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In 2010, photographer Patrick Gilliéron Lopreno visited three Swiss prisons and created the series Puzzle Carceral. Yesterday, I featured a select edit from Puzzle Carceral.

During his year spent on the project, Patrick doubled down on the photo-interventions with a prison photo workshop. Once a week, for two months, he met with prisoners of La Brenaz prison in Geneva. Some of the images are simple point-and-shoot portraits; some are documents of living conditions; others such as the image of an Islamic prayer-mat or the image of a low-lit corridor are more meditative.

I asked Patrick some questions about the experience and he provided a selection of prisoner-made images from the workshop.

Q & A

A workshop is very different to a single photographer, you, making images. What made you decide to put cameras in the hands of prisoners? What were your aims?

The idea was to produce a report with the prisoners on their conditions of detention. What mattered to me was their view of their confinement.

What did they want to do or convey with their photography?

For them the workshop was primarily a time of separation from their prison life. I did not claim to provide them with training and that was clear from the outset. Some men realised that they were able to make beautiful images and for once they made something others could compliment; they became creative.

What negotiations did you go through to conduct the workshop?

The social worker of the prison has helped me tremendously. She brought me into contact with inmates who wanted to participate in this workshop. I never asked for money from the prison for my class because I did not want to be paid. I wanted to stay as independent as possible and retain complete control.

Is a camera not a security hazard inside of a prison?

A camera in prison is never welcome – not for the prison [administration] or for the prisoners. I was not there to make pictures for the inmates’ files. I always asked each prisoner’s permission to use his image.

What stood out about the prisoners work? Any photographs that surprised you?

I was dazzled by the artistic and poetic qualities of their pictures. The best photos were developed and printed on large sheets and then exhibited in the prison.

In 2012, Swiss photographer Patrick Gilliéron Lopreno documented – alongside journalist Jean-François Schwab – three prisons: Prison Champ-Dollon and Prison La Brenaz in Geneva and Bochuz Prison in Vaud, Switzerland. The result was the series Puzzle Carcéral.

Two of the prisons were at that time subject to national scandals. Skander Vogt, a prisoner at Bochuz died of asphyxiation after setting fire to his mattress. Prison Champ-Dollon was notorious for its overcrowding. Prison La Brenaz was built purposefully to reduce the population at Champ-Dollon from its bloated 200% capacity, although with mixed results.

I wanted to ask Patrick a few questions about working inside Swiss prisons that were at that precise moment under scrutiny.

How did you gain access to the prison?

Bochuz was closed to journalists because of the recent death of Skander Vogt, a prisoner. I managed to gain access because my work was outside of traditional news media. I was working toward an exhibition in a gallery. I worked in the prison for nearly a year.

How are the prisons in which you photographed characterised?

Champ-Dollon still suffers from overcrowding. Bochuz is for prisoners serving long sentences.

What are attitudes in Switzerland toward criminal justice and prisons?

Swiss prisons are not like Rwandan prisons, but there is a lot of dysfunction. The current trend is to move towards more secure and less social (rehabilitative) prisons.

Can you explain the title Puzzle Carcéral?

Puzzle Carcéral refers to Baudelaire‘s theme of the fragmented body. As a story, this body of work builds like a “photo puzzle”.

What did the staff think of your presence and your photography?

The relationship with management was not always good; there was a lot of mistrust on both sides. Some guards did not help me at all because they did not like my approach, other guards would help.

What did the prisoners think of your presence and your photography?

At first, the prisoners were suspicious of my camera which is normal. After explaining my approach, some were willing to be photographed, others not. Those who agreed to be photographed signed a consent form which explained that the photographs would be seen – on the outside – in a newspaper and in an exhibition.

Puzzle Carcéral was included in Swiss Press Photo 2011 and exhibited at Halle Nord Gallery in Geneva. What was the reception to the work?

The Halle Nord Gallery is a contemporary art gallery. Puzzle Carceral was the first time that this gallery exhibited documentary photography. Television, press and radio still work in this way so for me the story is that documentary is not yet quite dead!

Why choose the documentary approach?

I always use Black & White 400 ASA Tri-X Kodak film. This is not an artistic bias; it’s a practical decision. I love the texture and thickness of the film.

MARTIN BATALLES REPRESENTING URUGUAY

LIVIA CORONA REPRESENTING MEXICO

MARCOS LOPEZ REPRESENTING ARGENTINA

Friend of Prison Photography, Emiliano Granado, likes football as much as he rocks at photography.

We pooled our knowledge to pair each country competing in South Africa with a photographer of the same nationality.

GROUP A

FRA France  – JR
MEX Mexico – Livia Corona
RSA South Africa – Mikhael Subotzky
URU Uruguay – Martín Batallés

GROUP B

ARG Argentina – Marcos Lopez
GRE Greece – George Georgiou (Born in London to Greek Cypriot parent)
KOR South Korea – Ye Rin Mok
NGA Nigeria – George Osodi

GROUP C

ALG Algeria – Christian Poveda
ENG England – Stephen Gill
SVN Slovenia – Klavdij Sluban (French of Slovenian origin … I know, I know, but you try to find a Slovenia born photographer!)
USA United States – Bruce Davison

GROUP D

AUS Australia – Stephen Dupont
GER Germany – August Sander
GHA Ghana – Philip Kwame Apagya
SRB Serbia – Boogie

GROUP E

CMR Cameroon – Barthélémy Toguo
DEN Denmark – Henrik Knudsen
JPN Japan – Araki
NED Netherlands – Rineke Dijkstra

GROUP F

ITA Italy – Massimo Vitali
NZL New Zealand – Robin Morrison
PAR Paraguay – ?????
SVK Slovakia – Martin Kollar

GROUP G

BRA Brazil – Sebastiao Selgado
CIV Ivory Coast – Ananias Leki Dago
PRK North Korea – Tomas van Houtryve (it was difficult to find a North Korean photographer)
POR Portugal – Joao Pina

GROUP H

CHI Chile – Sergio Larrain
HON Honduras – Daniel Handal
ESP Spain – Alberto García Alix
SUI Switzerland – Jules Spinatsch

Emiliano has been posting images from each of the photographers and doubled up on a few nations where the talent pool is teeming. You can see them all over on his Tumblr account, A PILE OF GEMS

NOTES

* Don’t even begin arguing about who should represent the USA. It is a never-ending debate.

* I’ll be honest, finding photographers for the African nations was tricky, even for a web-search-dork like myself. But then we knew about the shortcomings of distribution and promotion within the industry, didn’t we?

* For Chile, we had to look to the past legend Larrain. I’ll be grateful if someone suggest a living practitioner.

* North Korean photographer, by name, anyone? We had to fall back on van Houtryve because he got inside the DPR.

* Rineke Dijkstra was one of approximately 4 thousand-trillion dutch photographers who are everywhere.

* Araki was the easy choice. Ill admit – I know next to nothing about Japanese photography (Marc, help?)

* I wanted a few more political photographers in there, while Emiliano goes for arty stuff. I think we found a nice balance overall.

* And, SERIOUSLY, name me a Paraguayan photographer! PLEASE.

AUGUST SANDER REPRESENTING GERMANY

JULES SPINATSCH REPRESENTING SWITZERLAND

PHILIP KWAME APAGYA REPRESENTING GHANA

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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