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“Jackson and Christian have pulled back the proverbial curtain so that all can see the American Way of Death.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal

In the 1979, Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian, a husband-and-wife documentary and research team conducted one of the largest (photographic) surveys of prison life. Jackson and Christian used photography, film and interview to understand and illustrate life on cell block J in Ellis Unit – the Death Row of the Texas Department of Corrections.

Their new book In This Timeless Time (University of North Carolina Press) offers an unflinching commentary on the judicial system and the fates of the men they met on the Row. You can see a gallery of 20 photographs from In This Timeless Time here, and an edit of 74 on Jackson’s own website here.

In This Timeless Time includes a copy of Death Row (1979) a film made by Jackson and Christian (trailer below). In This Timeless Time is also available as an e-book.

To coincide with the release Jackson and Christian have done a couple of interviews.

The first Listen, Read: Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian on Their New Book, “In This Timeless Time,” and Jackson on Curating “Full Color Depression” is with the Center for Documentary Studies (also abridged and in the online version of Document, Spring 2012 CDS Quarterly Newsletter.)

A second, very comprehensive interview Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian discuss Death Row in America is on the website of publisher University of North Carolina Press.


In This Timeless Time includes 113 duotone photos, all accompanied by explanatory text, sometimes of considerable length. The book is divided into three significant sections.

First is a survey of their work:

“Instead of just showing those men as they were then and printing in another section their words about their condition then, this book tells what happened to each of them: who was executed, who got commuted, who was paroled and who, after more than two decades on the Row, was found to be innocent,” say Jackson and Christian.

Second is a look at capital punishment across the United States since Gregg v. Georgia (1976) in which the Supreme Court ruled states could resume executions.

Third, Jackson and Christian talk about their own role as practitioners, academics and documentary makers.

“Usually with books like this, you just get a book about the subject with nothing about the intelligence that produced it, or the politics that produced it, or the work that produced it. We thought that should be part of it, too,” says Jackson.

I think this is incredibly significant inclusion. I approach photo-criticism with the assumption power is implicated in its manufacture; I want to turn the lens 180 degrees – so to speak – and investigate how those images came into existence. Jackson and Christian want to talk about relationships, want to talk about their privileged access and reinforce the issue of subjectivity. They made a body of work no one else could and others would make a body of work they could not.

This third introspective, “meta-documentary” section of the book distinguishes it from other books of prison photographs. I’ve yet to get my hands on a copy, but expect a book review in late 2012.


Bruce Jackson,  a writer and documentary filmmaker and photographer, is James Agee Professor of American Culture and SUNY Distinguished Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Diane Christian, a poet, scholar of religious literature, and documentarian, is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo

Ken Light is a career photojournalist and a professor of photojournalism at Berkeley. If anyone is going to push back against the abuse of photographers rights, it’d be him right?

Well, he did. He won a small but symbolic $558

Last year, Light licensed his image of Cameron Todd Willingham to several media outlets coinciding with The New Yorker‘s exposé of dodgy arson forensics and the probable innocence of Willingham.

Current TV was not one of those he dealt with, yet they displayed Light’s image for a couple of months.

Light avoided federal court because it is costly and long-winded and filed a small-claims suit in San Francisco. PDN explains:

Light had charged other users $375 to $400 to license the Willingham image, but he says he would have charged Current TV $2,000 because of how long they displayed the photo. In his claim, he said the $2,000 fee should be tripled as punishment for damages. He added $500 to cover attorney’s fees, for a total claim of $6,500.

What is interesting here, is Light wonders avoiding the impractical, less-reflexive, federal route could be a better option for photographers:

“Yes, I got much less than I thought I deserved. [But] Maybe if we attacked in small claims courts and won, some of these companies might be more careful,”

I think Light has a good point and proven a repeatable tactic.


Postscript: In the summer, I did multiple interviews and one of those was with Light about photographing on Texas’ death row. Everyday, I look at that untranscribed audio file and beat myself up that I haven’t published yet. It’s coming … I promise.


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