You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Prison Photography’ tag.

For all sorts of reasons, my life is a whirlwind right now.

With regard Prison Photography and what it all means, might mean, things are tabled for renegotiation. Rejigging.

The renegotiation is in thinking of more creative ways to share new content, but also leverage old content to make it available to interested parties.

A complete redesign of Prison Photography is on the cards; old interviews and criticism would resurface again. But overhaul is not scheduled within the next year. In the meantime, there exist novel means to share the archive of information on Prison Photography.

This week, I made the trip to Coventry University to guest lecture for the Picturing the Body (#PICBOD) course. Course leader Jonathan Worth is a lesson in enthusiasm. With the backing by Jonathan Shaw and the assistance of Matt Johnston along with a host of others within and beyond the photo deptartment’s walls, Jonathan Worth is creating something wholesome, giving and pioneering.

Worth and his collaborators are building a model for free, online photography curricular in criticism and practice for both BA and MA students; students in Coventry and across the globe.

My presentation ‘Tattoos, scars and tears, Robert Gumpert’s work in San Francisco jails’ (which you can listen to here) focused on Robert Gumpert‘s ever developing project ‘Take A Picture, Tell A Story‘. As an introduction and to provide context to Robert’s work, I summarised the work of photography within sites of incarceration throughout the history of the medium.

Following the lecture, Jonathan Worth suggested the introduction alone could constitute a lecture. I would venture farther and say it could warrant a full course in itself.

I’m writing a few syllabi presently and – in the spirit of #PICBOD – I realised I should be sharing my notes.

So, here they are … on a cachable page for perpetuity.


Before the golden age of photojournalism, the photographing of prisoners was used for purposes of identification, order and discipline. The two part mugshot (front view and profile view) was standardised by Alphonse Bertillion. Police departments adopting the system had in-house technicians and photographers but they are anonymous in history.

Remarkable archives by anonymous police photographers exist the world over, but two noteworthy collections are in New Orleans and Sydney.

American prisons fell on to the radar of professional and committed photojournalists in the sixties and seventies, more and more. Three Magnum photographers (Eve Arnold, Bruno Barbey, Danny Lyon) went to Texas. Arnold returned to the subject again and again. The Lone Star state had a punitive prison culture with reform commonly taking the form of hard labor on the chain gang; images echoed those of slavery in the South.

The “exotic” prison (Late 70s, 80s, USA):

Morrie Camhi’s photographs of California prisoners remain some of the most authentic portraits made within US prisons. Douglas Hall Kent, spent years and published at least two books on prison tattoos. Garry Winogrand stopped by Huntsville for the prison rodeo. The much lesser known Ethan Hoffman produced a book titled Concrete Mama about Walla Walla Penitentiary in Washington State. The brutality and tenderness of interactions between prisoners as depicted by Hoffman are surprisingly frank.

Pioneers in prison documentary photography/photojournalism (1980s and 90s in USA):

Cornell Capa (Attica, NY, USA); Taro Yamasaki (Michigan), Ken Light (Texas), James Nachtwey (Texas and other Southern states), Bruce Jackson (Arkansas), Alan Pogue (Texas).

Contemporary to the Americans (above) was the anomalous Jean Gaumy. In 1976, Gaumy was the first photographer allowed access to a French Prison.

Contemporary prison photography (1990s, 2000s):

Lori Waselchuk (Angola, Louisiana), Ara Oshagan (California juveniles), Victor Blue (California), Andrew Lichtenstein (multiple states).

Collaborative/rehabilitative projects (2000s):

Casey Orr (Leeds, England), Mohamed Bourouissa (Paris, France); Deborah Luster (Louisiana, USA), Klavdij Sluban (France and Eastern Europe), Mikhael Subotzky (South Africa), Steve Davis (Washington State, USA); Robert Gumpert (San Francisco, USA); Leah Tepper Byrne (USA)

Eastern European and Former USSR (Late 90s, 2000s):

Much of the photography from the former Soviet bloc is characterised by the grey abandonment of it all. Into the new millenium, younger photographers took less documentary approach with more nuanced fine art engagement with the inmates of Russia and its satellites. Examine the work of Christian Als (Latvia), Carl de Keyzer (Siberia), Yana Payusova (Russia), Sasha Maslov (Ukraine); Delmi Alvarez (Latvia) and Jane Evelyn Atwood.

Western Europe:

Generally, a more tactical use of technique and viewing from photographers such as Nico Bick (Netherlands), Juergen Chill (Germany), Matthieu Pernot (France and Spain), David Moore (London, UK) Danilo Murru (Sicily and Sardinia); Lizzie Sadin (Multiple countries); and Melania Comoretto (Italy).

Guantanamo (2002 – ):

Many photographers have addressed Guantanamo including Paolo Pellegrin, Brennan Linsley, Tim Dirven, Chris Maluszynski, Bruce Gilden, Louie Palu and Christopher Sims. Above all others, Edmund Clark has made the best contribution with emotive images from former detainees’ homes, letters of the detainees and an extremely engaging essay from Dr. Julian Stallabrass.

Political memory (20th and 21st centuries):

Donovan Wylie (Northern Ireland), Paula Luttringer (Argentina), Dana Mueller (US POW camps), Phillip Lohoefener  (East Berlin Stasi prisons) and Anna Schteynschleyger (Former USSR).

Archives of Atrocities:

Willhelm Brasse, known as the Photographer of Auschwitz during WWII; the photographers of Tuol Sleng in Cambodia during the Kymer Rouge regime (1975-1979); Victor Basterra, Naval Mechanics School (ESMA), Buenos Aires, Argentina during the Dirty War (1976-1983)


Chris Jordan‘s large digital composites that stack 2.3million prison uniforms upon six floor-to-ceiling cnavases approach the depressing scale of US incarceration. Featured in ‘Invisivle’ a summary of his first ten years or so probing military and state secrets, Trevor Paglen “stalked” previously clandestine extrajudicial prisons used in the global war on terror. Broomberg and Chanarin, on a tour of Afghanistan rolled-out sheets of photographic paper on days of historical importance, in one case a jail-break.

Africa (21st Century):

Without exception the photographs of African prisons focus n the deplorable conditions, the mistreatment of children and usually both. Julie Remy (Guinea), Fernando Moleres (Sierra Leone), Lynsey Addario (Uganda & Sierra Leone), Nathalie Mohadjer (Burundi), Joao Silva (Malawi).


Given the breadth of photogs’ motives and the different uses of these images it is foolhardy to think of prison photography as a genre. I have taken to calling it a ‘non-existent’ genre.

The website Prison Photography is an inquiry, primarily into the uses and abuses, creation, consumption and distriubtion of images within highly politicised institutions. The photograph is only the beginning.

Rendition. Photographer Unknown

Last week, Eliza Gregory at PhotoPhilanthropy got knee-deep in speculations about prison photography.

Eliza was spurred by NPR’s On the Media which “did a story about a series of images that the International Committee of the Red Cross made of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The ICRC made pictures of the prisoners to send to their families, and allowed each prisoner to choose which particular image would be sent. Naturally, the images the prisoners collaborated in making are very different from the images we’ve seen of them in the news.”

Eliza contacted me and asked me to leave some comments.

I rounded off my comments with a question I think is very important: Could an American photographer complete a project with the access, familiarity and story-telling-verve as Mikhael Subotzky did in South Africa for his project Die Vier Hoeke?

Not wanting to funnel my diatribe down just one web avenue, I copy my comments here …


I’d like to talk about two issues that you point to in your post. First, the general absence of prison imagery in contemporary media and secondly the urge to judge the subjects of the imagery that does crop up.

I doubt highly that Guantanamo would’ve been closed if more photographs had come out of there. While there is no question visuals out of Gitmo were controlled stringently, the MoD had proven itself impermeable to even the most reasonable requests by human rights advocates and legal watchdogs.

The point you make about smiling detainees instantly changing ones perception could be applied to all prison populations. Phillippe Bazin, Luigi Gariglio and Dread Scott have each used straight portraiture to cause audiences think about the individual character of prisoners.

I recommend books by Douglas Hall Kent, Morrie Camhi, Bruce Jackson, Jane Evelyn Atwood and Ken Light. I recommend work by Carl de Keyzer, Joseph Rodriguez, Steve Liss and Andrew Lichtenstein for imagery of prisons beyond the press shots of tiered-cells and orange jump-suits.

More than any of these though I recommend photography of self-representation. I have speculated on it before, and it has been done by Deborah Luster in Louisiana, and by the inmates of Medellin prison, Bogota, Colombia.

All of these photographic interventions are inspiring but barely make it into the mindshare of media consumers. I believe the unforgiven monster who deserves no thought is the predominant version of “the prisoner” in the minds of most Americans and many others in the Western world.

Of course, the invisibility of prisons is a collective tactic. We are molly-coddled by zealous enforcement agencies to whom we’ve outsourced management of transgressors. We have no interest in dealing with the difficult issues surrounding mistakes, mental health, inequalities and human frailty … this is where the “lock ’em up” mentality comes from.

Prisons and prisoners are not scary places because they are threatening and violent, they are scary places because they are wasteful, boring, soul-sapping warehouses. This is the document we never see. America’s prisons are a human-rights abuse.

Photography will play its part, but it’ll take a monumental cultural and media shift to change sentencing and prison policies in the West.

In the meantime, It’d be interesting to see if a long-term project similar to Mikhael Subotzky’s could ever be completed in an American prison?

© Mikhael Subotzky, from the 'Die Vier Hoeke' series.

Street Photography is a recognised genre.

Prison Photography is yet ill-defined. For the most part, it is a series of interventions by camera and operator into the procedures and relations within institutions of containment.

With these criteria in mind – the familiarity of the subject; the public visibility of the practitioner(s); the obstacles to access; and the assumption of existing/distinctive authority – it seems like the two approaches to subject are in opposition.

My presumption my be illustrated as thus:


The x axis is Time on the job.

The y axis is The original number of leads (to securing access to your subject) still open. Shown as a percentage.


Fearful Symmetry

Sorry, more self-promotion. For Cooleh magazine, I rewrote old speculations on the non-existent genre of prison photography. I discuss the visual vocabulary of prison photography and the slipperiness of cliche depending on the experience of the camera operator.

The editor confirmed it for me though: It was the strength of the images by nameless inmates of Remann Hall youth detention facility that carried the story! Fearful Symmetry is part of Cooleh’s 14th issue which takes a story-based, raw and somewhat irreverent angle on crime; politics of crime in jamaica, urban pot growers, secession states, botched 7/11 robberies and interviews with the unheard.



Credit: Bruce Jackson

NY Times LENS Blog

Here, there and everywhere people are celebrating the New York Times’ LENS Blog as a messianic gift for the photophile. I was therefore happy to see that less than two weeks in LENS is featuring Bruce Jackson’s wide angle documentary work from Arkansas Prison in the early 1970s

Bruce Jackson should be a familiar name as it was he that rescued, scanned and shared the enigmatic Arkansas Prison Mugshot series, Mirrors.


Found and presented by Bruce Jackson. Arkansas State Prisoner Portrait

June 100 Eyes Issue

Over at 100 Eyes, Andy Levin from insists that “Whatever ones perspective, be it victim, civil rights activist or cop, there is one shared idea – something needs to change.”

The June edition of 100 Eyes, titled, America Behind Bars features the work of Dominic Bracco, Jerome Brunet, Darcy Padilla, Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber – all very talented and committed photographers.

As editor, Andy Levin, concludes, the genre of prison photography (or to be less aggrandizing) simply the practice of photography within sites of incarceration is often a difficult and thankless task;

The photographers who have contributed to “America Behind Bars” have worked against overwhelming odds to bring back powerful images of American prisons. One can’t simply walk into a prison with a camera. This kind of photography requires long negotiations and often a warden who has the vision and concern to allow a photographer into his jail.

Wonderful exposure for the most pressing of social issues in America today.

Darcy Padilla. From AIDS in Prison Series.

Darcy Padilla. From AIDS in Prison Series.

Prison Photography began its project in September 2008 with a celebration of Darcy Padilla’s portrait of former San Quentin Public Communications Officer, Vernell Crittendon.

In February, I was gob-smacked by Jerome Brunet’s Riding Shotgun with Texas Sheriffs.


© Chris Maluszynski/Agence VU

Guantanamo © Chris Maluszynski/Agence VU





Courtesy of The Department of Defense Visual Information Center

Guantanamo Bay Tents. Courtesy of The Department of Defense Visual Information Center


I am very happy with the way Prison Photography is progressing. I have done interviews with some outstanding photographers and artists. I have offered opinion where I think there’s something to be said. The most satisfying work on the blog is that contributed by guest bloggers, comment-makers and interviewees. Photographers have contacted me and I have been eager to comment upon their work.

But, there is one audience I never anticipated – The Google Image Search Audience. I get many hits for searches on Guantanamo, Guantanamo video, Iraq prison, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib Images of Prisoners, etc, etc – which is strange because these are topics that many people have grappled over with more proficiency and depth than I am likely to.

It is obvious that there is a need for fast access to images of America’s sites of torture and incarceration, namely Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. I certainly don’t wish to fuse the two institutional histories so I shall deal only with Guantanamo Bay.

Louie Palu

Walrus Magazine. 8 of Palu’s photographs and accompanying article.

The Atlantic. 6 of Palu’s photographs.

Private galleries. Palu’s Photoshelter profile offers three separate galleries, but they’re password protected. Contact the photographer directly.

NPR Interview. Palu offered insight into his experience and impressions of Guantanamo.

Christopher Sims

Mother Jones. 15 images of daily life outside of the prison complex.

Civilian Arts Project. 25 images of a bizarrely serene Guantanamo Naval Base.

BBC, The Other Side of Guantanamo. Article about Sims’ series.

Daylight Magazine. 4 minute audio of Sims’ experiences on project.

Chris Maluszynski

Agence VU/Moment. Twenty-six images exhibited. Likely more on file at the agency.

Cesar Vera

Guantanamo Prison. 18 Black & White images. 3 Colour.

Joint Task Force (JTF)

Many of the photographs shown in the press over the last few years were taken by members of the Navy’s own Joint Task Force. When press photographers visited the JTF vetted all images before release.

Boston Globe. 30 Hi-Res images.

Repeat of above selection. 20 Hi-Res images selected.

JTF Photo Galleries. 22 months (July 2007 – May 2009). Hundreds of images. Official photography.

Miami Herald

Description of the 8 different camps at Guantanamo

Explanation of the Legal contexts: Key defendants, the judges, the defense and prosecution counsel.

Cursory look at Art influenced by Guantanamo


Bruce Gilden. Guantanamo Bay. Enemy Combatant Camps, 2003

Paolo Pellegrin. Guantanamo Detainees, 2006

Stuart Franklin’s work Cuba, 2003, included images from Guantanamo and you’ll need to search the Magnum website for images.


An eight-month McClatchy investigation of the detention system created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has found that the U.S. imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba into a school for jihad.

Intro. Text and 11 minute video.

Photos. Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay

Photos. Faces of Guantanamo Detainees. Part one.

Photos. Faces of Guantanamo Detainees. Part two.

Photos. Detainees held in Afghanistan.


Comprehensive overview of base using Google Maps, official photographs. Details structures, uses and topography of naval base.

Camp America, Camp Delta, Camp V and Administrative & Court building.

Camp X-ray and construction of later detention camps.

Maximum Security facility

Associated Press

Images of Detainee existence.

Images of facilities and interiors of various detention blocks and camps.

Stars & Stripes “The Independent News Source for the U.S. Military Community”

Work at Guantanamo

Education at Guantanamo

Recreation at Guantanamo

Artistic Turns

David Hicks. Virtual Guantanamo Cell

Penny Byrne. Porcelain Guantanamo Detainee Figurines

Gregor Schneider. 21 Cells, Bondi Beach, Australia

Legofesto. Guantanamo reconfigured with Lego men and Lego pieces and Wired Interview

Flickr – Protest Images

Amnesty International. Guantanamo Protests

Various Photographers. 100 Days to Close Guantanamo and End Torture.

James M. Thorne. Protest images.

Miscellaneous Media

Prisoners of War. 2004 article by the San Francisco Gray Panthers with images of US airforce  transporting detainees and early 2003 images of Camp X-Ray.

BBC. Life in a Guantanamo Cell


Rendition. Photographer Unknown

Rendition. Photographer Unknown



© Cesar Vera

© Cesar Vera



Guantanamo Bay Navel Base with a New Commander-in-Chief. Photographer Unknown.

Guantanamo Bay Navel Base with a New Commander-in-Chief. Photographer Unknown.



The standard issue of clothing, sleeping mat, food, sandles, canteen, soap, and buckets for detainees of Camp X-Ray is pictured in Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002. Tomas van Houtryve/AP Photo

The standard issue of clothing, sleeping mat, food, sandles, canteen, soap, and buckets for detainees of Camp X-Ray is pictured in Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002. © Tomas van Houtryve/AP Photo



CUBA. Guantanamo Bay. 2003. Soldiers wait for their meals before a prayer breakfast at Camp America. Photo: Bruce Gilden/Magnum

CUBA. Guantanamo Bay. 2003. Soldiers wait for their meals before a prayer breakfast at Camp America. Photo: Bruce Gilden/Magnum



Penny Byrne Guantanamo Bay Souvenirs 2007, vintage figurines, metal chains, epoxy resin, plastic, re-touching medium, powder pigments, 14 x 32 x 10 cm.

Penny Byrne Guantanamo Bay Souvenirs 2007, vintage figurines, metal chains, epoxy resin, plastic, re-touching medium, powder pigments, 14 x 32 x 10 cm.






On Thursday, 28th May, photographs of prison conditions and detainee custody from six facilities other than Abu Ghraib will be released to the public.

Reports over the weekend suggested a figure of 44, but the Guardian has stated over 2,000 photographs are to be made public. Images of Bagram Air base in Afghanistan are included in the cache. Critics will surely scan for similarities in detention/torture methods used in Afghanistan as in Iraq to argue against the ‘few bad apples’ logic that railroaded earlier attempts to bring military and government commanding authorities to full-accountability.


ACLU’s advocacy deserves international acclaim. Not only have they forced the release of photographic evidence they won a ruling to prevent the destruction of audio tapes that record torture scenarios.

This is an interesting counterpoint. I presume we all assume we’ll see the images in the printed press. Would we expect the tapes to play on our televisions and radios? That scenario makes me uncomfortable.

Continuing with issues of format, it will be interesting to see how the media presents the-soon-to-be-released photographic documents in contrast to the recent torture memo’s. WoWoWoW set the bar low with the tabloid inquiry “How Bad Will They Be?” and the Los Angeles Times allays fears with a dead-pan assessment, “examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib.

No doubt these images will be contested and a ‘Meaning-War’ over the images will ensue, but I think people for and against the Bush administration’s interrogation policies are not going to change their position now – whatever the evidence.”

But, I guess it depends who’s looking.


Lefties want more weaponry in the push for prosecution of Bush and his cronies for war crimes. The right is debilitated and otherwise occupied by the economy, stocking guns before the “Obama-ban” and the latest Meghan McCain slur.

Politicians from both parties seem to want this to go away, snarking on about how the release of yet more Un-American activities will only fuel the burning hate toward the US. This position is an insult.

Did Bush care what Iraqi’s would think when he bombed them out of house and home? Did Bush care to think how American’s would react in the face of diminished civil liberties? Yet here, politicians of both parties are scrambling to avoid the negative reactions of entrenched, fundamental opponents INSTEAD of anticipating the beneficial good-will and return to mutual trust provided by honest disclosures of a transparent and constitutional government. Why cover-up a cover-up?

Maybe, the Democrats are shy to see these documents because they may implicate their top brass?


One concern I will air, is that all this could move toward some bizarre show-trial scenario, where lawyers bargain, Bush is spared, the American public settle for a conviction of Cheney, and careers and reputations lie in waste on both sides of the aisle!?!

I certainly didn’t expect the incriminating documents to flood as they have in recent weeks. I have no idea how all this is going to shake down. Obama doesn’t seem to have control of this. That doesn’t bother me. No-one can hold back the truth.

So, as wise at it’d be to remember the date, 28th May, you should bear in mind the photographs of abuse could well leak earlier…


First Image lifted from Gerry May.

Cartoon courtesy of the Nation.

Final Image by Takomabibelot.


The blogo-photo-sphere has been spinning the past couple of days with the 2009 Pulitzer Prize announcements. Damon Winter took one gong for “his memorable array of pictures deftly capturing multiple facets of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.” (Featured Photography). Patrick Farrell secured the other with his “provocative, impeccably composed images of despair after Hurricane Ike and other lethal storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.” (Breaking News Story)

Winter’s images are eye-catching, but to be honest I am suffering from ‘Obama-fatigue’. So saturated were we with so many high-quality images of the new 44th President, I now look for different material. A quick shufties through Winters website revealed all. His portraits of sports stars show a precocious willing to improvise with technique and composition. Winter has a seriously sentimental side also epitomised by his portraits of American Olympians from the 1984 Los Angeles games.

I guess, my hope is that he doesn’t become known as ‘that guy that did Obama’ … which is why I am more interested in his Angola Prison Rodeo photojournalism.


The rodeo featuring the prisoners of Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, is an old – even traditional – event in the Louisiana calendar. Damon Winter is one of many photographers that have covered the community event. It is a raucous spectacle that brings together populations in and outside of the prison.

I still cannot reconcile this event my existing ethics which this event. There’s a charge that the rodeo is exploitative entertainment for which prisoners can suffer serious injury. Yet, I have not witnessed the rodeo-weekend first hand and I have read in the past that this is an event that provides long-term focus and short-term adulation for the prisoner-competitors. All I want to do is bring Winter’s photographs to your attention and hope they’ll compete with Obama for your attentions!


Winter’s pictures capture the strong forces and consequent risks of rodeo competition. I deliberately picked his colour images. The black & white stripes of inmates harry within Winter’s ‘red, white and blue’ palette. The star-spangled palette imbues the series with patriotism, pomp and faux-purpose. I almost feel we are subliminally less inclined to question Angola’s unique display of pseudo-gladiatorial entertainment when the games are suffused with hues of the American flag.



View Damon Winter’s Obama campaign coverage for the New York Times, and listen to an audio interview with Winter about his experiences. Winter and PDN did an interview in 2008.


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