A Fascination with Prisons, and Those Who Document Them

One blogger explains the infinitely varied approaches to photographing prisons

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The New York Times' Lens blog had a fascinating interview on Monday with Pete Brook, the writer and editor* who runs the Prison Photography blog and who works on Wired's Raw File photo blog. Brooks is about to embark on a 12-week project, traveling across the United States to interview the photographers who make prisons and their inmates the focus of their work. It was a surprise to us to learn that there were enough photographers focusing on prisons that interviewing them would take 12 weeks. But in part of his interview with James Estrin, Brook explained the vast range of backgrounds that draw people to the subject, and of the styles they employ in the work.

Deborah Luster photographs in some way as a reaction to the grief of her mother’s murder. She worked for five years in the Louisiana prisons. My presumption is that Jenn Ackerman has a really keen interest in how the services for the mentally ill and prisoners intersect.

I’m very interested in Jamel Shabbaz. He’s the only photographer who’s had some commercial success. His photographs are thought of as iconic in New York. He worked as a corrections officer at Rikers Island for 20 years and was doing his photography in his spare time, which is phenomenal to me. I know he took images in the prisons, but I don’t know how many.

People like Stephen Tourlentes never go into prisons. He just goes and stands outside at night and does these long exposures. Adam Amengual, a young photographer, wasn’t feeling satisfied by his commercial work, and so was looking for an interest in subjects in L.A., and found out about Homeboy Industries.

You have some straight up advocates, like Cheryl Hanna-Truscott, who did beautiful portraits of mothers and children in Washington State. She’s a nurse, and she took her camera in to do this series called “Protective Custody.”

Photos by Brook's intended interview subjects lead the post, and are as varied as the individuals who created them. Prison connotes monotony: day-in, day-out routine that is the opposite of the colorful and ever-changing world outside. But the photos featured here show that it can be infinitely as unique as any other corner of the world -- as can the people who document it.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Brook as a photographer himself. He is not, but rather a writer and editor on the above-mentioned blogs and upcoming interview project.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.