Cell at Eastern State

Cell at Eastern State

Saturday, April 24, 2010

From the Blog, 'Prison Photography'

The Man Who Founded the Mugshot: Happy 157th Birthday Alphonse Bertillon

Alphonse Berillon was the French criminologist who gave us the mug shot. His work in the late 19th century, documenting and cataloging the physical appearance, distinguishing marks and tattoos of criminal suspects changed police work.

The blog is Prison Photography, run by Pete Brook, an English amateur photographer living in Seattle. Pete says this about his site:

"The analysis of photography in sites of incarceration is my nerdcore niche. How the camera and its operator perform in interpreting the stories and systems seem like a good points of departure for discussion.
If a camera is within prison walls we should always be asking; How did it get there? What are/were the motives? What are the responses? I consider the photograph as social document, therefore, what social and political powers are at play in a photograph’s manufacture? And, how is knowledge, related to those powers, constructed?
Prison Photography also concerns itself with civil liberties, ethics and social justice as they relate to photography and photojournalism."

I just spent an hour checking out the site. Its images are by turns beautiful, hopeful, arresting and very disturbing. Pete does an amazing job of asking hard questions, not just about prison images but about how news photographs of crime and violence are obtained and how the circumstances under which the photos were made affect the reality they portray.

His sequence about the killing of a fifteen-year-old Haitian, Fabienne Cherisma is an exhaustive exploration of the process of capturing her image, the actions of the photographers and the police on the scene and the transformation of the image into icon. Pete seems like a very smart and empathetic man doing important and frequently overlooked work: creating context for the news images we see every day.

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