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Dutch photographer Jan Banning is fascinated by what communism looks like today. In 2013, he set out to document the obscured activities of small Communist Party chapters in Italy, India, Nepal, Portugal and Russia.

“I’m interested in countries in which communism isn’t a dominating ideology and places I could assume that members do it out of conviction and not because they think it’s good for their career,” says Banning of the series, Red Utopia. “Many of the local party members I met, who are still plodding along, certainly have a place in my heart now — either because of their own sad fate or because of how they devote themselves to social justice, often unpaid, and in many practical ways offer help to ordinary people.”

I wrote about the work for Timeline. Read and see more: Photos: A look at communists and their humble party offices around the globe


RIGO 23 recently accompanied Robert H. King (formerly one of the Angola 3, now released), Emory Douglas (printer and legend of revolutionary graphic art) and Billy X Jennings (you HAVE to click that link!), three veterans of the Black Panther Party, on their recent trip to Porto and Lisbon in Portugal.

RIGO emailed:

“Here’s a little clip from the mural I painted at a housing complex south of the River Tejo in Lisbon to commemorate the visit to their community by Robert, Emory and Billy. Robert is a survivor of 29 1/2 years of solitary confinement; Emory Douglas was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party.”

I have mentioned RIGO’s art in support of US political prisoners before. His TRUTH mural in San Francisco marked Robert H. King’s 2001 quashed conviction. RIGO continues to advocate for Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, the remaining Angola 2.

He supports Mumia’s ongoing legal battles and RIGO also recently joined Michelle Vignes – a true matriarch of radical documentary photography – for an exhibition in solidarity with Leonard Peltier. (Details and review of the show at the Warehouse Gallery in Syracuse, NY. Closed Feb. 6th)

RIGO conceived of the space as an imaginary museum – The Tate Wikikuwa Museum: North America 2024. Tate Wikikuwa is Leonard Peltier’s Lakota name and 2024 is the year of his next parole hearing. It showcases arts & crafts by the Oglala Sioux and Peltier’s paintings, as well as documents, books, writings and educational material. Making use of Peltier’s colour choices, RIGO created a spiritually and politically charged space.

I would have loved to have seen Vignes’ prints of Peltier and the AIM Movement exhibited within the mood set by RIGO’s installation.

For such an important photographer of America’s West Coast counter cultures and radical movements, Vignes does not have a large web presence; there is a paucity of reviews and there are few images too. Next time I’m in the Bay Area, I will have to pay a visit to UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library which acquired her archives in 2003.

Look out for more about Michelle Vignes on Prison Photography in the future.

Photo Credits: All images David Broda

(Found via Just Seeds and Bob Gumpert)




Friend of Prison Photography, Emiliano Granado, likes football as much as he rocks at photography.

We pooled our knowledge to pair each country competing in South Africa with a photographer of the same nationality.


FRA France  – JR
MEX Mexico – Livia Corona
RSA South Africa – Mikhael Subotzky
URU Uruguay – Martín Batallés


ARG Argentina – Marcos Lopez
GRE Greece – George Georgiou (Born in London to Greek Cypriot parent)
KOR South Korea – Ye Rin Mok
NGA Nigeria – George Osodi


ALG Algeria – Christian Poveda
ENG England – Stephen Gill
SVN Slovenia – Klavdij Sluban (French of Slovenian origin … I know, I know, but you try to find a Slovenia born photographer!)
USA United States – Bruce Davison


AUS Australia – Stephen Dupont
GER Germany – August Sander
GHA Ghana – Philip Kwame Apagya
SRB Serbia – Boogie


CMR Cameroon – Barthélémy Toguo
DEN Denmark – Henrik Knudsen
JPN Japan – Araki
NED Netherlands – Rineke Dijkstra


ITA Italy – Massimo Vitali
NZL New Zealand – Robin Morrison
PAR Paraguay – ?????
SVK Slovakia – Martin Kollar


BRA Brazil – Sebastiao Selgado
CIV Ivory Coast – Ananias Leki Dago
PRK North Korea – Tomas van Houtryve (it was difficult to find a North Korean photographer)
POR Portugal – Joao Pina


CHI Chile – Sergio Larrain
HON Honduras – Daniel Handal
ESP Spain – Alberto García Alix
SUI Switzerland – Jules Spinatsch

Emiliano has been posting images from each of the photographers and doubled up on a few nations where the talent pool is teeming. You can see them all over on his Tumblr account, A PILE OF GEMS


* Don’t even begin arguing about who should represent the USA. It is a never-ending debate.

* I’ll be honest, finding photographers for the African nations was tricky, even for a web-search-dork like myself. But then we knew about the shortcomings of distribution and promotion within the industry, didn’t we?

* For Chile, we had to look to the past legend Larrain. I’ll be grateful if someone suggest a living practitioner.

* North Korean photographer, by name, anyone? We had to fall back on van Houtryve because he got inside the DPR.

* Rineke Dijkstra was one of approximately 4 thousand-trillion dutch photographers who are everywhere.

* Araki was the easy choice. Ill admit – I know next to nothing about Japanese photography (Marc, help?)

* I wanted a few more political photographers in there, while Emiliano goes for arty stuff. I think we found a nice balance overall.

* And, SERIOUSLY, name me a Paraguayan photographer! PLEASE.




I’d like to feature here two very separate projects. If you’ll allow me, I want to overview Matej Kren’s Book Cell and think of the book literally as a sculptural physical constraint. At the same time, I’d like to introduce Herman Spector’s program of bibliotherapy at San Quentin Prison and frame the book as a pedagogical tool for control.


For his 2006 installation of Book Cell at the CAMJAP in Prague, Matej Kren stated:

The Book Cell Project repeats the recurring procedure, in the work of this artist, of piling up thousands of books, creating an architectonic structure where we are invited to step inside.

The memory and knowledge accumulated in the books gathered, closed and inaccessible, diverse and precious will be potentially recovered in the end, when all of the books can return to their function of being read, but meanwhile they will have been worked on as sculpting matter and as the spirit of the place where the artist intends to hold us: an hexagonal enclosure with a passage defined by mirrors that assure the vertigo of a fall, the ad infinitum fragmentation, the panic of spatial disorientation characteristic of a virtual infinity.


The fact that these structures are made from the library/archive of the hosting institution makes me shudder. CAMJAP claims a pride in this making the structures site specific.

Prague is a great literary city and the absurdity of being confined by books would be appreciated by Kafka, and yet Krens offers us a way out that Kafka never would. He intends that books return to use and are reborn into cultural thought.

Kren’s literal use of bound knowledge in the fortification of space calls to mind other powerful (if less poetic) uses of books in controlling inmate populations. I’m thinking specifically of Herman Spector’s program of Bibliotherapy at San Quentin State Prison


From 1947 until 1968, Herman Spector was employed as senior librarian at San Quentin. He put in place a meticulous, long-term program offering 7-days-a-week library access and a choice from over 33,000 titles. By the end of his tenure he stated (not estimated, for he knew every book checked out) that 3,096,377 books had circulated through his system. His project drove up prisoner literacy and had inmates reading 98 books/year.

The project sounds nothing but positive and indeed it brought about much self improvement. But, remember this was a grand experiment with a captive audience and Spector had total control over the reading lists – and latterly, the outward correspondence and writing by San Quentin inmates. Spector employed censorship as readily as he conducted reading groups and assigned classic texts.


Five years ago I was fortunate to meet Eric Cummins, whose book The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement details Spector’s manipulations at San Quentin (Chapter Two: Bibliotherapy & Civil Death). It is the most thorough examination of that great experiment. Cummins writes:

Books, for Spector, were the “deathless weapons of progress” by which prisoners could be “paroled into the custody of their better selves … by feeding on hallowed thoughts.” And, “The hermitage of a small, dank cell,” Spector wrote, “if provided with books, can yield a rich harvest of sheer delight and practical values.“‘ (Page 26)

Though the prison’s official censor was the associate warden for care and treatment, the actual work fell to Spector. Except for mail, which was read in the cell blocks or the mail room, the senior librarian censored all writings by inmates that left the prison and decided what publications would be purchased for the library.‘ (Page 24)


Spector stated his own censorship policy as follows: “Those which emphasise morbid or antisocial attitudes, behaviour, or disrespect for religion or government or other undesirable materials are not purchased.” Like most other librarians of the treatment era, Spector gave little thought to the danger of political, class or cultural bias implicit in his prison censorship policies, and he wasted no time worrying that denying prisoners law books might be unfair or even unconstitutional. Books that gave inmates access to the law were to be confiscated at the gates. Books that criticised church or state were seditious.‘ (Pages 25/26)

It wasn’t only reading that was controlled and owned; writing too:

The reduced civil status of prisoners was reaffirmed in 1941 in a section of the penal code titled “Civil Death,” penal code 2600-2601. As a consequence of the Civil Death statute, the California Department of Corrections regarded all writing produced by state prisoners as state property, just as a chair or table made in the prison industries belonged to the state.‘ (Page 25)


Almost constantly throughout his tenure, Spector was at odds with the prison administration who were either unable to grasp, or unwilling to endorse, his aggressive methods of control. When Spector left his post over 25 years of meticulous notes and records were destroyed.

Bibliotherapy and censorship, as Cummin’s concludes, ‘separated prisoners from the power of their own words. Even so, the underlying assumptions of bibliotherapy would soon have a tremendous influence on the lives of certain of the brightest of San Quentin’s inmates, for they would take the notion of reform through reading and writin, the foundation of Herman Spector’s faith, as their own first principle … turning the notion of civil death on its head, reconnecting themsleves to the power of words previously denied them.‘ (Pages 31/32)


Spector’s project founded,at San Quentin, a tradition of literacy that would engender the works of Caryl Chessman, Eldridge Cleaver and the expanded political prison writing movement of the 1970’s. In some ways, the approaches of autodidactism and self determination of the Black Panthers began with the obsessive endeavours of the eccentric biblio-evangelist Herman Spector.


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