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Mesro Coles-El, Indian Pow Wow — 6.12.76, 2013. Courtesy of Nigel Poor and the San Quentin Prison Archive Project

Next week, I’ll be in Bristol with Gemma-Rose Turnbull leading the discussion Photography As A Social Practice. Together we’ll look at  socially engaged art production of contemporary photographers including Phoebe Davis, Nigel Poor and the San Quentin Archive Project (above), Mark Strandquist, Anthony Luvera and others.

Thanks to IC Visual Lab for inviting us down and to Arnolfini for hosting. Gemma is pro: she’s currently co-authoring a pioneering Masters program in Photography with a focus on collaborative practice at Coventry University. We both appreciate image-makers who surrender some control in the image-making process over to others in order to discover new relationships, possibilities, empowerments and photographs. For the talk, Gemma will focus on standout projects that have successfully applied participatory design. Then I will look at the handful of projects that have attempted the same while dealing with the issue of mass incarceration.

As we say in the blurb:

“Socially engaged photographers deal with questions around justice and representation, thereby often discussing practical and historic conventions of photography. Striving to stimulate political and social change, practitioners often document recent societal happenings with compassionate observation.”

We think it’s important territory to tread.

Gemma, I and five others are the PaaSP (Photography As A Social Practice) collective, a loose group that seeks space for discussions on contemporary photography, addressing topics such as ethics and power dynamics. We like to champion practitioners who are good people, good stewards and good image-makers.

In or near Bristol?

7pm. Thursday 18th May 2017

£6/4 CONCESSIONS. Free to ICVL Members

Dark Studio, 2nd floor, Arnolfini

BUY TICKETS

 

 

 

 

011_Animals _ People

It is every artist, collector or photographer’s dream; the discovery of an archive of thousands of negatives. For artist and professor Nigel Poor, it became a reality. In late 2012, she was making a routine visit to Lt. Sam Robinson’s office in San Quentin State Prison. She’d just finished teaching her class in photo-history and collaborating on image interpretation project with her incarcerated students. Knowing her life in the medium, Robinson pulled out a bankers box.

“He lifted the lid,” recalls Poor. “Inside were hundreds of yellow envelopes that I recognized instantly as those which hold 4×5 photo negatives.”

Poor’s heart “exploded.” More than three years on, Poor has only just finished going through all the negs: she estimates there’s more than 10,000.

Nigel Poor San Quentin

In the weeks, after the discovery, Poor took some negatives and scanned them. She showed the prints to Robinson to prove what she could do and he gave her permission to take the entire box. So far, she’s scanned about 600 of the 4×5 negs. There’s four or five other boxes still to scan and categorize.

I anticipate that there’s hundreds of similar archives gathering dust inside cupboards and administration buildings in prisons across the United States. Kudos to the San Quentin authority for empowering Poor to share the finds with a wider public. The archive ultimately belongs, in my opinion in a California State-run Museum.

Nigel Poor San Quentin

Nigel Poor San Quentin

Nigel Poor San Quentin

The other wonderful thing that has come out of this is that Poor is using the images as teaching aids. Just as she had done with iconic images from art history (see the William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander and David Hilliard images above), Poor asked her students to deconstruct, examine and interpret the newly-found images from the San Quentin archive. After she had scanned and printed them on card-stock with large white borders, Poor gave them to the men to interpret.

She has given the prisoners first go at interpreting San Quentin’s history. They are writing the latest stories of a very-storied institution.

Read my article about the archive discovery Rarely Seen Images of the Real San Quentin on the Marshall Project. The article was also cross-posted to The Atlantic — Unearthing San Quentin: Resurrected photos capture moments of daily life at the California prison.

Nigel Poor San Quentin

Nigel Poor San Quentin

Nigel Poor San Quentin

Nigel Poor San Quentin

03_Holidays _ Ceremonies

07_Work _ Leisure

04_Education, Food _ Health

01_Escape _ Confinement

09_Family Visits

oct23_openengagement_image

OPEN ENGAGEMENT 2016

If you’re not going to Oakland for the Open Engagement (OE) conference in April 2016, you’d better have a good excuse. It”ll be great. it’s on the theme of POWER, Angela Davis and Suzanne Lacy are the keynotes and a call for proposals is now open.

“Local, national, and international artists, activists, academics, cultural producers, administrators, curators, educators, writers, thinkers, doers, and makers of all ages are encouraged to propose programming,” says OE.

Proposal deadline: November 2, 2015.

OE is an annual conference about socially engaged art. I’ve been to a couple of past iterations and I recommend.

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) hosts OE 2016, April 29–May 1. Additional sites throughout the Bay Area will also be satellite venues.

“Power is the ability to make desired results happen,” says René de Guzman, OE 2016 curator. “We invite participants to explore this concept broadly and expansively. What is power in the present age? How do we effectively demand it—and how we create it for ourselves? What are the innovative strategies for empowerment before us? What are the mechanisms by which we ensure fair and equitable distribution of power for all? How do we conceive of ourselves and how do we share power with others?”

“Founded in 2007, OE is the only conference on this subject of this scale that operates on an inclusive open call model that supports emerging and established artists and collaborates closely with national institutions,” says OE.

They’re asking for proposals for presentations, panels, discussions, workshops, events and interventions. Logistical support projects and social gatherings are also welcome.

You also win points if your proposal is site specific or in some way reflexive. In plain language, get to know Oakland and Oaklanders. Better still, propose collaborations with some locals.

OE wants you to know that “OMCA brings together collections of art, history, and natural science under one roof, featuring indoor venues with capacities ranging from 6–260, including a hot tub lounge and a partial airplane, and outdoor spaces that can accommodate 50–500, including the garden and Peace Terrace.”

PHOTOGRAPHY + SOCIAL PRACTICE

A good resource to plug your photo-brain into the prerogatives of OE is Photography As A Social Practice. I am an occasional contributor. Also, check out the recent projects sponsored by the Magnum Foundation’s Photography Expanded program.

Please take a peek at my review of the exhibition Social in Practice: The Art of Collaboration, curated by Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas.

Finally, you cannot miss the e-book Wide Angle: Photography As A Participatory Practice edited by Terry Kurgan and Tracy Murinik.

 

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