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I’m taking a break from grading papers to post this.

The papers are about cameras, photographic equipment, imaging systems and networks and written by my 28 students in History Of Photography at San Quentin State Prison. Many of the papers are remarkable, others require further work. They are the second assignment papers of four, over the semester. We’re into Week 9 of fifteen.

For their third assignment, I just handed the students a grip of images by Joseph Rodriguez, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Katy Grannan, Philip Montgomery, Robert Frank, Paccarik Orue, Garry Winogrand, Spencer Platt, Carrie Mae Weems, Lee Miller, Endia Beal, Richard Renaldi, Richard Misrach and Gordon Parks for them to go at. Eventually, the papers will be published through national and international outlets.

 

 

I am coordinating this course as a guest instructor with the Prison University Project (PUP), the largest prison college education program in the country. PUP’s accommodation and administrative support is deeply, deeply appreciated. I am helped financially in this work by a couple of grants; one from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and the other from the W. Eugene Smith Fund. A couple of weeks ago, I visited New York to pick up the Smith Fund Howard Chapnick Award. The Smith Fund just posted a video of me explaining the motives, goals and future outcomes of my History Of Photo course.

 

 

Beyond the institutionAL support, the support of my students is key. The classroom environment is a space of discovery and conversation … and fun! A lot of our time is spent looking, really looking, at images … and then sussing out how to write about them with clarity and meaningful argument.

Before I collected the Chapnick Award, I had written my acceptance speech on my phone. It’ll be the first and last time I do that; as I took the stage, a brush of a finger sent the text to the trash. I took a deep breath and had to wing it. I got lucky, I hit the key points, notably thanking each of my student-collaborators by name. For the public record, here’s that speech which I later found in the ‘Recently Deleted’ folder in the iPhone Notes.

ACCEPTANCE SPEECH

There are 28 men 3,000 miles away in California who can’t be here tonight. I wish to acknowledge them. It is only because of their thirst for knowledge, their generosity, and the kind welcome they have extended to me to join them in their classroom that I’m here tonight. My work is indebted to their work.

Tomorrow, I’m speaking to New York high schoolers about our class in San Quentin Prison, and last Monday I asked my incarcerated students what they wanted to say to New York teenagers. They instructed me to begin with this statistic: cumulatively, the 28 men have served 501 years. They will serve many more, and a good number of them will never get out.

If you could meet my students you would be as baffled as I with this figure. They’re committed to improving one another as a group and fiercely curious about the world. They’re accountable, changed and wish to foment change wherever hearts and eyes are open enough.

On behalf of them, I would like to thank the board of the Smith Fund, and the jurors of the Howard Chapnick Grant specifically, for helping us add to the urgent conversation about mass incarceration in the United States.

 

 

Howard Chapnick once wrote, “Getting close to the action with the camera does not automatically produce great pictures. Developing a relationship with subjects and an understanding of their lives is perhaps more important than the distance from which you photograph. In order to show what life is like for people in prison, for example, the photojournalist has to know and feel what it’s like to have one’s freedom curtailed and be confined to one room with bars. The photojournalist can only find out by gaining the confidence of the prisoner or prisoners, by drawing out the prisoners thoughts, by getting ‘close’.”

I think the same can be said of writers, teachers, curators and editors who all understand the role that photography has in changing the debate and changing society.

These prisons in the land of the free are ours. Prisons failings and abuses are ours. Let us see them.

I want to personal thank my students: Joshua, CJ, Mesro, Troy, Randy, Greg, Shawn, Andrew, Eddie, Caine, Jerry, Gene, Matt, Lawrence, Ray Jr., Lennie, Vah, L.A., Mark, Achilles, Wakil, D, Michael, Sal and Antwan. I’m proud to call them collaborators.

In summarizing his thoughts about prisoners, Howard Chapnick said, “Getting close is not easy, but it is worth the effort.”

Thank you.

 

Please stay tuned in 2019 for the published writings of the students.

 

 

Thanks to Tim Matsui for the filming and editing of the above video. Thanks to Daniel Berman for use of the studio space.

All images were made in 2016 (before my time at San Quentin) by RJ Lozada, who’s documentary short Laps is very much worth 16-minutes of your time.

 

 

 

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Tim_Matsui_womens-initiative

Srey Neth and Lia move into the STAR House, a secondary transition home designed to help victims of sex trafficking to learn the skills to reintegrate into society without falling back to sex work. The teenagers are residents of Transitions Global and have experienced horrific physical and mental abuse largely at the hands of their fellow Cambodians. Photo: Tim Matsui, 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant Winner

The Alexia Foundation has opened its call for entries for the 2014 Women’s Initiative Grant.

There’s a lot of grants out there but the Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant is one of the best. Why? Firstly, it’s a large amount of money: $25,000. That’s the type of money needed to get at an issue in any depth. Secondly, the expectations are high. The winner has six months to produce the work and then is encouraged to plug in the product (and the lessons within) to a host of diverse media outlets. Thirdly, it is about women and their needs. When U.S. females earn 77 cents for every dollar a male earns; when women are trafficked worldwide; when women are bearing the brunt of holding together families and communities in the face of the prison industrial complex; when women face issues such as these and others which are part of routine gender violence, the Alexia Foundation is making it’s contribution to bring these issues to the table.

I am also a big fan of journalist Tim Matsui who was awarded the 2012 Women’s Initiative Grant. His project Leaving the Life is about domestic juvenile sex trafficking. Latest update here. A trailer for a film ‘The Long Night’ which accompanies the project and produced by MediaStorm can be viewed here.

Photojournalists worldwide are encouraged to apply to the Women’s Initiative Grant. Deadline: June 30, 2014.

From the press release:

Unlike the first Women’s Initiative grant, which specifically focused on abuse of women in the United States, this call for entries is intended to permit the photographer to propose a serious documentary photographic or multimedia project encompassing any issue involving women anywhere in the world.

While considering the idea of women’s issues, several themes have been suggested, including femininity and the culture of abuse; women making a difference, leading, changing things for the better; gender inequality; the direct connection to women and education, and the impact on birth rates, health of children and the productivity of the women; gender discrimination, women in leadership, women in the military, mental health issues. They are by no means intended to influence proposals, but they may help photographers start thinking about this topic.

The Alexia Foundation’s main purpose is to encourage and help photojournalists create stories that drive change. While our traditional grant guidelines put no limits on the subject matter for grant proposals, a number of proposals about women’s rights in the last few years have been so powerful that we have been compelled to create a grant specifically on issues relating to women.

Apply here.

Winner announced Sept. 1, 2014.
Winner has six months to complete project, by March 1, 2015.
Contact Eileen Mignoni at grants@alexiafoundation.org with any inquiries.

UBB

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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That beard on the right is Matt Mills McKnight.

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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.

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Steve Davis peeking into the walk-in.

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Erika Schultz and Tim Matsui.

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More of Cheryl‘s.

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Intern Sam, Kat and I.

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Images 9-16 of Cheryl’s work.

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I even painted the bathroom door.

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Signs were made. Bottom steps were marked.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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A frame …

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… for a frame.

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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

IF YOU ARE IN SEATTLE …

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.

AND IT’S IN A BREWERY!

ART BEYOND BARS

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.

IMAGES

SteveDavis

© 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

As many of you will know, I recently pitched Prison Photography on the Road on Kickstarter.

The video-pitch for any Kickstarter proposal is key, so I was very lucky to have Tim Matsui offer his time, advice and skills in multimedia for the filming of the video pitch. In offering his help, Tim became the first official supporter of the project so please allow me to say a few words about Mr. Matsui.

Tim was the very first photo-bloke I met when I arrived in Seattle three years ago. At that point, I already new of his committed and extended investigations into human trafficking.

By coincidence, an old university friend of mine worked at a Phnom Penh NGO that Tim had liaised with. As both Tim and I were in the same city, my friend urged us to connect.

Tim knew nothing of me.

Late in 2008, I had just launched Prison Photography and Tim, like many in those early days, was totally baffled about what it was. But he still agreed to meet for coffee. We spoke about Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Tuol Sleng prison, Blue Earth Alliance, and the mores of the digital age. We didn’t see much of each other for well over a year, but we developed a mutual respect for each others work.

Last month, when I put out the call for help with filming (via the NW Photojournalism group) Tim didn’t hesitate. Two weeks later, he was over at my house with a two camera set up, separate audio track and a set of tricky questions.

Tim wears his heart on his sleeve. He works hard, and he’s also got a bunch of great ideas for his next story telling projects; the only thing holding him back is the hours in the day.

If you want to get to know Tim’s take on the world, photography and storytelling then his blog is a great place to begin. There you’ll find writing about his successes (his recently published Kivalina work, his Emmy nominated Mediastorm multimedia project for the Council for Foreign Relations); about breaking journalism relating to previous stories; about important pioneer projects in journalism such as BaseTrack; and about pressing global issues relating to our digital age, such as reports on conflict minerals in tech-manufacturing industry. You should also check out his very fun docu-short Sasquatch or Bust.

Tim, thanks for the integral help with Prison Photography on the Road. You are a gentleman.

Grey Mountain, artwork by Chip Thomas © Erika Schultz

Just got in from the NW Photojournalism meet. Room chock full of talent including Matt Lutton (of Dvafoto fame) Theo Stroomer, Tim Matsui, Ken Lambert, David Ryder and John Malsbary.

Let me track back a week though.

SOME THOUGHTS AND CONTEXT ON NAVAJO GRAFFITI

A friend of mine who I’ve seen only twice in two years visited Seattle last weekend. He’s Native American … what white folks would call Navajo, but what he refers to as Dineh or Dine (pronounced d-Nay). We were talking about youth culture on the reservation and I mentioned passing through Window Rock (a junction with two gas stations, some vernacular murals and loose packs of dogs). He tells me I was in the wrong part of Navajo Reservation …

Anyway, the murals had me thinking. I saw graffiti on Navajo land – some of it good, some of it terrible; some of it lazy tags, some of it a bit more invested – and I wondered about the social context of these scrawls, paintings and artwork. I proposed to him that a long term photography project NAVAJO GRAFFITI could capture these temporary art interventions. The project would include interviews about the grafs and the social strata from which they emerge. It seemed like it  could be a meaningful, novel photography project, a stellar book. Maybe?

In my mind (a place I often invent projects I’d like to see and promote) I envisioned image-making that could incorporate the narratives of a marginalised people without relying on cliches of documentary photography. The grafs could be photographed in the medium format stillness that is all too often wasted on garages, topiary and mall parking lots.

Just a thought.

Thinking on, my friend was as stumped as I to think of any photography work that the Navajo had been able to present, let alone self-represent.

BACK TO NW PHOTOJOURNALISM

The co-organiser of NW Photojournalism is Erika Schultz a PJ at the Seattle Times. When I got home, I checked out her blog. On which, I was blown away to find graffiti on Navajo land. I’d call it street art, except there’s only the open Black Mesa surrounding.

Grey Mountain, artwork by Chip Thomas © Erika Schultz

The work is by Chip Thomas an artist, self taught photographer and Health Services Physician who has lived on Navajo land for 16 years or more. He may not be Navajo by blood but I can be quite certain he has the rights of the Navajo/Dineh people close to his pounding heart.

I want to see more of this. I am not a photographer. Why aren’t photogs out on Native American lands finding more nuanced ways of telling the stories of the people?

The only Native American photographer I’ve identified is Tom Jones of the Ho Chunk Nation, and he is a long, long ways from the Western Deserts; of a different people.

So, two things: 1) Tell me about more Native American photographers (I want to stand corrected) and 2.) Somebody consider a project along the lines of NAVAJO GRAFFITI (I would if I could, but I don’t know cameras).

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

@BROOKPETE ON TWITTER

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