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© Kenneth Libbrecht.

As heavy as the snow is falling here in Seattle, I dump these stories that I’ve noticed recently. All worth reading/seeing.

1) – The 2010 Lennart Nilsson Award (Recognizing Extraordinary Image Makers in Science) has gone to CalTach Physicist Kenneth Libbrecht. (Found via Jim)

2) – Rob Hornstra visited Abkhazia’s only prison.

3) – Moscow’s Butyrka remand prison is to install sunbeds for inmates.

4) – MIT has developed a camera that uses echos of light to see around corners. No doubt an attractive tool for SWAT teams, riot police and extraction teams in hostage situations and maybe prisons. I say this having written about ‘Through the Wall Surveillance’ before.

5) – French photographer, Olivier Laban-Mattei won the 2010 Grand Prix Paris Match for his coverage of Haiti. He was one of the many photographers who documented the death of Fabienne Cherisma. (Found via The Travel Photographer)

Edelgard Clavey, 67. First portrait: December 5 2003 / Second portrait: January 4 2004. © Walter Schels

6) – Walter Schels‘ photo project “Life Before Death”, includes 24 sets of before-and-after portraits ranging from a 17-month-old baby to a man of 83. Now on show at the Wellcome Collection, London. (More in this interview at LensCulture)

7) – More excellent opinion from John Edwin Mason, this time about the differences between the photo-op at Kenny Kunene’s lavish 40th birthday party and the responsible photography of Oupa Nkosi documenting the wealth and work of Black South Africans.

“No surprise, then, that Kunene has become the poster boy for shamelessly conspicuous consumption in county where, as the Guardian points out, 1.6% of the… population earns a quarter of all personal income.  Only 41% have a job and just 58% have attended secondary school; 9% don’t have access to water, 23% don’t have toilets and 24% don’t have electricity.  Average life expectancy is 52, the lowest since 1970. Zwelinzima Vavi, the South Africa’s most important labor leader, pointed to Kunene’s party when warning of elites who “scavenge on the carcass of our people” like hyenas.”

8 ) – Simon Sticker‘s 100 + 1 tips for the iconic Africa picture is the latest rant about stereotypes in conversation/photography on Africa.

National Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC) blog

9) – During the summer, I recommended the NPAC blog. Often working photographers will take over the posts for five posts in a week. Between the 8th and 12th November, Jen Osborne took the helm.

© Jen Osborne. Bounce is a very popular music movement originating in New Orleans, USA.  It came from the streets and is a mix between Rap, Jazz, and Electronic music.  It is popular amongst young adults due to its hard, fast and sexual nature, which inspires eccentric fashion trends.  It also appeals to the gay community because Bounce music now contains various gay entertainers.

Jen’s five days of blogging:

Day 1 – The Importance of Learning – Working on the fly with ‘Bounce’ dancers in New Orleans.
Day 2 – Bad associations can sabotage good work! – On access to Talavera Bruce prison, Rio de Janiero. Sketchy fixers, smuggled prison cellphones and released female prisoners.
Day 3 – Thinking Locally – Drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness in her home city Vancouver.
Day 4 – Vicarious Trauma – Vicarious trauma, a newly defined term applies to “wide range of people working with clients or subjects suffering from traumatic experiences; doctors, journalists, social workers, lawyers …”
Day 5 – Doing It Because You Want To – “It is important to have your own projects to work on – projects that make you as the photographer gratified. I think it is important to do meaningful work because it will always be there for you, even when the jobs aren’t.”

Great stuff.

10) – Ed Ou, reflecting on the Joop Swart Masterclass makes all young photojournalists smile with his stirring optimism:

“It is exciting to spend time with photographers from around the world and never mention the “death” of our industry. While there may be smaller budgets and fewer outlets, there will always be room for good photography. The only way to brave the bad times is to just keep shooting.”

© Ed Ou. Nurse Larissa Soboleva holds two-year-old Adil Zhilyaer in an orphanage in Serney, Kazakhstan. Adil was born blind and afflicted Infantile Cerebral Paralysis (ICP) and hydrocephalia as a result of his mother’s exposure to radiation during years of Soviet weapons testing during the Cold War. He was abandoned by his parents and is now cared for in an orphanage.


Car thief. © Donald Weber / VII Photo

Since first coming across Donald Weber‘s series Interrogations, I wondered how the hell Weber got the shots and how he handled the ethics of the work. Colin Pantall tapped him up and got some answers.


“Watching the methods was not pleasant. Humiliation, violence, degradation. How could you not be repulsed? But the reasons I was there were not for judging them, but was to actually show something very special in the terms of the secrecy of the act. I made a special document precisely because it was about the ‘absence of the void,’ that it showed humans at their most vulnerable and most cruel. This series could easily be judged along the same lines as a war photographer that constantly gets criticized for not doing anything, for not jumping into the fray.”

I’m going to sit on the fence on this one, but I can see a lot of criticisms heading in Weber’s direction. I will say that this is not a cheap project; Weber has demonstrated his commitment to the former Soviet countries.

If we demand photographs to make us think, photographs to show us things we would not otherwise see and for photographers to be cognisant of – and close to – communities in which they work, these are the types of images that will result.


9:30AM PST, NOV. 10TH

As you know, so often I think it is important that a photographer really describes the circumstances of their work. Donald Weber must be aware that I harp on about access (as it relates to photography in prisons) because he emailed me and asked me to pass on this information:


“As you know, I’ve spent almost six years living and working in this area. On my very first trip I met a police detective with whom I got along with. Over time, we developed a bond and a trust. Every trip I would bring him photographs and was always very upfront with my work, who I was and what I was doing. Never hiding the results, however critical they may be of him and the methods the police employ.”

“About five years ago I witnessed my first interrogation, and was utterly shocked at its violence, not just physically but mentally as well. Solzhenitsyn talks for almost a third of his book The Gulag Archipelago about the nature of interrogation, and the importance of the interrogation not just through Soviet history, but universally. He would think everyday about the moment of his interrogation how he was broken, and everyday about the moment of his execution. So, the seed for this story was planted.”

“For obvious reasons I could not just ask to photograph inside an interrogation. As my work progressed, so did my police contact, who rose over time to the rank of Major. He had gained a position of authority to grant permission. Since we had spent so many years together photographing, he was aware of my methods and how I worked. We rarely spoke to each other, during work or after hours. I felt it best to maintain as much distance as possible but still respectful of his role. When he finally granted permission he still made me work for the access to the actual accused.”

“I sat almost everyday for four months on a bench in a hallway of the police station waiting with the people who were to be interrogated. The first month, not  a single frame was photographed. Each day I would show up 9am, and leave approximately 12 hours later. Most days were spent with nothing to photograph, many of the accused were not interested in having there photo taken. On average, I was lucky to photograph maybe two people a week over a four month period.”

“This was not simply a case of walking in saying hello as a privileged Westerner and flashing my camera around. This was a project five years in the making. So before anybody rushes to quick judgement, I felt the facts as to how the work was created should be shared.”

Sergei Vasiliev‘s photographs of Russian Criminal Tattoos are part of a three part encyclopaedia/archive on the subject. Vasiliev photographed between 1989 and 1993 in prisons and reform settlements across Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Perm and St. Petersburg.

Vasiliev’s portraits are accompanied by over 3,000 tattoo drawings made by Danzig Baldaev during his time as a prison guard between 1948 and 1986. Baldaev had supported of the KGB who used his illustrations to develop intelligence on the convict class.

Three volumes of the encyclopaedia have since been published by FUEL Designs:

” [The documentation of] Tattoos were Baldaev‘s gateway into a secret world in which he acted as ethnographer, recording the rituals of a closed society. The icons and tribal languages he documented are artful, distasteful, sexually explicit and provocative, reflecting as they do the lives and traditions of convicts.”

“The accompanying photographs by Sergei Vasiliev act as an important counterpart to Baldaev’s drawings, providing photographic evidence of their authenticity. […] In these images the nameless bodies of criminals act as both a text and mirror, reflecting and preserving the ever-changing folklore of the Russian criminal underworld.”

Baldaev’s drawings and Vasiliev’s portraits are currently being exhibited at 4 Wilkes Street, London E1 6QF (30 October to 28 November 2010).

The Guardian has this review of the book/exhibition. More about Baldaev in particular at Design Observer.


Image gallery.

From FUEL Publishing are three video shorts [1], [2], [3] of the drawings and photographs.

More can be found on Vasiliev‘s work at Michael Hoppen Gallery, Saatchi online (images) and the PhotoEye book review.

Found via


I’ve posted before about prison tattoos:
Prison Tattoos and the Photographers’ Intrigue
Klaus Pichler: Central European Prison Tattoos, Taxidermy and Beguiling Portraits of Odessans
Detached, formaldehyde-soaked, preserved, studied: The tattooed skin of Polish prisoners
Bob Gumpert on Foto8, on Prison Tattoo Codes


Sergei Vasiliev was born in 1937 in Chelyabinsk, Russia. After graduating from the MVD Academy, Moscow, he became a staff photographer for the newspaper ‘Vecherny Chelyabinsk’, where he has worked for the past thirty years. he has received many honours including International Master of Press Photography from the International Organization of Photo Journalists (Prague, 1985), Honoured Worker of Arts of Russia, and the Golden Eye Prize. His work has been exhibited internationally and is held in numerous museums’ collections. He is author of more than twenty books, including ‘Russian Beauty’, (1996) and ‘Zonen’, (1994).

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Alexin, Russia 2003

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Alexin, Russia 2003

Ingar Krauss traveled to places in the former Soviet Union, and made portraits of children the same ages, but living in state-run orphanages, juvenile prisons and camps. Many of these kids are not criminals but these “childhood institutions” are the only places society can find for them. (Jim Casper, LensCulture)

A couple of stand-out quotes from Krauss (also from LensCulture):

I recognized that I am especially interested in those children who already have a biography — orphans or criminal children. They have already a story to tell. They seem to be responsible in a way which is not childlike.


Looking at those pictures they seem always to ask: Why me? And in fact this is usually the first question they are asking when I am choosing from 200 orphans in an orphanage, this one or these two. And all I can answer them is that I recognized them, that I feel I know them. Not personally, of course, because I don’t know their stories the moment I decide who I would like to photograph, but in a fundamental way I think I know them.

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Rjazan, Russia 2003

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Rjazan, Russia 2003

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Alexin, Russia 2003

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Alexin, Russia 2003

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Rjazan, Russia 2003

Untitled, Juvenile Prison Rjazan, Russia 2003

Ingar Krauss has also trained his lens on seasonal workers and economic migrants in Europe. His work from different series is collected in the book Ingar Krauss: Portraits.


I realise things have been drab and monochromatic (and quite frankly depressing) on Prison Photography recently. My solution was to put up some prison beauty pageant images from Russia I found on a Russian website via BoingBoing.

I reckoned they’d stand in nice contrast to Jane Evelyn Atwood’s bleak images of the womens penal colony, Perm, Russia by directly testing Atwood’s view and undermining our preconceptions oncemore.

The photographs could also provide some much needed colour without much need for commentary, right? Wrong. The comments on BoingBoing suggest that not all, if any, are from Russian womens’ prisons.

Comparison with Fabio Cuttica’s work here and here holds up this assertion. Compare the two images below:





I’d proffer that seven of the fifteen images in the original (Russian) web posting are from the same pageant Cuttica photographed in Columbia.

The image at the top and the three below I would guess are from Russia, but who can be sure if they are even from inside a prison?

I am left wondering how often I’ve read a caption or commentary ON ANY PHOTOGRAPH – and taken it as truth. Very often, I bet. Which leads me to wonder how often we’re dangerously misled by images. Who knows?




I suppose this only matters if you care if the images came from within a prison. Amputated from a true story, these images aren’t a malicious misrepresentation but probably a product of absent research. Although one wonders under what circumstances images from separate continents were sourced and paired.

So, beware the caption! Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have said “A photograph that relies on its caption to create meaning is impotent.” The reverse position holds sway too. Mustn’t captions be absolutely necessary at times to stave of the wild presumptions viewers bring to imagery?

“Curiosity was the initial spur. Surprise, shock and bewilderment soon took over. Rage propelled me along to the end.”

Jane Evelyn Atwood on photographing in women’s prisons.

This is the third and final installment in my series Women Behind Bars. The second part looked ta the writing of Vikki Law and the first looked at the journalism of Silja Talvi. It was Silja who recommended Jane Evelyn Atwood’s work.


When discussing the work of a prison photographer, it is preferable to do so within the specifics of the region or nation they document. Prison Photography‘s key inquiry is how the photographer came to be in the restricted environment of a prison and these details differs from place to place. Such inquiry is complicated by Jane Evelyn Atwood‘s work because she visited over 40 prisons in twelve countries over a period of one decade. In some cases I know the location of a particular image and in others I don’t. I suggest you compensate for this by buying the book Too Much Time for yourself.

Above is a women’s penal colony in Perm, Russia. It holds over 1,000 women – the majority of who work forced hard labour. Here we see women who are in solitary confinement experiencing their yard privileges – half an hour in outside cages. Most women in the prison are there for assault, theft or lack of papers.

Below is a scene from a Czechoslovakian prison. The scars are not the result of genuine suicide attempts but of regular self-mutilation – a problem more common among female prison populations than male populations.


Another reason to pick up Atwood’s book would be that there isn’t much stuff out there on the web – and that which is is low resolution or small-size. You can see a small selection from Atwood’s Prison series at her website; small images at PoYI; and a really good selection of tear-sheets at Contact Press Images.

By far the best stuff on the web concerning Too Much Time is an Amnesty International site devoted to the project. It includes a powerful preface in which Atwood lays out her raison d’etre. Next Atwood provides a “world view” comparing the prison systems of France, Russia and the US (each a five minute audio). Then comes three specific photo-essays with audio (Motherhood, Vanessa’s Baby, The Shock Unit). Finally, Atwood provides six stories behind six photographs. The stories are many and the facts more astounding than the emotions.

While Atwood’s pictures present the many individual circumstances of the prisoners, Atwood has identified a common denominator; “Of the eighteen women I met in [my] first prison, all but one seemed to be incarcerated because of a man. They were doing time for something he had done, or for something they would never have done on their own.”

Atwood qualifies this, “One woman told me her husband forced to set the alarm to have sex with him three times a night. She endured it for years and finally killed the man that kept her hostage. Another woman’s husband was shot by her daughter after he had stabbed her in the arm as a “souvenir”, poured hot coffee on his wife’s head for not mixing his sugar, and urinated all over the living room after one of the children refused to come out the bathroom. The woman was serving time for “refusing to come to her husband’s aid.”


What is most impressive about Atwood’s work is that it predates photojournalism’s wider interest in prisons by a couple of decades. She had at first tried to gain entry into a French prison in the early eighties. Her failure is unsurprising given Jean Gaumy of Magnum was the very first photojournalist inside a French prison in 1976.

It is a scandal that the discussion over shackling women during labor and gynecological examination continues today. Atwood captured the brutality of it decades ago.


Atwood’s work veers consciously between two reality of the women’s situation – the environment and the body.

Many of her photos share a compositional austerity. The hard angles of institutions run according to ‘masculine mathematics’ (dictating sentencing and experience) are repeated. Atwood punctuates this stern reality with flourishes of femininity … and touch.


Some may think Atwood has over-reached herself with a global inquiry and I’d be sympathetic to the point if anyone else had come close to her commitment. Even considering each prison system in isolation, Atwood’s work can hold its own. Her work in Perm, Russia is particularly powerful as it orbits closely around the issue of uniform, identity and the complications it brought to bear directly on her documentary.

At the Amnesty site, Atwood brings up many interesting points of comparison. She identifies the US system as the most sterile with a legal mandate to treat female prisoners in the same manner as male prisoners. But she also says that if there is grievance or complaint to be settled, US prisoners have recourse to do so. Such allowances are not made in France.

On the other hand, children are excluded from all but a couple of US prisons. The security threat is cited as the reason: a child inside a prison is a constant vulnerable life and constant hostage target. The claim seems a little bogus when penal systems of other countries are brought into consideration.


Atwood was interviewed by Salon about the project. She has also worked on landmine victims and talked to Paris Voice about that. Here, she talks about Canon about her work in Haiti.

Jane Evelyne Atwood

Jane Evelyn Atwood

Biography: Jane Evelyn Atwood was born in New York. She has lived in Paris since 1971. In 1976, with her first camera, Atwood began taking pictures of a group of street prostitutes in Paris. It was partly on the strength of these photographs that Atwood received the first W. Eugene Smith Award, in 1980, for another story she had just started work on: blind children. Prior to this, she had never published a photo.

In the ensuing years, Atwood has pursued a number of carefully chosen projects – among them an 18-month reportage of a Foreign Legion regiment, following the soldiers to Beirut and Chad; a four-and-a-half-month story on the first person with AIDS in France to allow himself to be photographed for publication (Atwood stayed with him until his death); and a four-year study of landmine victims that took her to Cambodia, Angola, Kosovo, Mozambique and Afghanistan.

Atwood is the author of six books. In addition, her work has been including the ‘A Day In The Life’ series. She has been exhibited worldwide in solo and group exhibitions. She has worked for LIFE Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Stern, Géo, Paris Match, The Independent, The Telegraph, Libération, VSD, Marie-Claire and Elle. Atwood has worked on assignment for government ministries and international humanitarian organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, Handicap International and Action Against Hunger.

She has been awarded the Paris Match Grand Prix du Photojournalisme (1990), Hasselblad Foundation Grant (1994), Ernst Haas Award (1994), Leica’s Oskar Barnack Award (1997) and an Alfred Eisenstaedt Award (1998). In 2005, Atwood received the Charles Flint Kellogg Award in Arts and Letters from Bard College, joining a company of previous laureates including Edward Saïd, Isaac Bashevis Singer and E.L. Doctorow.

Klavdij Sluban and Jim Casper of LensCulture talked about Klavdij’s photography workshops in juvenile prisons across the world.

Klavdij Sluban

Early in the interview, Klavdij discloses his personal sadness that prisons exist. This emotion may be raw but it is not naive; Klavdij is balanced and realistic about what he can achieve with a camera in these specific distopias. He also says in seven words what I established this blog to say “Jails are a world to be discovered.”

He went to the prisons not as photographer, but as a concerned citizen. He realised if he were to go inside it would need to be with some reciprocity … so he took cameras and used them.

In terms of engagement and commitment to a population – the youth prison population of the world – Klavdij Sluban could and should be considered a ‘Concerned Photographer’. He deserves that loaded epithet.

Once, as a 15 year old, I sat naked on the edge of the bath covered in piss and vomit after drinking myself silly. Apparently, I told my mum – who was wracked with worry – to “chill out”. I delivered this line with assurance proving how far gone I was; how unable I was to see my pathetic situation and how unable I was to connect with reality.

I don’t remember any of the actual episode (I was too blotto) but the shame and necessary reparations afterward meant I have constructed a memory which feels as visceral as any Proustian recall.

Sergey Maximishin‘s photograph, Sobering Up Station, puts a pit in my stomach.

Sobering-up station, St.-Petersburg, January, 2003. (c) Sergey Maximishin

Sobering-up station, St.-Petersburg, January, 2003. (c) Sergey Maximishin

Sites of incarceration are sites of tragedy. They exist because of the saddening (sometimes necessary) control of pathetic, violent, misunderstood, abusive or abused individuals.

Prisons and jails are architectures of failed human interaction and the friable psychologies of man. Where many folk are fearful of those behind bars, I am generally pitiful.

How many of you have behaved like the “classic drunk”? How many of you have even remembered your foolish confidence? How many of you have still insisted (even down to your underwear) that there’s something to do, other than sleep it off?

Sobering Up Station is a document of failed interaction, of brilliant human inadequacies and of all the unavoidable mess that exists (one way and at one time or another) in all of our lives.

Maximishin – Bio: Born in 1964. Grew up in Kerch, the Crimea. Moved to Leningrad in 1982. Served in the Soviet army as a photographer the Soviet Military Force Group on Cuba from 1985 to 1987. Graduated from Leningrad Politechnical Institute in 1991 with a B.A. in Physics. Worked in the laboratory of scientific and technical expertise in the Hermitage Museum. Graduated from St-Petersburg Faculty of photojournalism in 1998. From 1999-2003 was a staff photographer for the “Izvestia” newspaper. Since 2003, has worked for German agency “Focus”.


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