we’ll stoke up some public opinion and force our position.”

BN: If journalists get that window and seize it, they can certainly get a little more done. I mean I’ve been in prisons where your every move is watched and it’s almost impossible.

I love documentary photography, but it doesn’t feel personal to me enough when I think of prisoners I’ve known. I think the narrative is too complex for the typical news photography frame. I don’t know if photography in that mode even hints at who those prisoners really are. I guess I have a preference for other forms or approaches sometimes. I say that with all due respect.

PP: I agree with you. A lot of the time news photography is an illustration (often a silhouette) of Patrick or any prisoner as that body out in the prison uniform, out in the yard. Perhaps with a receding chain link fence.

BN: Years ago when I worked with that same little Massachusetts paper there was news of a person from that area who was shot and killed in a drug-related shootout in Dallas, Texas and his name was Tommy Tito.  I knew Tommy growing up. He ended up in Dallas. “He got out!” was my first reaction. But he got killed in a drug deal gone bad. It was terrible but it didn’t shock me. Reporters searched out Tommy in a yearbook. That’s what they reduced the visuals of his story to. I kissed him under the boardwalk and we held hands. Did I tell my colleagues? No. What I brought to Tommy’s story was as limited as what they were bringing.

PP: Facts not stories?

BN: Most of news is just quick and dirty. Experiencing things from the other side you see how narrow and incomplete news can be. A quick pass. Does that fulfill the function of the higher calling of journalism? Not even close. And I’m as guilty as anybody, or even more so.

BN: I cover people with way more issues than I ever had. I’m no sob story. I go into communities and bring it on a professional level. It’s entirely possible they feel something more coming from me, on a purely energetic level, but I don’t tell them my story. I am basically a bartender. I listen to them and I am witness to them.”

PP: Don’t believe your own bullshit. Stay honest. Maintain relationships with your subjects and it will keep you honest. Be open to being changed yourself.

BN: Definitely.

PP: Don’t presume you hover above society so you can frame it, you’re in it.

BN: I’m deep in it. My mother was a single mom, a waitress, and a high school dropout. So I go into situations where I probably have a little more understanding. It’s important to have people in journalism, in whatever form they practice, who get that and I worry that increasingly that will just not be the case. I mean if you can afford to practice journalism, if you have the right pedigree, if you code, which is largely a male pursuit, then you’re already separated by class. The days of the copy boy going up the ranks are long gone.

PP: When you accepted my invitation to talk you said out conversation might be “instructive.’ What did you mean?

BN: I guess it would be good for people in my life, in my work life and colleagues to know a little bit more about me, to close the gap a little. A lot of people ask how I get access or how I’m able to talk to people. The truth is, on some level, I guess I do show myself. But I’m not really comfortable with emerging like this; it feels really uncomfortable. But also it feels right.

PP: You don’t see the necessity for journalists to always don the objective cap.

BN: Well, I feel like I have a right to my own story. It’s mine and I own it. And I want to honor the people that loved me and deserve to be known. That’s what I try to do in the better journalism I make. I try to just see people, and by working in a mainstream publication I can somehow legitimize them or help them to feel heard. It’s a really important function of the media and I think maybe I’ve gone a little further to bring that to my subjects and to the readers.

-61dea1557bca304a

Rose City Graphics, located inside Columbia River Correctional Institution in North Portland. Prisoners are able to learn photoshop and several other skills while incarcerated in the facility.

-34f681682761b0a6

The recreation yard at the Columbia River Correctional Institution in North Portland.

PP: Can I ask how your brother’s doing?

BN: I’ve gone to visit my brother in jail not even knowing what he was in there for! If the average person in journalism encountered me in line waiting to see a sibling and I said,” I don’t know what he’s in for,” they’d think I was out of my mind. Red flag! But when you’re slogging in it and it’s just one thing after another, a million small things and there’s a lot of alcohol and drugs involved and, bottom line, what does it matter what he’s in for? Does he have a court date? Really I’m here for my mother, on and on.

We were out of touch for long periods. I found something online stating in 2008 he was arrested for attacking a person — someone over 60 years old — with a 3-foot metal pipe. He was held for bail and it was the little arrest notice in the paper I found.

He was an amazing guy in his earlier years — very handsome, very smart, an excellent football player — scouted by the New England Patriots, actually. He was heroic to me. He was my older brother. My mother had children from different situations. He was my oldest brother from a marriage my mother had before my father. He became a vicious alcoholic, which devolved into using whatever he could get his hands on. At this point though, he’s almost mythologized. It’s just tragic.

-7aea92db05c98d2e

George Dee Moon, an inmate at the Columbia River Correctional Institution in North Portland, takes in the sunlight after getting his hair braided by fellow inmate Edward Martin in the recreation yard.

-e74eb5fb1f169b0e

Snake River Correctional Institution houses a hospice program inside the infirmary, shown here. The concrete walls were painted over by inmates and feature scenic landscapes.

PP: Anything else you’d like to add?

BN: Yes, I just recalled a moment I witnessed recently, an incredible scene, pregnant with emotion, and it said a lot about our inability to communicate such unique experiences to readers. You, know, really crucial and telling moments that hit you hard and say everything so instantly, poignantly.

PP: Better than any words or pictures?

BN: I witnessed an intake of a young woman in Polk County. I was on a ride a long with the police and they delivered a suspect to the jail after a multi-vehicle car chase, so I was there at the jail with the officers when they took the guy to jail. A female sheriff’s deputy sits behind the counter. The young girl approaches the counter. She’s waif-like. 18 or 19 years old.

I’m in with the sheriff’s deputies behind the counter and the woman, the female sheriff’s deputy, is asking her the mandatory series of questions. The answers, the voices, the tap of the keyboard recording the information, which is incredibly personal, but it’s a routine deputies go through everyday and it quickly becomes like a drone, dulled.

“Do you have any illnesses?”

“Well I’m pregnant.”

“Are you on medication,” asked the deputy. To which the girl made no eye contact.

“Are you taking any medications?”

“No I do not. I’m on pre-natal vitamins.”

“Do you have any mental illness, any diagnoses we need to know about?”

“No, but, well, my mother just died so I’m sad about that.”

It was just this incredible encounter that was so alive and yet so dulled in that context. I’m looking at the girl as it’s unfolding before me and I feel a little bit like I’m violating her, you know? I’m behind that counter and she’s spilling. I turned around; it was the least I could do to give her some semblance of privacy where there is none.

But then! When I turn around there’s a screen tiled with nine smaller squares running images from cameras inside those cells.

The sensory experience becomes the voice of this fragile waif-like girl and her tragic details prompted by the drone of the female deputy. The visual is nine miniature feeds of male prisoners. One guy is pent up in his cell, pacing like a zoo animal. I think there was meth involved. Mental illness covered with meth, covered with some public act of something that landed him in there for something. Next to him on the screen is the guy they just threw in there who’s sitting on the toilet with two fingers up his asshole trying to get his drugs up out of there. The sheriff’s deputies could care less because they’ve got him; he’s gone for ten to fifteen. Let him flush his drugs.

It was a collage of the most dramatic acts playing to the audio of this young pregnant 19 year-old girl’s story. I’d have loved nothing more than to just press record on those screens and get that audio. That’s how I experienced it and it’s not a single picture. And words don’t come close to describing the experience as it unfolded.

There’s so much happening in the low hum of those little rooms. Below the surface, behind those walls, it’s so very dramatic. But photography remains at the surface.

PP: I wonder what happened to her?

BN: After the questions, she went for her booking photograph. Last I saw, she was posing for the picture, a faint smile on her face.

PP: Thanks Beth.

BN: Thank you, Pete

-6e6d131564edc142

A prisoner sleeps during the day inside the minimum security section of Two Rivers Correctional Institution, June 1, 2014.

pt.court2640.jpg

Old jail cells are no longer operable inside the 103-year-old Multnomah County Courthouse, which is in need of upgrades. Portland, Oregon, Oct 9, 2012

BIOGRAPHY AND SOCIAL MEDIAS

Beth Nakamura is an Emmy nominated visual journalist and writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been recognized by POYi, Society of Professional Journalists, National Press Photographers Association, National Black Journalists Association, and many others.

Follow Beth’s blog, and keep up with her Instagram and Twitter.

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

Prison Photography Archives

Post Categories