© Underwood Archives / Getty Images, 1950s, San Francisco

"Telescopes offered inquisitive San Franciscans the opportunity to observe the island and perhaps even glimpse prisoners."

© Sean Kernan, 1979, Prisoner with mirror

In 1977, Mr. Kernan was photographing a personal project on carnival workers in Ohio and West Virginia with little success. Driving home to New York slightly depressed, he passed a classic hulk of a prison. On a whim, he knocked on the door to ask if he could take some photos. Now, here it comes: The warden let him in.

“I have no idea why,” said Mr. Kernan, now 69. “The odds against me getting in was enormous.”  So, the warden didn’t mind if people saw what the prison was really like. But there was one problem. Quite a few guards were out sick that day. Could a prisoner be his guide? Mr. Kernan was uncontrolled, unsupervised and with his own fixer and translator. Within a few hours, he knew he had “stumbled into another universe.” He kept arranging to go back. And the prison kept letting him return. (read more)

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PHOTOBOOK: LEIGH WIENER - ALCATRAZ, THE LAST DAY
When the closure of United States Penitentiary Alcatraz Island was announced in early 1963, news agencies around the world started lining up photographers to cover it. The editors of Life, one of the biggest magazines of the day, knew exactly who to call: Leigh Wiener, an accomplished California-based photographer who consistently turned in quality work.

The never-before published photographs included in the book ‘Alcatraz: The Last Day' document not only the prison's most restricted areas, but also, Wiener's consummate skill. (read more)
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PHOTOBOOK: LEIGH WIENER - ALCATRAZ, THE LAST DAY

When the closure of United States Penitentiary Alcatraz Island was announced in early 1963, news agencies around the world started lining up photographers to cover it. The editors of Life, one of the biggest magazines of the day, knew exactly who to call: Leigh Wiener, an accomplished California-based photographer who consistently turned in quality work.

The never-before published photographs included in the book ‘Alcatraz: The Last Day' document not only the prison's most restricted areas, but also, Wiener's consummate skill. (read more)

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Unknown photographer, 1976, David Bowie mugshot

David Bowie was arrested for marijuana possession along with Iggy Pop in Rochester, New York.

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© Bruce Jackson, 1979, ‘Dominoes. Death Row, Texas’

The book “In This Timeless Time" features photographs by Bruce Jackson and text by Bruce Jackson with Diane Christian, as well as a DVD of their film "Death Row”, and “is about life on Death Row in Texas, the special prison within a prison the state maintains for men it plans to put to death,” as Jackson and Christian write in their preface. “It is also about all the other Death Rows, which across time and in various places differ in marginal ways but which, at their core, are not significantly different from one another.”

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Death Row differs from all other prisons in this one regard: it is the one prison in which everything happens outside of official time. Every other prisoner in the penitentiary is doing time; the condemned are suspended in a period between times when the official clocks are running. The clock stops the moment the judge announces the sentence of death; it resumes when the sentence is carried out, transformed into something else, or vacated entirely. The condemned live, as Donnie Crawford put it in the poem from which this book takes its title, in a ‘timeless time.’” (read more)

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© Danny Lyon, This World Is Not My Home

 #1: Kite - Fenhe park, Taiyuan with branch of Yellow River, undated
 #2: Lianito, New Mexico, 1970
 #3: Crossing the Ohio, Louisville, Ky., 1966
 #4: Shakedown at Ellis prison, Huntsville, Texas, 1968

This World Is Not My Home: Photographs by Danny Lyon will be on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco until January 27, 2013.

This exhibition of more than 60 photographs and photographic montages from 1962 to the present traces the fascinating and wide-ranging career of Danny Lyon. A leading and explosive figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon distinguished himself from his peers through his direct engagement with his subjects and his concern for those on the margins of society.

His goal, he says, was “to destroy Life magazine” by presenting powerful alternatives to the bland pictures and stories that permeated American mass media in the late 1950s, when he came of age. In the process, he created numerous photographs of striking psychological, political, and aesthetic power. (read more)

older post:

For the past five decades the photographer Danny Lyon has produced a mix of documentary photographs and film – both politically conscious and personal.

As the artist turns 70 this year, a new exhibition called ‘This World is Not My Home: Danny Lyon Photographs’ will celebrate his lengthy career at the Menil Collection in Houston from March 30 to July 29, 2012. (read more)

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© Ken Light, 1994, Execution Chamber, Walls Unit, Huntsville

In early October, Ken Light and Pete Brook (PrisonPhotography) sat down to discuss his project and book Texas Death Row (University Press of Mississippi, 1997).

“If the public knew about it and understood it then maybe the culture would change. Maybe we’d invest more in education and in rehabilitation. When it’s out of sight, it is out of mind. If you say someone is going to prison, it doesn’t really mean anything,” says Light.

Read the whole interview here.

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© Joao Silva, 2005, Prisoners wash the floor of a cell with a rolled-up carpet / Malawi

Joao Silva‘s website certainly displays a wealth of important stories. Alongside dispatches on Afghanistan, insurgency in Iraq, war in Lebanon, the war in Georgia, ethnic violence in Kenya and the siege of Sadir City is Silva’s 2005 dispatch from Malawi prisons.

The New York Times’ story, The Forgotten of Africa, Wasting Away in Jails Without Trial (Nov. 2005), by Michael Wines at the time was vital. As Chris Tapscott describes in Human Rights in African Prisons, the increase of 35% in Malawi’s prison population in the first four years of the millennium was one of the highest on the continent, second only to Ghana (38%).

As Wines describes, the result of overcrowding was an unsustainable system with inadequate nutrition, prisoners literally sleeping on top of each other, summary killings of prisoners deemed “incorrigible” and case files lost with the prisoner left to wallow. (read more)

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© Andrey Smirnov / Getty Images, Jan. 24, 2012, Moscow

A detained illegal migrant from Uzbekistan looks from his cell through a dirty glass window with a grate at police station in Kazansky (Kazan) railway station in Moscow. Police detained about 30 illegal migrants during a routine check.

© Leonard Freed, Behind New York City’s ‘Police Work’

#1: A man dead by drug overdose, 1972
#2: Police try to clear the sidewalk of sleeping drunks on the Bowery, 1978

#3: A policewoman plays games with community children, 1978

#4: The accused and the arresting officer confront each other again, 1978
#5: “Isn’t he cute?” a woman asks of a police officer, 1978

Disappointed with the loss of two photographers to the commercial world, Edward Steichen told Leonard Freed one day that if he ever went professional, his work would lose all interest. “Be a truck driver.”
It was with this amateur, insatiable curiosity that Freed, who joined Magnum Photos in 1970, took an interest in the New York Police Department and the African-American struggle for civil rights. In 1972, to counterbalance the NYPD’s poor public image, the photographer started an investigation into people’s attitude towards the boys in blue. He began by getting to know them better.

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Forty years have passed since Freed first began to document these officers. And although his original book, Police Work, published in 1980 and no longer in print, a larger collection of prints from the series is on display at the Museum of the City of New York through March 18, 2012. (read more here & here)

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