ANDREW Lichtenstein, whose work appears in Eric Schlosser's cover story, "The Prison-Industrial Complex," has had his film seized only twice during the three years he has spent taking photographs in and around America's prisons: once when prison officials saw him recording the use of force, and once after he took a picture of a homosexual couple. For the most part, Lichtenstein explains, prisons are not the dangerous environment for a photographer that one might expect; working on crime-ridden streets can be far more unpredictable. What turned out to be the most frightening aspect of the work came as a surprise. "The truly oppressive aspect of prisons," he says, "is the sense of claustrophobia -- the desire to leave almost from the very moment you enter. It is like being under water, and you want nothing more than to fight your way to the surface."
Lichtenstein, thirty-three, is a native of New York City who was reared in the Boston area, graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1988, and lives in Brooklyn. His first major assignment was for the black New York newspaper The City Sun (now defunct), whose managing editor, Utrice Leid, sent Lichtenstein to Haiti to cover the election that produced Jean-Bertrand Aristide as Haiti's President. Lichtenstein remembers an extraordinary act of faith by the newspaper's publisher, who fished $500 in hundred-dollar bills out of his pocket to bankroll the trip by this as yet untested photographer.
Lichtenstein's interest in prisons was kindled when he shot a series of photographs of prisoners on death row for the German newspaper Die Zeit. It developed further through the encouragement of MaryAnne Golon, the director of photography of U.S. News & World Report. During the year that Eric Schlosser spent researching his article, he and Lichtenstein visited a number of prisons together. "Andrew is intense and idealistic," Schlosser says, "and he has come to regard America's burgeoning prison industry as one of the great undercovered stories of our time. Even lacking assignments, Andrew set out, as a matter of obligation, to record this phenomenon." Lichtenstein's prison photographs have been published in U.S. News, and Aperture. Lichtenstein plans to continue documenting the growing links between the prison system and corporate America.
-- THE EDITORS
Photograph courtesy of Sygma
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1998; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 282, No. 6; page 8.