What prisoners in solitary want to see

A collection of photography aims to shed light on the inhumanity of solitary confinement SLIDE SHOW

Topics: slideshow, Photography, Solitary Confinement, Prisons, Activism, Art,

What prisoners in solitary want to see (Credit: Karen Rodriguez, 2013)

Photo Requests From Solitary is an exhibition currently on display at Photoville, an art space in Brooklyn, N.Y., that features photographs that inmates from Illinois’ Tamms supermax prison have requested to see. The project was organized by Tamms Year Ten, a coalition that aims to end the use of long-term isolation in the state’s prisons.

According to the press release, prisoners were allowed “to request photographs of anything in the world, real or imagined.”

“For men who see nothing but grey concrete walls, this project was an opportunity to help them see something they wanted to see, used to see or may never see again,” it states.

The results are surprising and inspiring, ranging from religious iconography to family and community. Photographers from all over the world have participated and the project will expand to New York and California prisons via Parsons the New School, National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Solitary Watch.

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    Solitary

    Charles asked for pictures of four intersections in the south side of Chicago that he used to know very well: 63rd and King, 63rd and Calumet, 48th and Wabash and 61st and Indiana. Having been in prison for 22 years, he wrote: “I feel forgotten, cast away but God uses this time to show how he never forgets about us no matter what, and I will like to thank you all for everything you do and everyone at Tamms Year Ten. I do feel bless having you all in my life.” This is S. King Drive and E. 63rd Street. Photo by Jason Reblando, 2012.

    Solitary

    Many requests were for sites in downtown Chicago including Magnificent Mile, the lake front, Millenium Park, Navy Pier, the Christmas tree, cars, restaurants and the Chicago skyline. Richard wrote, “I would like to see The Downtown Chicago or the Lake of Chicago it will bring me happiness to see a real nice picture of the downtown please!” Photo by Scott Fortino, 2012.

    Solitary

    Artists from around the world offered to fill photo requests for men in isolation. Chicago animator Lisa Barcy, Dutch photographer Harry Bos and Baltimore filmmaker Stephanie Barber each orchestrated a version of Humberto's detailed request for a lovesick clown: "A lovesick clown: holding a old fashioned feathered pen: as if writing a letter: from the waist up: in black and white. As close up as possible: as much detail as possible: & the face about 4 inches big." From left to right: photos by Lisa Barcy, Harry Bos and Stephanie Barber, 2012.

    Solitary

    Artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz helped fill the request for a Puerto Rican flag by asking photographer Thais Llorca for a photo of the burial of Filiberto Ojeda, whom she calls “a nationalist hero to some, anti-hero to others.” Santiago Muñoz wrote to the Tamms prisoner, Adolfo, “When I read your request, I immediately thought of the gigantic flag that is unfurled during protests and marches here…. The Puerto Rican flag blue is supposed to be azure blue—azul celeste—but it has slowly transformed into the U.S. flag blue. Only people who remember this, or who hold onto to old flags for personal reasons, know this and insist on the right color. I’m usually partial to azul celeste, but I hope you will agree this one wins for bombast.” Photo by Thais Llorca, 2005.

    Solitary

    Cary wanted his request to be a present for his wife—a photo of a boy and girl sitting side by side on a piano bench dressed in their Sunday best with a single rose on the keys. Ithaca-based filmmaker Karen Rodriguez wanted to support the campaign to close Tamms, but had to ask her son to participate in the photo shoot. She pitched it like this: “We are going to take a picture for a prisoner who is kept apart from other people. Taking the picture he requested might help him feel less lonely and feel connected to people he doesn't even know.” He agreed, and so did their neighbors. Photo by Karen Rodriguez, 2013.

    Solitary

    Johnny asked for a photo of a very specific Jennifer Lopez music video—the one with her ex-boyfriend Ben Affleck on a boat, with her butt showing. Luckily, there were people who remembered the exact same video he did (“Jenny from the Block”), and Danny Orendorff was able to take a still from it. Photo by Danny Orendorff, 2012.

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Prachi Gupta
Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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