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Found photo of an unknown prison cell.

Last week, I was interviewed twice  – firstly, for DVAFOTO and secondly, for HERE BE MONSTERS – about Prison Photography On The Road and my activities since.

The DVAFOTO interview opens with my account of my arrest and 9 hours in jail in late 2011. The HBM podcast is about a workshop I delivered in Sing Sing State Prison, New York.

It may be ironic that I’d get locked-up during a research trip that is questioning incarceration, but it’s not funny and it’s no badge of honour. My actions were foolhardy and the police officer’s actions were over-zealous.

I’ve been thinking beyond what I think about the experience (It was stupid, bureaucratic and inconvenient), and more about how I think of the experience (What insight did I gain? What interactions did I have? Who did I meet?)

Inside the release-tank were about 15 men. They were there for different reasons. One young man faced a significant bail amount for a significant possession offense while another was brought in for cycling drunk in the wrong direction of the cycle path on a quiet road. Some men were in for DUI’s and in some cases not their first DUI. Two or three slept through the hours. Others were quiet and some told stories. The younger ones were more talkative and boastful. Several tried using the phone but only one succeeded. When they found out I was in for peeing on a tree and not answering questions they thought it was lame. Lame offense, lame arrest.

A tray of peanut butter sandwiches was brought in, but not enough. Some jumped on them, others weren’t interested. I think one person got two sandwiches.

Of the men with DUIs, I had little sympathy. They didn’t seem to acknowledge that their actions were potentially lethal. For a couple of them, cash-fines, points on their licenses and driving bans didn’t seem to be much deterrent.

A few men seemed contrite. Others seemed beaten down with either addiction or repeated arrogance.

I had huge sympathy for the drunk cyclist. Maybe in this fifties. Grey hair. He thought he was getting out until the administration realised he was a parolee. The bike-ride proved a violation and he was to be automatically rearrested and jailed for a fixed term. He had a job and children. Because of a night of excess, he was to lose those things again. Sure, his behaviour could have been better, but I think the authority’s response was of excess.

I didn’t ask what they did and they didn’t ask me. It was a small space. It was very dirty but not quite filthy. We only moved our place when others left and they did so in groups of 3 and 4 throughout the hours.

Part of me wishes I’d taken the opportunity to ask some questions, tap some opinions (I may have met a great conversationalist who’d improve my thinking as much as I hoped I might improve his). The other part of me knows only an intrusive nerd would be ask out-of-the-blue questions about personal circumstance and attitudes; especially in a temporarily-occupied cell at an unpredictable time.

No clocks.

Two weeks later: No court appearance. No charges brought.

Why is this relevant? The arrest and dismissal of charges — actually, the incomplete documentation of the arrest and dismissal — almost jeopardised my visit to Sing Sing to carry out a workshop with attentive, challenging, respectful and curious students of the education program there.

An arrest will always feature on a record, whether or not a conviction is brought, so-told me a law enforcement employee over the phone. New York Dept. Of Corrections which administers Sing Sing knew I’d been arrested but the information ceased there. I had to scramble for paperwork (that had not been given to me) to prove I had no criminal record. I wonder how much inefficiency and potential mistakes contribute to unfair and/or heightened levels of control. Frustration must be infinite in the prison industrial complex.

All in all, I’m glad I was able to teach and learn in Sing Sing and doubly happy that Jeff Emtman was able to craft a fine podcast splicing together audio of prisoners speaking, myself speaking, music and sound. Jeff conceived of the podcast titled The Other One Percent, to broadly challenge listeners to think about prisons and solutions.

The class, as a whole, discussed many images but specifically in the HBM audio, Robert Rose, Dennis Martinez, Deshawn Smalls and Jermaine Archer talk about these six images.

The first image mentioned is the one below by Brian Moss …


“Fear, I think people would think fear,” says Sing Sing prisoner, Robert Rose. “They can’t see what goes on in here, just as we can’t see much of what goes on out there.”

… then the three below by Alyse Emdur



“Something needs to be said about the families who also do time. They are part of the narrative of mass incarceration, but they’re not talked about. They end up carrying the burden,” says Deshawn Smalls, Sing Sing prisoner.


… and finally, the two images below by Richard Ross of juvenile facilities.


Sing Sing prisoner, Jeremy says, “You may have a man who refused [to adhere to regulations] and this is him in this picture. You probably won’t see the man at first, but he is there.”


HERE BE MONSTERS (HBM) is a podcast audio series about fear and the unknown, by Jeff Emtman, a 2012 Soundcloud Community Fellow.

HBM has previously covered Juggalo culture; placenta medicine; train-hopping; the disillusion and resignation of a favored NPR correspondent; a children’s book about a hallucinogenic trip; and the mind-made images created by the human brain when the body and the eyes experience total darkness – a condition known as ‘Prisoners Cinema.’

I like what Jeff is doing. I’m happy to share my experiences with him.

If you’re still interested in what I’m up to, I cover my immediate plans in the DVAFOTO interview. We also talk about what bloggers can do and do do.


The Other One Percent (Here Be Monsters podcast)

Interview: Pete Brook On The Road (DVAFOTO)



A quick note to say that I have taken down the PPOTR audio files of interviews with photographers I met during Prison Photography On The Road from the designated Podbean page and mirrored iTunes account.

The extensive time required to audio-edit and publish the interviews is just not something I currently have. I did not want to pay for monthly hosting any longer in the knowledge I wouldn’t be publishing them at any point in the next six or seven months.

But, do not fear! As you know, the interviews are the key component of the upcoming Prison Photography photobook. I have the best intern in the world transcribing all the interviews and the publisher Silas Finch and I have plans for a digital edition of the book which will include all the interviews in full – both audio and transcripts. I also hope desperately, that in the future I’ll be able to host the PPOTR project in full on a dedicated website.

I thank all those who responded positively to the 16 interviews I published in the past year. I hope you understand and will be patient enough to wait for all 65 interviews to be given the full treatment. All in good time.


I recently sent out the last of the goodies to the Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR) funders. The packages included the PPOTR Mixtape (actually a CD) and I wanted to share its content with the wider world too.

On the road, I went through hundreds of CDs while driving those 12,500 miles, but I kept coming back to a compilation of soul put together – shortly before my departure – by my good friend Brendan Seibel. He used to work at Amoeba Records and in the realm of music, has forgotten more than I will ever know. Thank you Brendan.


Track 1

Lette Mbulu – Kube

Track 2

Jean Wells – Have a Little Mercy

Track 3

Fabulous Denos – Bad Girl

Track 4

Betty James – I’m Not Mixed Up Anymore

No Youtube clip for this one, but some background here and MPS here.

Track 5

Johnny Watson – I Say, I Love You

Track 6

Lee Shot Williams – You’re Welcome to the Club

Track 7

Apagya Show Band – Kwaku Ananse

Track 8

The Psychedelic Aliens – We’re Laughing

Track 9

Horace Andy – Skylarking

Track 10

Jennifer Lara – Consider Me

Track 11

Angela Prince – No Bother With No Fuss

Track 12

Burning Spear – Fire Down Below

Track 13

John Holt – Strange Things

Track 14

Charlotte Dada – Don’t Let Me Down

Track 15

Rosemary – Not Much (Do You Baby)

Track 16

Albert King – Had You Told It Like It Was (I Wouldn’t Be Like It Is)

Track 17

Johnny Knight – Little Ann

No Youtube or MPS for Little Ann, so Knight’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Guitar acts as substitute.

Track 18

Freddy King – Now I’ve Got A Woman

Track 19

Sinner Strong – Don’t Knock It

Track 20

Little Willie John – I’m Shakin’

Track 21

Sam & Bill – I Feel Like Cryin’

Track 22

Marion Black – Who Knows

Track 23

Ken Boothe & Stranger Cole – Arte Bella

Track 24

Freddie McGregor – Bobby Bobylon

Track 25

Jerry Jones – There’s a Chance for Me

Track 26

Mahmoud Ahmed – Gizié Dègu Nègèr

Listen here.

Track 27

Oscar Sulley & The Uhuru Dance Band – Bukom Mashie

In 2008, Tim Gruber embedded at the Kentucky State Reformatory to photograph in the geriatric wing designated for elderly and terminally ill patients. The result is Served Out, a photography and multimedia project. Here, I featured six images included in the PPOTR/Cruel and Unusual exhibition, but you should check out Tim and Jenn’s website for more stellar images.

Both Tim and his wife Jenn Ackerman worked in KSR the same summer. Tim is unequivocal: their access was down to then-Warden Larry Chandler’s good grace and good sense. Chandler wanted people to see how their tax dollars were spent and understood photography as part of the transparency he insisted on for the institution. KSR even gave weekly tours of its facilities.

Tim and Jenn, after brief training, were given staff-badges and were free to go about their work in the prison. They moved down to La Grange, KY for the summer to make the project and it wasn’t easy; Tim blogged some of the challenges (one, two, three, four, five.)

When we spoke last October, Gruber was in discussion with the ACLU. Last month, his images were used to illustrate the ACLU’s latest report ‘At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly‘ (Tim’s announcement.)

Of course, the common knowledge of the problems of incarcerating the elderly shaped our discussion. From the ACLU report:

Over the last 25 years, state corrections spending grew by 674%, substantially outpacing the growth of other government spending, and becoming the fourth-largest category of state spending. […] It costs $34,135 per year to house an average prisoner, but it costs $68,270 per year to house a prisoner age 50 and older. to put that number into context, the average American household makes about $40,000 a year in income.

In 1981, there were 8,853 state and federal prisoners age 55 and older. today, that number stands at 124,900, and experts project that by 2030 this number will be over 400,000, amounting to over one-third of prisoners in the United states. in other words, the elderly prison population is expected to increase by 4,400% over this fifty-year time span. this astronomical projection does not even include prisoners ages 50-54, for which data over time is harder to access.

The U.S. keeps elderly men and women locked up despite an abundance of evidence demonstrating that recidivism drops dramatically with age. For example, in new York, only 7% of prisoners released from prison at ages 50-64 returned to prison for new convictions within three years. that number drops to 4% for prisoners age 65 and older.

But, also, Tim and I talked about the emotions and first-hand experiences statistics don’t capture – the need for alternative imagery of prisoners and their humanity; what it was like to work on the wings, sit with the men and witness death (“Tears would overwhelm me”); compassionate release, prisoner-volunteer medical assistants and how Tim’s imagery may effect change.


Nigel Poor (left) and Doug Dertinger (right).

The intersection of photography and prisons doesn’t always manifest as a photographer pointing his or her lens at incarcerated people.

Photography – or more specifically the discussion of it and associated issues – can enter relationships, education, exchange. Both the practice and theory of photography can be taught and learned within prisons.

Last September, Nigel Poor, Associate Professor of Photography at California State University, Sacramento contacted me to tell me about her volunteer role teaching the History of Photography at San Quentin State Prison. I was blown away. Never before had I come across a photo history class taught behind bars. Immediately, I made arrangements to meet Nigel and her co-teacher and fellow CSUS professor Doug Dertinger.

As faculty, Poor and Dertinger adapted their existing CSUS syllabus, covering photography from 1970 to the present. However, the California Department of Corrections understandably wanted veto power over slides presented during the course.

Depictions of drugs, violence, sex, children, nudity are problematic for prison administrations … “Which is about 95% of photography,” points out Poor.

Poor and Dertinger were helped out by the experience of Jody Lewen, director of the Prison University Project at San Quentin. Lewen is insistent that PUP teachers do not self-censor, but respectfully present their preferred teaching material and allow the burden – and justification – for any censorship to fall upon the prison administration.

The interaction, therefore, was unorthodox but successful: Poor presented her entire 12 week course to Scott Kernan, Under Secretary to the CDCr (now retired) and to Mike Martel, the then Warden at San Quentin … in two hours!

Of the entire course, only four images were deemed unsuitable, a surprising but pleasing result that Poor describes as “a triumph.”

With Poor focusing on portraits and Dertinger focusing on land use and media, they quickly schooled their students in line, formal composition and leapt from there into sophisticated readings of images.

“I told them the photograph is like a crime scene,” says Poor, “and it is ours from which to draw evidence.”

Poor and Dertinger talk about what a life-affirming experience teaching inside proved to be; about how the men in San Quentin were the “most present students” they’ve ever taught; how invigorating it is to have a passion that isn’t only about oneself; and about the responsibility to educate people in free society about the potential of incarcerated people, a “veiled population.”

“They were ready to travel,” says Dertinger of the students’ willingness to unleash their own emotions and imagination upon photographs read.

Interestingly, the idea that the photograph was not – is not – a reflection of truth was disconcerting for the many of the students. Obviously, the reliability, or not, of narrative and testimony may have had a more profound effect on the reality of their lives as compared to others not subject to the criminal justice system. If you can’t use the language of truth and reality when discussing photography (popularly considered to be objective), then can you use those concepts when discussing your own life?

We end the conversation on a high note: One of the students wrote a comparative analysis of Richard Misrach’s Drive-In Theatre, Las Vegas and one of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theatres. He wrote a 9-page essay during a four-week solitary confinement stint. He concluded Misrach’s work is about space; Sugimoto’s about time.

So impressed were Poor and Dertinger they got the essay into Misrach’s hands … and he read the essay to an audience of 2,500 at the November Pop-Up Magazine Event in San Francisco.


© Richard Misrach. Drive-In Theatre, Las Vegas, 1987
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

Execution Chamber, Walls Unit, Huntsville (1994), from Texas Death Row @Ken Light

In early October, Ken Light and I sat down to discuss his project and book Texas Death Row (University Press of Mississippi, 1997).

Light was invited to photograph that dark hole of the Lonestar State by Suzanne Donovan, then the Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas. “I said ‘yes’, knowing it would never happen!” Ken was proven wrong when Donovan’s groundwork and contacts sealed access – Light to the cell tiers and Donovan to the visiting room for interviews.

Texas’ death row is no longer located at the Ellis Unit, which murdered people since 1965. In 1999, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) moved death row to the Polunsky Unit, West Livingston, TX.

Light describes the body of work, which consists of 13,000 images, as a historical document. The archive maintains it’s relevance proven recently by the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, of whom Light had “seven or eight photographs.” Light provided an image to the New Yorker for the article Trial By Fire, which explained how bunk arson forensics led to the execution of an innocent man.

Light estimates that between 55 and 65 of the men he photographed have since been executed. He felt a responsibility to inform with his camera. His aim was “to humanise the prisoners; to put a human face on the [death penalty] issue,” says Light “The public face of a death row inmate is the mugshot. When they go to appeal, it’s their mugshot; in the news, their mugshot; and when they’re executed, it’s their mugshot. We wanted to know who these men were. How can you have a discussion about the death penalty when you pathologise these men?”

This issue of invisibility, for Light, extends to prison culture in the U.S. as a whole.

“If the public knew about it and understood it then maybe the culture would change. Maybe we’d invest more in education and in rehabilitation. When it’s out of sight, it is out of mind. If you say someone is going to prison, it doesn’t really mean anything,” says Light.

Even so, Light recognises the limitations of the environment, “The prisoners are going to let you see what they are going to let you see.”

Ken and I talk about his liaison with the TDCJ and then Executive Director Wayne Scott (who now has a prison facility named after him); we talk about the power he asserted on assignment with both inmates and guards; the reactions of staff toward his activity; and his “surreal” meeting with Kerry Cook following Cook’s exoneration after 22 years of wrongful imprisonment. Cook is now a campaigner against capital punishment and prison rape.


Prisoner with mirror (1994), from Texas Death Row © Ken Light

Weight-lifter with makeshift barbells, H-20 wing, work-capable cellblock (1994), from Texas Death Row © Ken Light

Death row inmates in Texas’s Ellis I Unit, with Perry Mason on the TV (1994), from Texas Death Row @ Ken Light

Cameron Todd Willingham on his bunk, in the work-capable cellblock (1994), from Texas Death Row © Ken Light

Inmates playing chess on handmade board, in the administration segregation cellblock (1994), from Texas Death Row. @ Ken Light

Martin Draughon greeting his mother through glass in the visiting room (1994), from Texas Death Row. © Ken Light

Strip Search in the “Shakedown Room” of the visiting area (1994), from Texas Death Row. © Ken Light

Night view of H-Wing cellblock (1994), from Texas Death Row © Ken Light

Bobby West with his cub-scout photograph (1994), from Texas Death Row © Ken Light

– – – – – – – – – –

Valley of Shadow and Dreams (2012)

Ken and his wife Melanie have just released Valley of Shadow of Dreams. The book is a photography and literary exploration of California’s Central Valley in the 21st century. Melanie and Ken look at life before, during and after the economic crash and touch upon overlapping issues: the oppression of immigrant workers, agribusiness’ effect upon communities and the environment, unemployment, families, economic volatility and home foreclosures.


For the upcoming Cruel and Unusual exhibition, Hester Keijser and I opted for a newsprint catalogue. We did this for several reasons.

Firstly, the message behind the exhibition is one that calls for political thought and hopefully political change. Shifts in attitudes come about through public education; it made sense to distribute information as far and wide as was possible. Not everyone can afford a photobook/catalogue, but 4,000 free copies of a newspaper nullifies the issue. Some might call the newspaper medium democratic, but I just call the solution common sense.

Secondly, we had a lot of photographers to feature. 32 pages of a tabloid-sized newspaper is a sizable amount of column inches with which to fairly deal with the many issues in the photographers’ works.

And third, Hester and I wanted to bring attention to the fact that [photo]bloggers continue to shape, react to, and distort new media economies. As we say in our curatorial statement:

Cruel and Unusual looks at the utility of freelance online publishing. As bloggers with academic backgrounds, we happily invest time and intellectual capital in our research and writing. Our blogs and those of colleagues have become resources – almost contemporary libraries – that others utilize and perhaps even capitalise upon. For a host of reasons, printed journalism is in decline. Simultaneously, bloggers refine their messages unhindered. Related, but not necessarily causal, we want to acknowledge these two trends and the disruption at hand.”

We aren’t particularly worried about not knowing what the future holds, because for now we are propelled by opportunities to create things in the present.


Most people are probably aware of Alec Soth’s Last Days of W. President Bush was a constant source of partisan news stories, and Op-Ed’s on Bush were divided and divisive. Given that Bush was a leader who orbited world events without necessarily controlling them and given that he was a Commander-in-Chief whose war cabinet tried to warp media to its own message, Soth’s use of a newspaper is ironic and appropriate. Jeff Ladd noted that Soth’s subjects look worn out and exhausted as if reflecting the American psyche after eight years of Bush. A newspaper will soon yellow and show aging – perhaps Soth hoped his newspaper would be short lived like the memory of Bush and the reparations required following his presidency?

Recently, Harry Hardie at HERE has collaborated on two newsprint photo publications.

CAIRO DIVIDED (32 pages) sequences the photos of Jason Larkin with an authoritative essay (in both English and Arabic) by Jack Shenker about suburbanization around Egypt’s capital. Since January 25th of 2011, Egypt has not been out the news, and yet this project is not about revolution. It is however about poverty, wealth and class stratification and as such provides a good context for the revolution in Egypt. Excellent design with eye-opening photographs. Highly recommended. More info here.

Guy Martin’s The Missing is borne of a collaboration between Panos Pictures, HERE and Martin’s alma mater The University of Falmouth. Each of its 48 pages has a large image of a missing poster photographed by Guy Martin. The posters “adorned the walls of the courthouse and justice rooms on Benghazi’s seafront.” Martin estimates that in Libya, 30,000 men are missing after the 8 month conflict. As such, the quasi-legal vernacular documents he re-photographed in-situ were the making of “communal place of memory and mourning.” The newspaper acts as a bulletin existing somewhere between the makeshift and the permanent; between memory and knowing; and – as with those pictured – in ambiguous flux with time. More info here.

Shifting gears, Portrait Salon 11 is not about political events. It is, however, a political stand against institutional exclusion. In the tradition of the 1863 French Salon des Refuses, the London-based Portrait Salon is a curated showcase of photographs that were submitted but not selected for the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. The use of a newspaper is a mischievous challenge to the immobility of a gallery exhibition that chose 60 works from 6,000 submissions; the newspaper can move cheaply and in large quantities beyond gallery walls. Furthermore, the accompanying Portrait Salon exhibition projected portraits in order to include more photography and not be limited by physical space. The exhibition and newspaper were organised by Miranda Gavin, Wayne Ford and others. For purchase.

I’ve highlighted these projects and in each case tried to justify why the choice of newsprint was appropriate and theoretically consistent. I believe that the Cruel and Unusual newspaper is those things too.


A non-printable, non-downloadable, non-alterable screen-preview version is available online.

Starting February 18, the newspaper is also available for free in the Noorderlicht Photogallery and for sale in the webshop.

The exhibition is split into two sections: 1, a traditional presentation of 11 photographers, and 2, a heady mayhemic wall of work-prints, background material contact sheets from Prison Photography on the Road (PPOTR).

Similarly, the newspaper is divided into two sections. A 20 page PPOTR pullout is enveloped in 12 pages of descriptions of the photographers in the main part of the exhibition.

Below are the opening page and the back page of the PPOTR pullout. The portrait on the opening page was made by Tim Matsui who documented my workshop at Sing Sing Prison.

The back page is a list of 32 of our favourite international photography blogs with QR codes linking to their websites. This was our cheeky riff on the classifieds section of newspapers!

And below are two pairings of PDF pages and Hester’s photographs of the actual printed object. The paper is really beautiful … so Hester tells me; I’ve not held one yet! I would like to thank the designer Pierre Derks who worked with Hester and I. He has expertise, patience and put in some hard graft.

“What’s done we partly may compute, But know not what’s resisted.”

Robert Burns, Address to Unco Guild

I recently benefitted to the tune of $11,215 (less the 8.5% taken by Kickstarter and Amazon) to do Prison Photography on the Road. It was one of the most exhilarating and productive experiences of both my life and work.

Since completing the road-trip, I have postponed the publication of the remaining PPOTR audio and the delivery of incentives to funders. This is due to the time required preparing for Cruel and Unusual, an exhibition that I consider an extension of the PPOTR mission.

I let funders know about this delay, but I am still a little uneasy.

This week, I spotted a couple of pieces published about crowdfunding.

Matt Haughey wrote Lessons for Kickstarter creators from the worst project I ever funded on Kickstarter.

The lesson here isn’t necessarily avoiding the mistakes Matt details because the mistakes were specific to the particular project. Rather, know that if you promise something on the internet to potential funders, you had best be able to deliver. Success AND FAILURES will be shared as widely as you originally cast the net for funding.

Matt’s piece was about process and about communication. Joerg Colberg’s article Crowdfunding is Not a Cash Cow is a bit about communication, but more precisely about relationships based upon transaction. Joerg:

“Artists need those relationships. In the past, these kinds of relationships were usually established with wealthy collectors only. Now, crowdfunding offers the chance to establish them with a much larger, much more diverse, much more democratic group of people.”

Joerg urges creators/artists to think of funders as patrons and not “cash cows”, that is that they might come back a second time if they feel you were straight, delivered on your promises and valued the relationship.

That’s pretty much been my position throughout PPOTR; not necessarily that people would come back a second time to give me more money, but that they’d come back a second time to have a conversation.

For people involved in such activities, making art or photographs or writing forms the basis of how people measure ones integrity. All of that is put to one side when you meet someone in person. Their measures of your integrity are now based on how you introduce yourself, how you engage them and how much you value the interaction. Appealing for crowdfunding is like introducing yourself to the world and winning funding is beginning a friendship.

I’ve been asked a lot about advice on how to mount a successful Kickstarter and up until now I’ve felt uncomfortable giving tips on the nuts and bolts of a campaign. That’s because crowdfunding is much more than that; crowdfunding is personal, it’s gut- instinct, it’s sometimes spontaneous and it’s about friendship and respect.

So, these are not the rules per se for crowdfunding. This is the etiquette of crowdfunding. Which, for me, are one and the same.

1. Make a blooming good video.

This is your elevator pitch. 30 seconds. Probably 2 or 3 minutes. Maybe 5.

Without a good pitch few other things can happen.

Anticipate the widest audience; explaining your project to people who’ve never heard of you and simultaneously to your longtime friends is tricky. Be clear and passionate. Let potential funders know why you’ve the skills to carry through the project better than anyone else. Not easy in just a couple of minutes.

2. Search out honest advice.


Seek advice from people in the know. For me, I contacted 20 other photobloggers and asked if they thought my plan was viable. They all said “yes” or “don’t know, but I’d be interested to see you try.” Without their support, I’d not have pitched PPOTR on Kickstarter.


Ask a trusted friend to tell you if your video pitch makes sense. You need to know if it represents your idea in the best possible way. I find it very difficult to establish distance from my work. Things I take as given are not familiar to everyone. People unfamiliar with your area of work need to be compelled enough by the pitch to buy in.


Ask for feedback as your project comes to a close. Hopefully your funders will be happy with your efforts and relationship. If so, pat yourself on the back. If they’re not, you will still benefit from their feedback and from the honest-note you close on.

3. Incentives should be personal, imaginative, exclusive and offer potential funders a wide array of funding levels.

Be creative, even funny. Try to be non-virtual. Snail mail still exists. I underestimated the simple postcard but PPOTR funders loved them! The same goes for hand made art and prints.

People could back PPOTR with any amount between $1 and $1,750. This range is not unusual and often goes higher.

4. Have a really strong set of existing networks.

Cold calls don’t work at the best of times, and here they’ll just be a thankless time sap.

5. Be prepared to promote the crap out of it.

For a full month, I promoted PPOTR like it was a part-time job. Answering calls, sending emails; requesting info; co-ordinating photographers involved; doing interviews; keeping people updated on progress.

6. Involve the community.

If you’re asking for community funding then involve the community.

Firstly, it’s much more fun. Obviously, some projects are more suitable than others for community involvement. It was much easier for me to involve folk because I proposed interviewing scores of photographers, I slept on people’s couches, and I relied on prison photographers to provide the high-end Kickstarter incentives.

Another advantage to this is that all those people you involve will promote your project in their networks.

7. Be realistic about the amount of time and energy it will take to deliver the incentives.

I totally underestimated the time it’d take to write a postcard to every single funder. While on the road, with a little help from friends, I managed to send 100. But I still have 60+ to do and I consider myself fortunate that I’m currently in exotic climes such as the UK and Holland from which to send unique cards. Better late than never.

8. Treat your funders like royalty.

Folk have said they kept up partly with PPOTR via Facebook and Twitter. But folk are not funders.

From the start, I was adamant that ONLY funders would have access to behind-the-scenes information. I published the most complete updates through the Kickstarter website. It was important to me that funders saw my road diary as written for them and them only.

It would have probably benefitted me and my visibility online (on which I rely for maintaining a reputation) if had I made my diary public on Prison Photography blog. BUT, to do so would not have directly benefitted the trip.

By providing exclusivity to funders, I was investing in a select number of relationships.

9. Only ever do one Kickstarter.

I’ve made this “rule”, mainly for myself, since finishing PPOTR.

Partly, because planning a project, designing the pitch, launching and promoting it, completing the work, maintaining relationships with your funders and then delivering on the final product(s) is A LOT of work.

Partly, also it’s about image. You don’t want to appear greedy or entitled. For me, going back for more would look a bit tacky. That’s a personal opinion – more of a feeling – and I wouldn’t be able to debate it at length.

Any thoughts and any questions don’t hesitate to raise in the comments.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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