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Photo: “Me & Myself” by an anonymous student of photography workshop at the Rhode Island Training School, coordinated by AS220 Youth.


If you happen to be in Belgrade, Serbia over the next couple of weeks, I encourage you to head to the Kulturni Centar Beograda (KCB) and see Seen But Not Heard, an exhibition I’ve curated of photographs from American juvenile detention facilities. The show features photographs made by incarcerated youth in photography workshops coordinated by Steve Davis in Washington State and by As220 Youth in Rhode Island, as well as well known photographers Steve Liss, Ara Oshagan, Joseph Rodriguez and Richard Ross.

The invite to put together Seen But Not Heard — which is my first international solo curating gig — was kindly extended by Belgrade Raw, an impressive photo-collective who have operated as guest exhibition coordinators at the KCB’s Artget Gallery throughout 2013. Belgrade Raw called it’s year long program Raw Season. and it was 10 exhibitions strong, including Blake Andrews, Donald Weber and others. Here’s Belgrade Raw’s announcement for Seen But Not Heard.

I’ll update the blog next week with installation shots and a loooong list of acknowledgements (the hospitality, skills and hard work of everyone here has been so overwhelming.)

Beneath, is a long essay I wrote for Seen But Not Heard . Beneath that is a selection from the 200+ works in the exhibition. Beneath the works are the details of the photographer and/or program who made them.


Photo: “Flip” by an anonymous student of photography workshop at the Rhode Island Training School, coordinated by AS220 Youth.



“Ten thousand pulpits and ten thousand presses are saying the good word for me all the time … Then that trivial little Kodak, that a child can carry in his pocket, gets up, uttering never a word, and knocks them dumb.”

– Mark Twain, writing satirically in the voice of King Leopold in condemnation of the Belgian’s brutal rule over the Congo Free State. King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905).

The United States of America is addicted to incarceration. In the course of a year, 13.5 million Americans cycle through the country’s 5,000+ prisons and jails. On any given day, 2.2 million American’s are locked up — 60,500 of whom are children in juvenile correctional facilities or residential programs. The United States imprisons children at more than six times the rate of any other developed nation. With an average cost of $80,000/year to lock up a child under the age of 18, the United States spends more than $5 billion annually on youth detention.

What do we know of these spaces behind locked doors? What do we see of juvenile prisons? The short answer is, not a lot. However, photographs can provide some information — provided we approach them with caution and an informed eye.

Seen But Not Heard features the work of five well-known American photographers who have taken their cameras inside. Crucially, the exhibition also includes photographs made by incarcerated children on cameras delivered to them by arts educators and by staff of social justice organizations. Many of the children’s photographs are being exhibited for the first time.

Cameras are used by prison administrations to maintain security and enforce order, so when a camera is operated by a visiting photographer — and especially by a prisoner — a shift in the power relations occurs. All the images in Seen But Not Heard prompt urgent questions about what it means to be able document and what it means to be prohibited from documenting. What difference is there between being the maker of an image compared to being the subject of an image? What happens if you put kids behind the camera instead of in front of it? What stories do children tell that adults cannot? Can a camera can be a tool for artistic expression instead of an apparatus of control?


“Light Paintings” made by students of the Rhode Island Training School (RITS) prove a camera is essential to the artist’s toolkit. The anonymous RITS students’ images conjure angelic limbs and alter-egos from the dark. The images contain the frustration of incarceration; the longing of a (new) time; the aspirations of youth; the childishness of comic drawing. The photography outreach program taught by AS220, a community arts group of long-standing in Rhode Island, is an extension of workshops taught to teens in the free-world. In fact, children have graduated out of RITS and into the many studio arts programs offered by AS220 Youth in the town and neighborhoods of Providence, RI. An adult would or could never make these images; it is a privilege for us to share in them.

The workshops that Steve Davis coordinated in four youth detention centers in Washington State provide us a window into the incarcerated children’s lives. For legal reasons, at Remann Hall, no images could identify the girls and so Davis made use of pinhole cameras with long exposures. The girls treated the opportunity as one for performance enacting torment, official restraint procedures and bored isolation. The blurry images are eerie and evocative; as if the girls are capturing the moments in which they are disappearing from society’s view.

By contrast, the boys’ photographs are very much embedded in reality; they carried cameras outside of structured class time with instructions to make general images and construct photographs along a weekly theme. The boys had one another as immediate audience. We see unfiltered views of their activities, cells, day rooms, programs and priorities; we see costume, computer games, machismo posturing, childlike play and even boring moments. Accidentally they collectively constructed a visual narrative in which motifs such as t-shirts, playing cards and institutional furniture recur. The photographs would be monotonous were it not for the splashed of life the children provide — perfectly communicating why and how humans kept in boxes is not the natural order, nor the ideal circumstance.


The photographers in Seen But Not Heard all had different motivations for going inside. After the experience, they all had the same attitudes.

Without exception, the photographers’ experiences had them wide-eyed, sometimes angry, usually frustrated and certainly more conscious of the politics of incarceration. Consequently, they feel a responsibility to share their images and to describe youth prisons to many audiences.

Steve Liss had watched the children of a Texas juvenile prisons perform a choreographed marching routine for then Texas Governor G.W. Bush. After the ridiculous spectacle, the ridiculous Bush gave a ridiculous moral instruction to stay out of trouble. Liss was furious at the patronizing tone of the event and particularly Bush. As a press photographer, Liss had parachuted in and out of that prison as quick as his subject Bush did. He vowed that if Bush ever made it to be President, he’d return to Texas to photograph the children’s lives. Bush would never see those children, but perhaps the world should. It is alarming how often we see very young and tiny children subject to shackles and apparatus designed for dangerous 200+ lb. men. It’s as if the system is blind to the physicality of its young prisoners. That being the case, how can we presume they understand or provide for the more complex psychology of these children?

Joseph Rodriguez was locked up as a young man. He also experienced homelessness, for a time, and was addicted to drugs. He was sent to the infamous Riker’s Island prison in New York twice — first, for a minor charge related to his anti-war protest activity; second, for burglary. His mother could not afford the $500. He spent 3 months locked up awaiting his court date. Post-release, Rodriguez found photography and it gave him a means to process and describe the world. Having seen the inside, Rodriguez empathizes with children who are going through any prison system. More than 20 years after his incarceration, Rodriguez felt it a duty to use his storytelling skills to tell the stories of incarcerated children. In 1999, he photographed inside the San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties juvenile detention centers and followed children through the cells, courtrooms and counseling of the criminal justice system.

Ara Oshagan’s opportunity to photograph at the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall (the largest juvenile prison in America) was pure happenstance. He met with Leslie Neale a documentary filmmaker for lunch on a Monday. Neale was filming inside the juvenile hall and needed a photographer to shoot b-roll. Oshagan was inside on the Tuesday. He was so moved by the experience that he applied for clearance to return on his own. He followed six youngsters as they progressed through their cases and, in some cases, into California’s adult prison system. Oshagan never felt like his photographs were enough to describe the emotions of the children and so he asked each of them to write poems and presents text and image as diptych. Random circumstance, fine slices of luck, peer pressure and other people’s decisions factor far more heavily in children’s lives than in adults’ lives. Throughout, Oshagan was constantly reminded how his subjects were very much like his own children.

Late in his career and having financial security through a Guggenheim fellowship and teaching sabbatical, Richard Ross turned his lens upon juvenile detention. Ross wanted to give advocates, legislators, educators the visual evidence on which to base discussion and policy. He provides his images for free to individuals and organizations doing work for the betterment of children’s lives.

Repeatedly, Ross met children who were themselves victims; frighteningly often he heard stories of psychological, physical and sexual abuse, homelessness, suicide attempts, addiction and illiteracy. Many kids locked up are from poor communities and a disproportionate number of youths detained are boys and girls of color. Ross observed some really positive interventions made by institutions (regular meals, counseling, positive male role models to name a few) but he saw the use of incarceration not as last resort but as routine.


Unsurprisingly, many have lost faith in the juvenile prison system. Recent scandals have exposed systematic abuses.

In Pennsylvania, two judges accepted millions of dollars in kickbacks from a private prison company to sentence children to custody; in Texas, an inquiry uncovered over 1,000 cases of sexual assault by staff in the state’s juvenile justice system; in New York, on Riker’s Island it has been alleged that young gangs (referred to as “teams”) organized within the jail itself, and controlled and enforced the juvenile wings while the authorities turned a blind eye. The rivalries resulted in fights, stabbings and in one case death. The New York City Department of Corrections denies the allegations, but interestingly it was NYDOC employees that exposed the violence by leaking internal photographs to the Village Voice newspaper.

Nationally, the private company Youth Services International (YSI) inexplicably continues to operate despite being cited for ‘offenses ranging from condoning abuse of inmates to plying politicians with undisclosed gifts while seeking to secure state contracts’ by the Department of Justice and also New York, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas.

Not only is being locked up ineffective as a deterrent in youths who have not reached full cognitive development and don’t understand the consequences of their actions, it can actually make a criminal out of a potentially law-abiding kid. Dr. Barry Krisberg, director of research at the Berkeley School of Law’s Institute on Law & Social Policy, says, “Young people [when detained] often get mixed in with those incarcerated on more serious offenses. Violence and victimization is common in juvenile facilities and it is known that exposure to such an environment accelerates a young person toward criminal behaviors.”


Given the lessons from the failed practices of incarcerating more and more children, States are adopting more progressive policies. Certainly, authorities are turning away from punishing acts such as truancy and delinquency with detention; acts that are not criminal for an adult but have in the past siphoned youths into the court system. But more than that, incarceration for youth is widely considered a last resort.

States that reduced juvenile confinement rates the most between 1997 and 2007 had the greatest declines in juvenile arrested for violent crimes. It’s proof that incarceration doesn’t solve crime. And, it might suggest incarceration damages communities. Following repeated abuse scandals in the California Youth Authority (CYA) facilities in the 90s, California carried forth the largest program of decarceration in U.S. history. Reducing its total number of youth prisons from 11 to 3 and slashing the CYA population by nearly 90%, California simultaneously witnessed a precipitous drop in violent crime committed by under-18s.

The U.S. still has a long way to go if it is to reverse decades of over-reliance on incarceration, but as the recent Supreme Court ruling banning Life Without Parole sentences for children suggests, it seems Americans hold less punitive attitudes when it comes to youth’s transgressions, as compared to the apathetic attitudes to adult prisoners.

We need to expect and applaud photography that depicts imprisoned children as they are — as citizens-in-the-making, as humans with as complex emotional needs as any of us, as not lost causes, as victims as much as they may have been victimizers, as our future, as individuals society must look to help and reintegrate and not discard. Photography can help us appreciate the complexity of the issues at hand. Used responsibly, it can bring us closer.


Photo: “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” by an anonymous student of photography workshop at the Rhode Island Training School, coordinated by AS220 Youth.


Photo: “Icarus” by an anonymous student of photography workshop at the Rhode Island Training School, coordinated by AS220 Youth.


AS220 Youth is a free arts education program for young people ages 14-21, with a special focus on those in the care and custody of the state. AS220 Youth provides free studio-based classes in virtually all media including photography. Staff including photography coordinator Scott Lapham and photography instructor Miguel Rosario (who I met when I visited in 2011) help students build a portfolio with help from a staff advisor. AS220 Youth maintains long-term, supportive relationships with youth transitioning out of RITS and the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (DCYF) care, and offers mentoring, transitional jobs, and financial support. AS220 Youth works to connect youth with professional opportunities in the arts — through exhibitions at the AS220 Gallery and others; through publication in the AS220 quarterly literary magazine called ‘The Hidden Truth’; and through securing photo-assistant jobs on commercial photo shoots for students.

Steve Liss

Photo: Steve Liss. Prisoners, ages 10-16, wait in line to march back to their cells in the exercise yard at the Webb County Juvenile Detention facility.

Steve Liss

Photo: Steve Liss. 10-year-old Alejandro has his mug shot taken at Webb County Juvenile Detention following his arrest for marijuana possession. Every day the inmates get smaller, and more confused about what brought them here. Psychiatrists say children do not react to punishment in the same way as adults. They learn more about becoming criminals than they do about becoming citizens. And one night of loneliness can be enough to prove their suspicion that nobody cares.


Steve Liss photographed in Texas 2001-2004. His book No Place For Children: Voices from Juvenile Detention (University of Texas Press, 2005) won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 2006.

Steve Liss worked as a Time Magazine photographer for 25 years, assigned to stories of social significance involving ordinary people. Forty-three of his photographs appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. For his work on juvenile justice, Liss was awarded a Soros Justice Media Fellowship (2004) for my work on domestic poverty he was awarded an Alicia Patterson Fellowship (2005). Recently, Liss received the Pictures of the Year International (PoYI) ‘World Understanding Award.’ Liss has taught graduate photojournalism at Columbia College, Chicago and Northwestern University.


Photo: Ara Oshagan, from the series ‘A Poor Imitation Of Death’


Photo: Ara Oshagan, from the series ‘A Poor Imitation Of Death’


Ara Oshagan photographed inside the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall and the California prison system. Oshagan’s book of this work A Poor Imitation of Death is to be published next year (Umbrage Books, 2014). Oshagan is twice a recipient of a California Council on the Humanities Major Grant for his documentary work on diaspora groups in Los Angeles.

Interested in the themes of identity, community and bearing witness, much of Ara Oshagan’s work focuses on the oral histories of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Since 1995, Oshagan has been creating work for iwitness in collaboration with Levon Parian and the Genocide Project. Father Land, a book project made with his father, well-known author, Vahe Oshagan was published in 2010 by powerHouse books.

Tiny, Green Hill, 2000

 Photo: Steve Davis. ‘Tiny, Green Hill, 2000’


Photo: Anonymous student at Green Hill School. Photograph made in response to the prompt “Vulnerability” as part of photography workshop led by Steve Davis.


Photo: Anonymous student at Green Hill School. Discussing photographs made during workshop led by Steve Davis.


Steve Davis coordinated photography workshops in four facilities in Washington State (Maple Lane, Green Hill, Remann Hall and Oakridge) between 1997 and 2005. Simultaneously, Davis made portraits and photographs for his own series Captured Youth.

Davis is a documentary portrait and landscape photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. His work has appeared in Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, Russian Esquire, and is in many collections, including the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Seattle Art Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the George Eastman House. He is a former 1st place recipient of the Santa Fe CENTER Project Competition, and two time winner of Washington Arts Commission/Artist Trust Fellowships. Davis is the Coordinator of Photography, Media Curator and adjunct faculty member of The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA. Davis is represented by the James Harris Gallery, Seattle.


Photo: Joseph Rodriguez, from the series ‘Juvenile’


Photo: Joseph Rodriguez, from the series ‘Juvenile’


Joseph Rodriguez photographed in the San Francisco County Jails 2001-2004. The work is collected in his book Juvenile (PowerHouse Books, 2004)

Joseph Rodriguez is a documentary photographer from Brooklyn, New York. He studied photography in the School of Visual Arts and in the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Program at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Rodriguez’s work had been exhibited at Galleri Kontrast, Stockholm, Sweden; The African American Museum, Philadelphia, PA; The Fototeca, Havana, Cuba; Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, Open Society Institute’s Moving Walls, New York; Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center; and the Kari Kenneti Gallery Helsinki, Finland. In 2001 the Juvenile Justice website, featuring Joseph Rodriguez’s photographs, launched in partnership with the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival High School Pilot Program. He teaches at New York University, the International Center of Photography, New York. Rodriguez is the past recipient if Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship in 1993 photographing communities in East Los Angeles.


Photo: Photo: Richard Ross. Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall. Downey, California.


Richard Ross is a photographer and professor of art at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Juvenile-In-Justice (2006-ongoing) “turns a lens on the placement and treatment of American juveniles housed by law in facilities that treat, confine, punish, assist and, occasionally, harm them,” says Ross.

A book Juvenile in Justice (self-published, 2012) and traveling exhibition continue to circulate the work. Ross collaborates with juvenile justice stakeholders and uses the images as catalysts for change. For Juvenile-In-Justice, Richard Ross photographed in over 40 U.S. states in 350 facilities, met and interviewed approximately 1,000 children. Juvenile-In-Justice published on CBS News, WIRED, NPR, PBS Newshour, ProPublica, and Harper’s Magazine, for which it was awarded the 2012 ASME Award for Best News and Documentary Photography.


A few months ago, you may recall, I mounted a show in a brewery in Seattle. It was a prison art fundraiser organised by University Beyond Bars and an appended exhibition of prison photography from Washington State – including the work of Bettina Hansen, Tim Matsui, Steve Davis, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott and Erika Schultz.

During the opening, there was a couple of filmmakers snagging folk for interviews and trying to make sense of what college education can do for a prisoners’ community and why an art auction and photography show can bring those ideas to the public.

Well, the resulting video has just been published. It’s not the slickest media production you’ll find but it is earnest and the film recognises the work of the many individuals and volunteers who quietly work to make prisons more humane and hopeful.


When friends call and ask if you’d like to mount a show in a brewery, there’s only one answer.

University Beyond Bars was putting on a prison art fundraiser at Machine House Brewery in Georgetown, Seattle. I was invited to curate some prison photography. I selected five photographers from Washington State that have made work in Washington State prisons and juvenile detention centers.

The only issue with the space was that IT IS A BREWERY. A beer-making space is set up for a different type of cultures.

The UBB students’ prison art (paintings and illustrations) went up front of house. The space for the photographs was the warehouse. Upon arrival on Friday afternoon, the ground floor and mezzanine boasted fork lift truck, pallets of malt and barley, industrial fridges, old lockers, busted furniture, spare fixtures, lamps, chairs, bikes and other inconvenient objects.

So I went to work. And I loved it. Painting and drilling is a nice tonic to desk-laptopping.


This is pretty much what the space looked like when we finished. (Note the clear floorspace.) When I say we, I mean me and some amazing peeps who swept, nailed, primed, sweat and hung prints and frames. Big thanks to Bill the Brewer, UBB‘s very own Stacey Reeh, and Joe.

Uber-thanks to Bettina Hansen who went without a shower and worked right through until the doors opened on Saturday night to get everything spiffy.


Here’s Cheryl Hanna-Truscott’s work Protective Custody.


These are the first two prints of 16 in Cheryl’s series.


Three of the five photographers’ work was mounted straight onto boards that doubled as screens to hide all the junk alongside the walk-in refrigerator.


That beard on the right is Matt Mills McKnight.


Bettina sporting the DIY-casual fashions, next to the photographs she made for the Seattle Times of The Freehold Theater’s Engaged Theater Program at MSU, Monroe, Washington.


Steve Davis peeking into the walk-in.


Erika Schultz and Tim Matsui.


More of Cheryl‘s.


Intern Sam, Kat and I.


Images 9-16 of Cheryl’s work.


I even painted the bathroom door.


Signs were made. Bottom steps were marked.


On Thursday, Steve Davis had given me some work prints to look over for a future project we are planning. They images were made by boys at Maple Lane juvenile detention center and have never been published. Strong, haunting and expressive. I decided to tack them up on a single wall in the old, emptied-out machine-house office.


Looking in to the office from the gantry at the top of the stairs.

IMG_7469 IMG_7472

UBB co-founder, Gary Idleburg, speaks to a video crew making a piece about perceptions of prisoners and the importance of art as communication.


One large print from Remann Hall (left) and work prints made by boys incarcerated at Maple Lane, Centralia, WA in the early 2000s.



On the mezzanine level, six portraits from 1998 by Steve Davis.


Large prints of pinhole photographs made by the girls of Remann Hall, Tacoma, WA.


A frame …


… for a frame.


The fluorescent lights were actually pretty good for showing off the work.

Portraits & Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons remains open for three more weekends. Until August 10th. The brewery is only open Friday 3-7pm, and Saturday and Sundays 12-7pm.

Erika Schultz

Student of Univeristy Beyond Bars, Monroe Correctional Complex, 2011 © Erika Schultz


Opening on Saturday, 20th July is Prison Art an art auction fundraiser for University Beyond Bars (UBB), the prison education I worked with from 2009-2011.

Accompanying Prison Art is a photography component I was invited to curate. Titled Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons the exhibition features five photographers working in Washington State and making images of Washington State lockdowns.



At Washington State Reformatory, students in a Studio Art class, sponsored by the nonprofit organization University Beyond Bars and led by long-term prisoner-artist Gary Thomas, have created oil, acrylic, and gouache paintings as well as pencil and ink drawings in styles that range from the political to the retro, from the kitsch to the abstract.

You can see a local KING 5 newschannel spot on Gary and the class, here. (Turn the sound down to avoid the over-zealous sound-editing use of cliche clanging doors and locks!)

80 pieces feature in the Prison Art show ranging from nearly pocket-sized to large triptych paintings. All are for sale and proceeds go toward paying for the college education of UBB students. The silent auction lasts two weeks.

‘Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons’

Young mothers, critical thinkers and children making powerful art may not be the first types of people we’d expect to find behind bars, but Portraits and Pixels challenges our notions of who is behind bars in the Evergreen State.

Portraits and Pixels: Photography in Washington State Prisons brings together images by five established local photographers to provide an overview of arts, rehabilitation and security in Washington State’s lockdowns.

Bettina Hansen, a Seattle Times photojournalist since 2012, photographed the theater productions at Monroe Correctional Complex. In 2011, Erika Schultz, also of the Seattle Times, volunteered her skills and made portraits of students in the UBB art program at Monroe. Tim Matsui, a Seattle-based multimedia journalist, casts a light on the Youth Art Program at the Denney Juvenile Detention Center in Everett. In the early 2000s, Steve Davis led workshops in four Washington State juvenile detention centers producing pinhole camera photographs and narrative-rich images with the children. Davis also made formal portraits of the boys and girls. Nurse-midwife, Cheryl Hanna-Truscott has made dignified and quiet double-portraits of incarcerated mothers with their newborns at the Residential Parenting Program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. The pioneering program is nationally recognized for its commitment to maintain ties between mother and baby by means of rigorous administration, family and volunteer efforts.

The exhibition will be open to the public from July 21 until August 10 during the brewery hours: Fri-Sun 3-7 pm.

OPENING NIGHT, July 20th, 7:30 – 10 pm

Prison Art is hosted by Machine House Brewery, at 5840 Airport Way S in Georgetown, just south of Seattle.

Tickets are available here. Tickets are $15 each, or two for $25.

There will be live music by singer-songwriter Lori Dreier, cellist Ed Tellman, and keyboard artist and former prisoner Dan Pens.

Facebook event page here.



© Steve Davis

Bettina Hasnsen Prison Theatre

Daemond Arrindell, teaching artist for Freehold Theatre’s Engaged Theatre program, gives words of encouragement to inmate Ted Cherry after a rehearsal at Monroe Correctional Complex April 17, 2013. “They are the most appreciative population we’ve ever worked with,” said Arrindell, who is a local poet and community organizer known for running various writing and performance workshops and the Seattle Poetry Slam. “They recognize what limited opportunities they have.” © Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times

Tim Matsui

Cell Denney Juvenile Detention Center in Everett. © Tim Matsui

Mother and child in the Residential Parenting Program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. © Cheryl Hanna-Truscott

Prison Art Seattle

Jon Lowenstein

This is the third and final post about Photoville. We’ve had the beginning, the middle and so now, the end.

Of the two dozen photographers in the show, only three had actual objects (Sye Williams’ darkroom prints, Jane Lindsay’s bottle caps and Deborah Luster’s tintypes). Given the cost and hassle of shipping, it was decided that the re-used Noorderlicht exhibition prints would not be returned.

I was given instructions to destroy all prints.

It occurs to me that a lot of people don’t talk about this aspect of contemporary exhibition-making. It’s not really sad to see them go, because they never belonged to anyone. They only belonged to the show. And besides, knowing they were to be destroyed, I put most of them up with double sided sticky tape, so there was no preserving them after that ultra-adhesive abuse anyway.  Super-strong magnets are hardly kind to bare prints either!

We do plan to travel Cruel and Unusual (make Hester, Noorderlicht and I an offer!) and as such we’ll see shiny versions printed again.

Until then, think on these images of photogaeddon, wanton destruction and image massacre.

Araminta de Clermont

Stephen Tourlentes

Jenn Ackerman

Steve Davis

Richard Ross

Jeff Barnett-Winsby

Tim Gruber

Yana Payusova

Lori Waselchuk

Joseph Rodriguez

Adam Shemper

Sean Kernan

Marilyn Suriani

Scott Houston

Lloyd Degrane

Harvey Finkle

Lizzie Sadin

Nathalie Mohadjer

Brenda Ann Kenneally

Alyse Emdur

Untitled #1, by Steve Davis. From his ‘Captured Youth’ series. 8×10 on a 10×12 heavyweight archival paper, for $300. Signed. Special Edition of 4.

Steve Davis is an old buddy. I shouldn’t have been surprised he quadrupled-down on the generosity. He’s kindly offered a selection of prints to sell in order to raise money for my Prison Photography on the Road Kickstarter project.

Our conversation went something like this:

Pete: I didn’t want to ask, because I don’t want to interview you. You’ve answered everything I can think to ask. I mean we could talk about photography non-stop, but about prisons … (tails off)

Steve: What do you need?

Pete: Well, ideally some mid-level incentives, something around $300.

Steve: No problem, I’ll find some images, probably a couple that have not been seen before. We’ll print them small in a special edition of four, four of each, that way you can offer “a choice of one from four”.

Pete: Thanks Steve.

Steve: No problem.

Pete: No, really, thanks Steve.

Steve: No, really, no problem Pete.

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A Steve Davis print PLUS a postcard, a mixtape and a self-published book – going for $300. BUY NOW.

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Untitled #2, by Steve Davis. From his ‘Captured Youth’ series. 8×10 on a 10×12 heavyweight archival paper. Signed. Special Edition of 4.

Untitled #3, by Steve Davis. From his ‘Captured Youth’ series. 8×10 on a 10×12 heavyweight archival paper. Signed. Special Edition of 4.

Untitled #4, by Steve Davis. From his ‘Captured Youth’ series. 8×10 on a 10×12 heavyweight archival paper. Signed. Special Edition of 4.

A Steve Davis print PLUS a postcard, a mixtape and a self-published book – going for $300. BUY NOW.

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See all available prints as part of my Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

Steve Davis was in Montana last month and sent me some photographs from his visit to Old Montana Prison in Deer Lodge. Davis’ foray goes into the annals of tourist photography from prison museums.

Regarding prison museums, I have previously looked at the work of Roger Cremers, Daniel & Geo Fuchs, Daniel Etter and Polaroids from Berlin-Hohenschönhausen. Of course we shouldn’t forget that are prisons in the world in which both inmates and tourists co-mingle.

This is a continuation from the Interview Part One, published Tuesday, 21st July, 2009.

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Steve Davis, Green Hill, 2000

PP: Tell us about the objectives of the workshops?

SD: The purpose of the first workshop [at Maple Lane] was to create images that would describe what life was like. To treat the camera as a photojournalist would. They had a story to tell. And they had an audience that they were supposed to reach. Once I was there I quickly realized that most of these kids have never completed a project of any description.

Photography was secondary. They just needed something to do as a group that might actually have some kind of consequence. That people could look to and be happy with. A lot of them had never had [that type of validation].

We agreed, and it wasn’t hard to get them to agree that the group as a whole took credit for each picture. And they were all okay with that. I’d print them, take them back and show them. The group would edit them and they’d feel part of the process.

The Green Hill School was a little less resolved. I wasn’t quite sure I was there honestly. I don’t think they’d quite figured it out. And so that was a little tougher I think.

When I was at Remann Hall there was a whole issue with not photographing faces. So with that I took a whole different tack and gave them pinhole cameras, which ran on long exposures.

The girls had to plan the shot. They were thinking in terms of illustration and performance for the camera. It wasn’t about trying to document as much as create these worlds for the camera. And those pictures are really beautiful.

The purpose of those pictures was to become part of a construction that they were building; It was a house with all sorts of representations, photos, paintings and stuff like that. That went to the Tacoma Museum of Glass. It might even still be there? The photos didn’t work well in the house, unfortunately, mostly for technical or logistical reasons.  However, they were very significant in the catalog.

PP: What lessons did you learn?

SD: When it worked at its best we worked as a small group and we did a lot of talking.

Steve Davis, Basketball, Remann Hall

The Institution Adapts

PP: Any problems?

SD: They’d take photos, show them and sell them to the other kids and get in trouble for that. They had a whole economy going. They were photographers for hire. The other kids would hire them. They were all doing gang signs, which completely got everyone in trouble.

PP: So they had the cameras with them during the project? In their cells?

SD: It depended which facility we’re talking about. It was actually a huge struggle at the start of the project, especially at Maple Lane where they’d confiscate the cameras. The staff would confiscate the cameras as a form of punishment. As soon as I left the building they’d take the cameras away. That part was really hard.

It got better when there was enough dialogue about it. There was a whole education process that had to go on with the staff too. They weren’t used to cameras being there! They were not comfortable with that. They allowed kids to go outside with one of the staff, you know, photograph a tree and then give the camera back to the staff member.

PP: Describe the education you gave to staff.

SD: The only thing I could do with staff was to explain my view and then get the management of the facility on my side … who could then explain to the staff and sanction the activity. The photographs were all censored at the end.

When the staff realized that the superintendent was saying it was okay they began to lay-off, but in truth there wasn’t a lot I could do with the staff. At the time, there was some really progressive staff who thought this would be good for the kids and that the exposure would actually be good for them. Over the years that changed, and they became very protective again.

Steve Davis. Green Hill, 2000

PP: How did each of the workshops wrap up then?

SD: Maple Lane: I was there as long as I was supposed to be there. But it was clear I was never going to get to be back. I was caught in the middle of larger differences between organizations. That shut me out of that.

Green Hill School: I was amazed at the amount of support they gave me after a while. I went into the intensive management unit (IMU), which is the hard-core wing – the lock down.

I thought they weren’t likely to let me in there, but I approached the management anyway and I said I really needed to take pictures of that [the IMU]. I explained I didn’t want to make it pretty. The administrator said ‘Yes’ which really blew me away.

And the staff at the IMU were just so excited that someone came out to visit because that place was usually off limits.

Spotlight On/Spotlight Off

A while later the New York Times magazine was going to run my pictures including those of the IMU. I made a mistake and I went back to [Green Hill] and told them the New York Times was interested and that I wanted to get some updated photographs and releases. The management had changed by then – they threatened me with lawyers and state attorney general. It got complicated and the story never ran.

PP: Which photographs were problematic? Or was the project as a whole problematic for Green Hill?

SD: I’d sent New York Times a lot of stuff and they were interested but the final selection was never made, so I don’t know which individual pictures would’ve been the problem. The project was the problem.  The editor said “do what you need to do and get it right,” but editors have very short time lines and attentions spans.  When I was ready they had already moved on.  My fault.

PP: Your stark environment photographs. These are pictures of the IMU too?

SD: Yes. That’s a play area that had been shut down for months. They couldn’t even use it. That’s IMUs exercise room with no weights, no anything.

Rec Room, Intensive Management Unit, Green Hill School 2000

The situation here is that they’d get a chair if they were still enrolling themselves in school; they had their own choice if they wanted to be enrolled in school. If they acted up, which many did because they were locked up 23/7, they’d take away their mattress and they’d sleep on the cement. And if there was more trouble than that they strip them, and if there was more trouble than that they’d chain them up in the fetal position.

PP: Seriously?

SD: I’m serious. This is what I was told – I was told by staff. It was bad and that’s probably why they didn’t want any of my pictures running in the New York Times. They told me they were cleaning up their act. This was 2000 so that may well be true. My response was, “Great, can you invite me back? I’d like to see it.” They said they were not into that.

PP: You’ve many photographs of the steel doors and hatches.

SD: The hatch is where they’d get their food, mail and medical needs. That’s when the IMU really started to affect me emotionally. You know, when I was working with them face to face in these institutions it wasn’t any different to working with kids anywhere. But …

10, 11, 12 13 & 14, Green Hill, 2000

Cell, Green Hill, 2000

PP: Were these juveniles in the IMU because they were violent offenders or were they there because they’d broken prison rules?

SD: Because they’d broken prison rules.

PP: It was punishment?

SD: Yes, but part of understanding this is also getting accurate information.

I was told they put people there for their own protection. There was one kid who was a pedophile who was apparently there for his own protection, but then I was told later that that wasn’t the case. “Oh, you can’t do that [type of separation].”

PP: One would think prisons could run protective cells and wings without resorting to these stark punitive environments? It doesn’t have to be run like that?

SD: Maple Lane it is less punitive, as far as I could tell.  But they’ll separate gangs as well. You know kids can’t just be housed anywhere. It has to fit with the institution.

PP: I am shocked to learn that juveniles are in isolation. What are your thoughts on solitary confinement?

SD: About the time I was shooting this story, Tim McVeigh was about to be executed for his Oklahoma bombings. Watching him on TV, he was on death row and he clearly had a better cell than those kids. This was interesting but also depressing – some kids told me they’d go to IMU because they just wanted to get away and some of them would only be there for two or three days. But some of them would be there for months.

The staff, there was one guy, I forget his name, was extremely bitter. He said in front of everybody, including the kids. “I could solve this problem easily, I’d just get a gun” and this is how he’d talk to these kids. He said back a few years ago they had tables in the open hallway and a TV and pool table.

The kids took the pool balls and beat the staff with them, they broke the television. So they removed all these things just because the staff were scared – that was the only reason. They told me one woman couldn’t go back to work because her arm could was damaged. And so you realize it is very complicated. These people come to work everyday and they don’t want to be constantly threatened with violence.

Court, Green Hill, 2000

SD: But, of course, these kids [I was photographing] had nothing to do with that. Right? They had nothing to do with it but had to pay the consequences.

Some kids would go to IMU just for mouthing off and others may have done something serious.

As for the staff; some most of them were really good. And I don’t know how they do it every day. Others were those who were bringing in dope for the kids and being nasty.

The kids complained about this and there was nobody there to listen.

PP: No accountability? Did complaints ever get out of the facility – say to the DSHS for example?

SD: I don’t know. Part of the problem is the kids lie their heads off. No matter what they tell me I can’t assume it is true and that is part of the problem and just makes it more complicated. But the more I got to know them they all have their underground. You know – they’ve all got something they can get high on. It must be the staff that’s bringing the stuff in.

PP: What’s in it for the staff? Behavioral management?

SD: Well, they’d get something out of it … I don’t know what. I had camera stuff stolen. I know the staff stole it; it wasn’t the kids.

The kids would always get punished because the state didn’t know what to do with these kids. It was about management – it was not about justice.

Steve Davis, Oakridge, 2005

PP: Tell us about your portraits. Did the kids see your work?

SD: Yeah, they all got a picture. If I did a portrait they all received one. Although yeah [laughs/sighs] some of the kids swore they never got them. I’d give them to staff to pass on …

Something I think is really interesting is this desire for photographs. (I video taped in there too and interviewed a lot of them). They would have empty rooms, but they’d have maybe a few pictures on the wall that they were allowed to have.

It was a huge deal to them to have these pictures. Photographs were important. And one kid who was an outsider (you could tell the other kids didn’t like him) approached the group and said, “I’ve got something but I can’t show it to you.” And they said, “Fine, we not interested.” And he kept nagging; it was clear that he did in fact want to show the group this thing.

Usually contraband is drugs or porno, but no. He pulled out this picture of him and his parents from when he was a kid. It was all wrinkled up and that was his prize that nobody could take from him, I’d never seen anything like that before.

I’d heard from Susan Warner, from before I was in there, that she came across one kid who had never even seen a photograph. I’m thinking, “He must have seen a photograph?” but some of these kids have backgrounds that are so hard to imagine.

Anyway, they loved having their picture taken and they loved having the power to visualize the result.

Steve Davis, Oakridge, 2005

PP: Their futures? Do you wonder what happened to them?

SD: I tried to track them down. And it was impossible. I tracked one down. He made it into community college in Centralia. He was in college when I met him.

Another kid everybody liked. He was popular and he was smart. After he got out he called me once. The Experimental Gallery got him a scholarship. The college wouldn’t admit a felon so he couldn’t use his scholarship. He was on parole, so he had to stay in his local area and so his options were limited to colleges there. So he had a scholarship and he worked in McDonalds!

Later, I was working with a legal advocacy group in Seattle and they could identify a lot of these kids as being in the adult system now. The recidivism rate is 80%. I think in the back of their minds they just kind of expect that [return to an institution]. Prison is where their dad is in many cases. A lot of them – more than I would have imagined – were affiliated with gangs. I never really appreciated that as being a serious problem in Washington State, but most of them had some allegiance. After release most of them return to their homes and familiar neighborhoods.

PP: In how many cases did you think that the institution as it existed served the child and society?

SD: Only one. There was one who was scary. Out of his mind. But there was only one.

PP: Talk about the procedures one must go through to photograph in a site of incarceration.

SD: Everybody asks me, “Can I go do this, who do I need to call?” somebody needs to call you. They’ve already gone through the hoops and they’ve already got that figured out.

PP: Do you see yourself photographing in sites of incarceration again?

SD: Yes. Am I planning for it, no, but it could happen through other avenues. I have been planning for some years to do a project on American war veterans, which falls under the same sort of scope. That is going to be my next big project.

If I do go back to prisons or jails, I don’t want to photograph more portraits that look the same. I don’t want to take the same pictures. I would like to penetrate into [the issue] with something deeper.

PP: Any closing thoughts?

SD: I don’t know a lot about prisons. I don’t know a lot about the adult systems but the youth systems (and I have a two and half year old now) is an embarrassment. It’s really bad they don’t know how to deal with these kids and they don’t know how to make them better.

The real smart ones will figure out how to get out of there and the rest … ?

Door 2, Intensive Management Unit, Green Hill, 2000

Steve Davis is the Coordinator of Photography and adjunct faculty member of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He received the Santa Fe Center for Photography’s Project Competition in 2002, and recently won an Artist Trust Fellowship. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, and is in the collections of the George Eastman House, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Musee de la Photographie in Belgium. He is represented by the James Harris Gallery, Seattle.


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