Prison Landscapes

New book, Prison Landscapes, features images of a largely unseen part of prison life – the idealised backdrops used for taking photographs of inmates during visiting hours

New book, Prison Landscapes, features images of a largely unseen part of prison life – the idealised backdrops used for taking photographs of inmates during visiting hours…

Published by Four Corners Books in the UK, the project is the work of Los Angeles-based artist, Alyse Emdur.

In 2005, Emdur came across a photograph of herself posing in front of a tropical beach scene while visiting her older brother in prison (shown below).

 

Since discovering the picture, Emdur has invited hundreds of American prisoners to send her photographs for inclusion in this collection (150 agreed to participate).

 

Robert Ruffbery, Atlanta


Charles Derrick Keller, Marion, Illinois


Antoine Ealy, Coleman, Florida


The backdrops, which range from sandy beaches and waterfalls, to mountain vistas and cityscapes, are often painted by inmates and used within the prisons as de facto portrait studios.

As inmates and visitors pose for photographs in front of these fantasy landscapes, they offer a brief form of escapism for both parties. The visitor is able to take home a picture of their loved-one, perhaps making the situation a little easier to bear.

But as Pete Brook notes on his excellent Prison Photography website, prisonphotography.org, “If these idyllic landscapes are about escape it might not just be in an emotional sense”. He interviewed Emdur about the project earlier this year (read the full text here):

“The backdrops are there to control the type of imagery that is being exported out of the institution,” she says. “To be specific, the administration doesn’t want images of the inside of the prison to circulate outside of the prison because the thinking is that those images could help an inmate escape. That’s what makes these images slippery and interesting; they also create an escape for the poser and for the [family member] who receives the photo.”

As Brook says, these are, in the end, images about control.

More of Emdur’s work is at alyseemdur.com. Prison Landscapes is published by Four Corners Books; fourcornersbooks.co.uk.

 

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CR In print

In our December issue we look at why carpets are the latest medium of choice for designers and illustrators. Plus, Does it matter if design projects are presented using fake images created using LiveSurface and the like? Mark Sinclair looks in to the issue of mocking-up. We have an extract from Craig Ward’s upcoming book Popular Lies About Graphic Design and ask why advertising has been so poor at preserving its past. Illustrators’ agents share their tips for getting seen and we interview maverick director Tony Kaye by means of his unique way with email. In Crit, Guardian economics leader writer Aditya Chakrabortty review’s Kalle Lasn’s Meme Wars and Gordon Comstock pities brands’ long-suffering social media managers. In a new column on art direction, Paul Belford deconstructs a Levi’s ad that was so wrong it was very right, plus, in his brand identity column, Michael Evamy looks at the work of Barcelona-based Mario Eskenazi. And Daniel Benneworth-Gray tackles every freelancer’s dilemma – getting work.

Our Monograph this month, for subscribers only, features the EnsaïmadART project in which Astrid Stavro and Pablo Martin invited designers from around the world to create stickers to go on the packaging of special edition packaging for Majorca’s distinctive pastry, the ensaïmada, with all profits going to a charity on the island (full story here)

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