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I wrote recently about Davi Russo‘s family portraits made inside two New Jersey State prisons between 1987 and 2007: 20 years of prison polaroids chart son’s resolve, love, and only contact with dad.

The Polaroids chart visits he, his mother, sister, grandparents and friends made to see his father David who was incarcerated on suspicion of murder in 1984, stood trial, and was found guilty and sentenced, in 1987, to life plus 20 years. He has been eligible for parole since 2010 but remains in prison today. Russo, a director and photographer these days, was nine years old at the time of his father’s conviction.

Russo hoped sharing his experience might help others get free of the stigma of incarceration too.

“Growing up with Shawshank Redemption and all the horrible prison TV shows, I wanted to take authorship,” explains Russo. “I had a chance to put something different together. And it was legitimate. Polaroids are thought of as the most fun type of photography. Super quick, on the beach, snap, shake it. The world is perfect! Shoot it on polaroid! But not for me. I didn’t experience polaroids that way and I knew I wasn’t the only one.”

Russo was reluctant to share the photos publicly for many years and when he finally did he asked his father to write a reflection on the collection. Instead, his father wrote single memories on Post-It notes of each photo … of each moment they stood before the camera. Those written memories became the captions for each image–an unexpected and personal twenty year narrative. Therefore, I encourage you to visit the series, which Russo has named Picture Time, on Russo’s website and read the full captions. There too, you will find essays by Russo’s sister and mother.

Read and see more:  20 years of prison polaroids chart son’s resolve, love, and only contact with dad.




Prison Chess Portrait #14. Oliver Fluck

Prison Chess Portrait #14. Oliver Fluck

Oliver Fluck’s series of Prisoner Chess Portraits is an interesting counterpoint to other prisoner portraiture. It is unfussy, neutral, quiet. Fluck is experimenting with the figure and I would like to see him in the future settle with a preferred vantage point in relation to his sitter. For example, I like the portraits of the Prison Chess Champ and of Christopher Serrone. Fluck is headed in the right direction.

Prison Chess Portrait #14 (above) is a very strong shot also taking advantage of particularly high contrast light conditions.

Is photographing stationary silent chess-playing sitters simple or difficult? On the one hand, the sitter is still for you, but on the other, it’s difficult to spark rapport with a man concentrating on the game.

Text with Image

An integral part of the project is Fluck’s drafted questionnaire which secured answers to standard questions from as many competitors as possible.

Inmate quotes such as, “Having been incarcerated since age 15 and never getting out, it is helpful and healthy to know that not all of society lacks interest or willingness to become productively involved” keep reality checked. As do sobering statistics such as 50+ years or 66-year prison-terms.

J. Zhu. Oliver Fluck

J. Zhu. Oliver Fluck

Christopher Serrone. Oliver Fluck

Christopher Serrone. Oliver Fluck

Competition Winner. Oliver Fluck

Prison Chess Champ. Oliver Fluck

Q&A with Oliver Fluck

How and why you came to this topic?
I enjoy playing chess, which is why I’m in touch with the local university chess club here in Princeton. The students got the opportunity to play against inmates of a maximum security prison, and when I heard about it, I proposed to photograph the event and volunteer as a driver for the students.

What are your hopes for the project as a whole?
Very frankly, from a photographer’s point of view, I would like to see it exhibited, and provoke some thought.

What is your message with the portraits?
I can talk about one thing that I am not trying to do: I’m not trying to propagate any kind of standpoint about how one should deal with criminals, and whether or not they should have the right to enjoy chess. I’m like most other viewers, I stumbled upon this project and got curious … Curious on an unprejudiced level from human to human. Start from there if you are looking for a message.

Anything else that you’d like to add and feel is important.
I would like to thank John Marshall for this experience, and David Wang for constructive feedback regarding the prisoner questionnaire.

Competitor with Unknown Name. Oliver Fluck

Competitor with Unknown Name. Oliver Fluck

Prison Chess Portrait #4. Oliver Fluck

Prison Chess Portrait #4. Oliver Fluck

Prison Chess Portrait # 21. Oliver Fluck

Prison Chess Portrait # 21. Oliver Fluck

Original Links to portraits 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Oliver Fluck’s Flickr

Watch this youtube clip of a local news report from the prison during the tournament.


prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com


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