In 2011 Nigel Poor, a professor of photography at the California State University, began volunteering at the San Quentin State Prison, just north of San Francisco, as a photo history instructor in the prison’s college programme. Two years later, she moved over to work with incarcerated men in the existing prison radio station, but concurrently pulled on her background in photography.
In an exercise Poor calls “mapping”, she asked prisoners to annotate famous photographs. Works by Lee Friedlander, David Hilliard, Stephen Shore and others were pored over by prisoners, resulting in text-laden replicates. These creative brainstorms have been preserved, and now hang on wires sandwiched between glass as works of art, in the first room of an exhibition on show at the Milwaukee Art Museum until 10 March, titled The San Quentin Project: Nigel Poor and the Men of San Quentin State Prison.
Publications we loved, and the big news stories from the last month in photobooks – featuring work by Peng Ke, Tom Wood, Paul Reas, Vivian Maier and the post-war PROVOKE group
It is estimated that 7% of the prison population in the UK has a learning disability, compared to around 2.2% of the general population. A study by Prison Reform Trust in 2008 found that people with learning disabilities are seven times more likely to come into contact with the police, five times more likely to be subject to control and restraint, and three times more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, and spend time in solitary confinement.
These numbers are estimates rather than straight statistics because there is no system in place to screen, identify, and record whether a prisoner has a learning disability. In a research paper from 2005, psychologist John Rack estimated that around 20% of prisoners have some form of “hidden disability” which affects their performance in education and work settings. It’s worryingly disproportionate, and it begs the question – if prisons don’t have systems in place to even identify these people, how can they begin to give them the support they need to survive in a prison environment?
More than a decade has passed since we first saw the horrors of Abu Ghraib, but they remain seared into our collective memory. Piles of bruised, naked bodies lorded over by grinning soldiers, collared men dragged across the floor with dog leashes, triumphant posing over mutilated corpses and, most strikingly of all, a hooded man balanced in a box with electrodes wired to his fingertips. These were tortures explicitly authorised by the US Government. Their aim? To erase the humanity of the detainees. Chris Bartlett chose to address this injustice through photography, using his camera as a tool to restore the humanity and identity of the subject. The result is a powerful series of black and white portraits of Abu Ghraib detainees, accompanied by a brief explanation of the tortures they suffered. The effect is searingly humanising. Bartlett’s photography has the effect of erasing nationality, religion, class, even to some extent, ethnicity. BJP spoke to him about the genesis of the project, it’s intent and how it continues to evolve. How did the project begin? “Back …