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Tomorrow evening there’s an intriguing discussion happening at the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco. On the panel for Incarceration and the Path to Reform are author and educator Baz Dreisinger. She is the Academic Director for the Prison-to-College Pipeline program, coordinated by John Jay College, NYC, that offers college courses to incarcerated men. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón alongside Jacques Verduin of Insight-Out and GRIP, and former inmate and GRIP graduate Terrell Merritt make up the rest of the group.

Can’t wait.

It’s at Wednesday, February 17, 2016 from 6pm onwards.

Mechanics Institute, 57 Post Street, 4th Floor Meeting Room, San Francisco, CA 94104

Call staffer Pam Troy on 415-393-0116 for more info.

Tickets for the public are $15SIGN UP HERE.


“Fiscal and physical challenges to our penal systems as well as changing attitudes about prison reform are happening locally, nationally, and internationally. […] See how San Francisco is modeling a new paradigm for rehabilitation and issues of human rights for those incarcerated. With President Obama’s December 18th commutation of 95 non-violent drug offenders to the recent “vote- down” of funding the new jail in San Francisco, there is much to talk about.”

Dr. Baz Dreisinger

Dresinger journeyed to Jamaica to visit a prison music program, to Singapore to learn about approaches to prisoner reentry, to Australia to grapple with the bottom line of private prisons, to a federal supermax in Brazil to confront the horrors of solitary confinement, and finally to the so-called model prisons of Norway. This jarring and poignant trek invites us to rethink one of America’s most devastating exports, the modern prison system. With Oscar-nominated filmmaker Peter Spirer, Dreisinger produced and wrote the documentaries Black & Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop, and Rhyme & Punishment. Her book Near Black: White to Black Passing in American Culture was published in 2008 by University of Massachusetts Press.

Jacques Verduin

Verduin has worked in prisons for 20 years, designing and running innovative rehabilitation programs. He is a subject matter expert on mindfulness, restorative justice, emotional intelligence, and transforming violence. He directs the non-profit “Insight-Out” which helps prisoners and challenged youth create the personal and systemic change to transform violence and suffering into opportunities for learning and healing. The Guiding Rage into Power (GRIP) Program at San Quentin is a year-long transformative program that provides the tools that enable prisoners to “turn the stigma of being a violent offender into a badge of being a non-violent Peacekeeper.” A former inmate and graduate of this program will be on the panel.

Terrell Merritt

Merritt is from Gary, Indiana. After high school he enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego, CA. After leaving the Navy, he spend 20 years in prison for 2nd degree murder. During that time, he began to soul search and incorporate practices into his life that promote nonviolence. These include nonviolence communication, Zen Buddhism, and the GRIP Program; a yearlong transformational program that he became a facilitator of. On November 10th 2015, he was paroled after serving 20 years and 8 months in prison. He is currently working to reestablish himself into the community and to give back where he can.

George Gascón

Gascón is the District Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco. He has earned a national reputation as a criminal justice visionary that uses evidence based practices to lower crime and make communities safer. He is the first Latino to hold the office in San Francisco and is the nation’s first police chief to become District Attorney. Looking to find alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders, DA Gascón created the nation’s first Alternative Sentencing Program to support prosecutors in assessing risk and determine the most appropriate course of action for each case. The goal is to protect victims and the community by addressing offenders’ risk factors in order to break the cycle of crime and reduce recidivism.


February 17, 2016 from 6pm onwards.

Mechanics Institute, 57 Post Street, 4th Floor Meeting Room, San Francisco, CA 94104

Call staffer Pam Troy on 415-393-0116 for more info.

Tickets for the public are $15SIGN UP HERE.

Status Update


Hey y’all, the Status Update publication is now on sale.

$$$ 25 $$$ Buy Status Update Now $$$ 25 $$$

A perfect-bound, 128-page, softcover book featuring the work by Lily Chen, Janet Delaney, Sergio De La Torre, Rian Dundon, Robert Gumpert, Pendarvis Harshaw, Talia Herman, Elizabeth Lo, Laura Morton, Paccarik Orue, Brandon Tauszik, Joseph Rodriguez, Dai Sugano and Sam Wolson.

Introduction by Raj Jayadev, coordinator for Silicon Valley De-Bug and an interview with San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
5.5 x 8.5 inches
ISBN 978-0-692-55576-7
Edition of 1,000 (November 2015)

Designed by the genius Bonnie Briant.

$$$ 25 $$$ Buy Status Update Now $$$ 25 $$$

Produced by Catchlight, Status Update curated by Rian Dundon and myself is an exhibition of photography and video about change, chance and inequality in the San Francisco Bay Area. It premiered at SOMArts in San Francisco in November 2015 and will travel throughout the SF Bay Area throughout 2016.


So far, so good. The show got some great coverage.

Laurence Butet-Roch reflected for Time: Witness the Complex Evolution of the San Francisco Bay Area

California Sunday Magazine gave us a showing: Long Exposure: New Exhibit Captures Residents Experiencing the Boom and Bust of the Bay Area

Mark Murrmann wrote a glowing preview for Mother Jones: These Photos Show the Bay Area You’ll Never See From a Google Bus

Stanford Ethics students got to grips with the show: Adjusting our Focus: the Tech Boom through a Different Lens

Mashable threw down a gallery: Photos Capture Inequality and Change in San Francisco Bay Area

Wired offered great support with Laura Mallonee‘s feature: Capturing the Bay Area’s Diversity — and Rapid Change

Erin Baldassari for the East Bay Express reviewed the show with focus on Oakland-based artists: Beyond Black and White: Nuanced Ways of Documenting the Housing Crisis

Silicon Valley DeBug, with whom we partnered in the show posted for their committed South Bay community and following.

And finally, I was interviewed by Doug Bierend for Vice: ‘Status Update’ Captures the Evolution of the Bay Area


The book’s going to last longer than any of the prints and beyond next years traveling exhibit. Whether it will last as long as the issues that are percolating here in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, we’ll see …

$$$ 25 $$$ Buy Status Update Now $$$ 25 $$$


Solutions. Prison reform debate rages around solutions. Even when everyone at a given table agrees on the problem, the propose solutions can differ widely. There are many, they overlap and they are often interdependent.

(For the record, here’s a sampler of my long list of forward steps we could take: Release old and infirm prisoners; sentence children as children, do away with the death penalty, scale back on LWOP (life Without Parole), implement radical and retroactive sentencing reductions for all drugs offenses and non-violent offenses, eradicate solitary confinement, treat addiction with hospitals not prisons, fund services for youth and families to avoid the use of custody later in life, drawdown the bail system, issue an amnesty for outstanding warrants for non-violent misdemeanors, ban the box, make criminal record expungement available as a right, scale back sentencing guidelines to that of the European average, make prisons smaller, provide prisoners nutritious food, subject all staff to yearly self-care and mental health checks, reinstitute Pell Grants for access to college for prisoners, continue all voluntary work programs but provide more than cents on the dollar wages, increase the number of family days and trailer visits, and PROVIDE EDUCATION)

What last solution, what education looks like differs hugely. Some prisoners need parenting classes, some only want practical training (welding, HVAC, electrical, plumbing etc). Other prisoners want business training. Then there are some that want liberal arts college classes.

A staggering number of prisoners need a GED.

The Corridor portrays the nation’s first high school custom built inside an adult jail. The film follows one semester inside the experimental Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco.


In the film, we’ll meet students, teachers and staff. Referred to as the “crown jewel” of the SF Sheriff Department, enrollment in Five Keys Charter School is all but mandatory for incarcerated people who never received a high school diploma.

The problems for mandated GED programs are well known among prison and jail educators — it can be very difficult to engage a class of students with a high school curriculum when they did not respond to high school on the first round. This in-built tension makes any GED project in a prison or jail that more difficult as compared to other programs (with voluntary sign-up). Therefore, Five Keys represents a genuine innovation approaches to criminal justice.

Custodial staff maintain safety in a jail that houses members from a reported 22 active gangs. Meanwhile teachers follow a strict policy of not knowing their students’ criminal charges (in my experience, both common sense and common policy).



The Corridor follows lessons, learning, challenges and graduation in a school that won the 2014 award for best charter school in Northern California.

Filmmakers Annelise Wunderlich and Richard O’Connell began shooting in May 2013 and made over 100 hours of material. It took them over two years to negotiate access. Former Sheriff Michael Hennessey was the man who gave the green-light.

“Hennessey built his reputation on creating programs that go beyond what is mandated by law,” says Wunderlich and O’Connell. “He has said that what he enjoyed most about being the sheriff was to make and experiment with policy. His legacy lives on with the current staff.”

Wunderlich and O’Connell want to create “an immersive portrait that focuses on the inner workings of the school and the programs, capturing along the way conflicts, dilemmas and breakthroughs that arise in the course of carrying out its mission.”

They aren’t trying to make an argument for one type of custodial approach or another. They are interested in observing how education (in this particular case) is shoehorned into a criminal justice system to satisfy some of the system’s objectives — lowered recidivism, empowerment, self-realisation, reductions in violence.

I wish them luck.

Unbelievably, Five Keys has barely been replicated elsewhere. This is despite its measured achievements and despite growing research that education-based jail programs are the most effective way to reduce recidivism.




If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, Annelise Wunderlich will be speaking next Tuesday, 16th June at Bay Area Video Arts Coalition (BVAC).

“This edition of Storytelling Across Media,” reads the BVAC blurb, “brings together three innovative Bay Area media makers who will speak to the power storytelling holds for those “behind bars”. Although each panelist comes from a different artistic background (performance, documentary film, and fine art photography) they all share a commitment to helping incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals tell their stories and put their voices out in the world, whether through dance, film, or radio.”

Tuesday, June 16

2727 Mariposa Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94110

Tickets are $10 for BAVC Members, $15 general. Seating is limited. Buy tickets here.

My pal Nigel Poor will also be speaking.


The Corridor website


Successful Kickstarter page with updates






Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art in San Francisco, is to host an exhibition of never-before-seen images of San Francisco and San Franciscans, made between 1965 and 2015.

The two photographers responsible are Maury Edelstein and Ted Pushinsky — two local legends.

Of Maury’s work, 25 images have been selected from a pool of more than 6,000! God knows how many images Ted’s made in the past 5 decades. This show, I must conclude, is long overdue … and it’s gonna be gold.

All the info you need is right here.




MW FLYER (Ted)Spelledright


Say NO to a New Jail in SF

The discussion about the long proposed San Francisco County Jail has taken many turns. It’d have been built by now without the opposition of many California groups fighting for social justice under the umbrella organisation CURB (Californian’s United for Responsible Budget).

On Monday, March 2nd from 6-8pm, Sheriff Mirkarimi and staff from the Department of Public Works will be hosting a public meeting on the environmental impact of the $278 million dollar jail plan at the Community Assessment and Service Center (CASC).

The CASC at 564 6th Street in San Francisco — it is just around the corner from San Francisco County Jail #3, at 850 Bryant.

All info and RSVP here.


The protest rally begins in front of the jail at 850 Bryant on Monday, March 2nd at 5:30pm and moves to the Community Assessment and Service Center (CASC).

“Come prepared to dance! We will be joined by the BLO (Brass Liberation Orchestra)” says organiser Lisa Marie Alatorre, of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. “San Francisco needs real solutions to public safety, housing, jobs, education, mental health care, not more of the same failed policies that harm our community. Justice is won when we build a future of opportunity for everyone, not more jails.”

Make banners and signs that reflect the environmental impacts that jail and incarceration has on your life and your community.

All info and RSVP here.


Separately to the Sheriff’s meeting, the Capitol Planning Committee is voting on the jail plan also on Monday!

Anyone who can speak out against the jail should go to San Francisco City Hall from noon to 2pm Monday, March 2nd and voice their concerns.


On Facebook

Share the flyer.


All info and RSVP here.


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Binh Danh. ‘The Transamerica Pyramid, 2014 Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 10 x 8 inches / Frame: 14.75 x 12.5 inches


A recent move makes San Francisco my new hometown. As is my wont, I’m out and about trying to figure what’s happening here in the city. Late last year, I saw Binh Danh’s exhibition This, Then, Is San Francisco at Haines Gallery.

A few things struck me.

– First, the sky blues and sepias of make the work just lovely to view.

– Second, there seems to be an increasing nostalgia toward the city of San Francisco right now which is reflected in art-makers and photographers trying to preserve a view of the city – be that in books, stubborn alternative processes, comparative views of the city as it once was, or flat-out direct denunciations of money-driven change.

– Third, the scenes captured by Danh cannot be random and in fact some of them look quite political.

I got Danh on the blower to ask him about how and why the work was made.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

Click any image to see it larger.

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Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches


Prison Photography (PP): At first glimpse, the work seems as if it is about process and the joy of the surface. Does This, Then, Is San Francisco have the same level of political engagement typical in your other work?

Binh Danh (BD): You’re somewhat right. Of course, being an artists there’s always the joy of the image. But if you look deeply, there’s also some political messages. There’s pictures of gatherings and protest in front of City Hall.

PP: I saw the image of the rally held by mothers whose family members had been killed but their murderers never found.

BD: And even the photo of the city hall — on the lawn where people are sleeping, they look like dead bodies. Because of the medium, it looks like a civil war photograph.

PP: And the body shapes are identical.

bd.CityLightsBooksellers And

Binh Danh. ‘City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches


Binh Danh. ‘Hoa Phat, Little Saigon, Larkin Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

BD: I am alluding to these political spaces of the city.

PP: Did you grow up in San Francisco?

BD: No. I grew up in San Jose. For me, San Francisco was the place we went to for school trips. Even in adulthood, I see the city as a tourist. Each time I go there it is new. Every inch of the city is photogenic. And that goes way back. I enjoy the fact that This, Then, Is San Francisco is in conversation with those images from the nineteenth century when the city was being built.

PP: How does this relate to your previous work about Yosemite? It seems to make more immediate sense to use daguerreotypes to photograph Yosemite — what with the archives of Carleton Watkins and Edward Curtis. Their works were very political and tied to the myth of manifest destiny and ultimately controlling of the West.

BD: Both Carleton Watkins and Edweard Muybridge photographed San Francisco AND Yosemite. I’m walking in those giants’ footsteps. For me, San Francisco is the gateway to California – going as far back as the Gold Rush when people arrived, stocked up and then travelled on to the Sierra Mountains. Everything in Northern California flows toward San Francisco and into the Bay.

PP: One could conceptualize San Francisco as being at the foot of an elongated Yosemite Valley?! The Pacific Ocean is the terminus of the Sierra Mountains watershed.


Binh Danh. ‘Panoramic View from Corona Heights Park, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plates: 25.75 x 13.5 inches

BD: But also looking forward. San Francisco is tied to innovation, accelerated movement, change and speed. It always has been. Of course, now, those things are associated so closely with Silicon Valley and the South Bay.

PP: But for the purposes of the international community, San Francisco is the epicenter of that.

BD: I wanted to document San Francisco in this moment of change. I didn’t realize Haines Gallery wanted to do a show. They felt I had enough work. But the project is not complete; it’s ongoing. I expect in 30 or 40 years I’ll go back to some of the same streets to stand in the same locations and make the same pictures with daguerreotypes.


Binh Danh. ‘Rigo 23’s Truth Mural U.N. Plaza at the Civic Center, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5inches


Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco Camerawork, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches


Binh Danh. ‘San Francisco City Hall (Mother’s Day 2014) Rally for Black Youths Whose Killers Have Never Been Found by the San Francisco Police Department, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

PP: Why daguerreotypes?

BD: The daguerreotype results in a reverse image. So, the cityscape is familiar but it’s odd. I like the uncanny.

PP: The reversal makes the viewer look a little harder, which is I think what all photographers want go their images?!

PP: There’s no shortage of spots in the city. How did you choose sites? I’d like to ask, specifically, about the TRUTH mural.

BD: When you do work with a commercial gallery, they are trying to sell work they are trying to move work. So, a lot of the more iconic San Francisco scenes are a little more successful in that [marketable] way. Some of the quieter scenes that might make there way into a future show or book.

I’m happy Haines picked the TRUTH mural piece. Rigo23 did that piece and what I like about that mural is that it faces city hall and confronts power.

PP: It was made in 2002 to commemorate the 2001 quashed conviction of Robert H. King, one of the Angola 3, after 32 years of incarceration, 29 of which were spent in solitary confinement. It was also a rally call for the cases of Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace (who died in 2014) who remained locked up.

BD: In my picture, the farmers market is ongoing in the foreground, so if you want, there’s connections to the central valley to be made. And to ethnic communities. I’m not sure if the viewer will pick that up but that’s the thing I think about when I’m making the work.


Binh Danh. ‘The Palace of Fine Arts, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches


Binh Danh. ‘The Women’s Building, 18th Street, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches


Binh Danh. ‘B and C Laundromat Barbary Coast Trail, Chinatown, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches

PP: Do you have a favored image?

BD: The city hall image is my favorite image. I photographed a lot. I made all the images over the summer. I must have made 300 exposures and then I narrowed that down to 50 plates and the gallery selected 20.

PP: 300?!

BD: Not everything turns out, you know. I’d make 10 in a day and maybe one would hold a standard that I’m happy to share. Everyday I was driving from San Jose and up to the city making photographs.

BD: Almost all the people I encountered don’t understand the process, so to us it is a very foreign process. I think we take photography for granted so I hope I can help people think about image-making more. Maybe people will stop snapping away and take it slow?

PP: How did you learn the process?

BD: I learned just on my own. I found a 19th century manuscript and kept practicing and experimenting. Perfecting over the years. I began in 2001. Gave up and returned to it in 2009. Through the years I’ve made slow progress. I own the equipment, I make everything from scratch. I coat the copper plate in my studio and buff it. I’ve a van in which process on location. Back then, the daguerreotype was hard to do outside of the studio. That’s why most daguerreotypes are portraits. Cityscapes were rare — then and now.

PP: Thanks, Binh

BD: Thank You, Pete.


Binh Danh. ‘Sutter and Grant Streets, 2014’ Daguerreotype, Unique (in camera exposure). Plate: 8 x 10 inches / Frame: 12.75 x 14.5 inches


Two years ago, I walked out of Chris Fraser’s In Passing, installed in Portland’s Disjecta gallery, and resolved that it was the finest contemporary art I’d seen in the town. In Passing drew your attention to colour, light and line. The sensory experience, for me, put Chris Fraser slap-bang-wallop between Bridget Riley and James Turrell. In Passing was a strict coda delivered to fondle the eyeballs.

What was you ask? I was simply an enclosed corridor around three walls of the gallery. Into the walls, at random moments were slits that ran from floor to corridor ceiling, on the inside-wall. Three bulbs — one R, one G, and one B — hanging from the roof beams dangled in the centre of the gallery and dispersed low level light to all corners of the room. So enclosed was the corridor, that the low level light sliced the darkness in thin rainbow strips. At one end of the corridor the gaps became larger and light as a result became more diffuse and reflected off the walls in a palette closer white light.

Why I a wittering on about this so long after the fact? Well, next week, SF Camerawork opens with Revolving Doors, which is effectively a site specific camera obscura installation.

Note: All images here are of In Passing. Still a week out, I haven’t the foggiest what Revolving Doors looks like.

Fraser says that gallery goers can manipulate the walk in sculpture:

“Visitors will rearrange the space as they move through it, altering the architecture for future patrons,” says Fraser.

They’ll do that by altering the maze-like configuration that mimics the internal mechanisms of a camera.

“The structure and its design stand as a metaphor for the rapid demographic changes in SF Camerawork’s immediate Mid-Market neighborhood,” says SF Camerwork press release.

“The rich and well connected are moving in,” explains Fraser. “The poor and disenfranchised are being kicked out. A city must change to remain vital. But this transition seems particularly cruel. My hope is to highlight this disparity through an architectural intervention.”

Honesty and captivating beauty with a political edge, it seems. If Revolving Doors is even fractionally as accomplished as In Passing it’ll be one absolutely not to miss.

Revolving Doors is on view February 5 – March 21, 2015. The opening reception is this coming Thursday, February 5, 2015, 6-8pm






Photographer, friend and fellow San Franciscoer Robert Gumpert will be exhibiting at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California from January 25th to March 15th.

On show will be photographs from two projects — Gumpert’s ongoing Take A Picture, Tell A Story, and images from “I Need Some Deodorant. My Skin Is Getting Restless” which were made between 1996 and 2002 at the Alameda County’s Psychiatric Emergency Services at John George, Oakland. In both bodies of work, Gumpert uses oral history (audio and text interviews) to add description, depth and context to the experiences of his subjects.

If you’re in the Bay Area, I strongly recommend a trip through the Caldecott Tunnel out to Moraga.I’ve long been an admirer of Gumpert’s work, specifically Take A Picture, Tell A Story which is part of my curated effort Prison Obscura.

Prior to the public reception on January 25th, will be an hour long panel discussion with Gumpert; architect/activist Raphael Sperry; and psychologist/authority on solitary confinement Terry Kupers.

Click on the flier below to see it larger and glean all the critical information.

Robert Gumpert

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Tameika Smith, San Francisco, CA. SF CJ2. 9 July 2012.
Take A Picture
Deborah Lee Worledge, San Francisco, CA. CJ1 Men’s jail. 4 April 2008.

Take A Picture

Michael Johnson, San Bruno, CA. CJ5.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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