Part # 3 Archive Typologies

Each typology is comprised of nine 10×8” images and one 20×16” inkjet print, 2012 – Present

The archive itself is an exhaustive document of prison life. The 1,000’s of 4×5” negatives were taken between 1960-1987 and as previously noted, they were taken as a way to document events, they had official purpose and were not meant to be interpretive or creative. But, of course every photograph taken has a point of view and the photographer, whether he or she is conscious of it or not, creates meaning in an image simply by the power of placing a frame around the world. A correctional officer photographing a murder, suicide, escape attempt or prison wedding is no different.

The time that I have spent working inside a prison has only deepened my questions about human nature and how we relate to others.  The more time I spend there the more complex and engaging these questions become. Assumptions are continuously challenged and the world inside and out becomes more complex.  While working with the men mapping images by other artists and writing about the archive images is important and essential work it is also imperative to deal with the archive itself, to study the images and hope that answers will be revealed. I am looking at them as an outsider and although the amount of time I spend in prison affords me a bit of insight I am not an inmate, I have never committed a violent crime, I don’t know what it feels like to be confined or to have terrible remorse over hurting another person.  I also don’t know what it is like to be a correctional officer and be tasked with keeping a prison running safely. I know photographs don’t tell complete truths, I know they are unreliable witnesses but by curating and studying this archive I hope to be able to at least put together a visual experience that talks about the wanting to know, the possibility of knowing and the acceptance of always leaving room for the not knowing.

To that end I have put together groupings of images that fall under twelve categories.

  1. Escape & Confinement
  2. Correctional Officers, Inmates & Volunteers
  3. Holidays & Ceremonies
  4. Education, Food & Health
  5. Murders & Suicides
  6. Violence & Investigations
  7. Work & Leisure
  8. Injury & repair
  9. Family & visits
  10. Blood & Evidence
  11. Animals & people
  12. The Ineffable

Some of these categories are specific to prison life but others reflect experiences all of us have. Every life, whether free or incarcerated must consider family, work, health etc. So it is through these categories that we can connect and recognize each other. Prison can be violent; a place without hope where power struggles are constant and complex and this category must also be addressed. And finally there is the ineffable, perhaps the most interesting, the category, which does not attempt to answer any questions, the category where we must be satisfied to not know. Again every life whether free or incarcerated lives with the ineffable – it may be in this state of not knowing that we are ultimately given the opportunity to engage in the most difficult of life’s questions.

While the San Quentin Prison Report is surely about life in prison it is also a project about the possibility of transformation and the belief that the photographic image still has the power to challenge assumptions and provide an opportunity for conversation. Photography is ultimately what got me access to prison, talking about images with the men inside is what has created our bond and strengthened our dedication to work together and we hope the work produced by The San Quentin Prison Report will get others interested in contributing to the conversation.

Dummy Found in Air Conditioner /12.22.64

Blankenship Death in Cell / 5.30.66

Woodside & Noleh Fight / 4.8.66

Divans / 8.2.71

Volunteers Who Sang & Delivered X-Mas PKGS to SHU / 12.25.75

X-Mas Tree / 12.26.75

Wedding / No Date

SQ School Special / 1958

Passover Sedar / 3.31.75

No Title No Date

Martinez Killed in Lower Yard / 12.14.65

Venerable Suicide / 4.4.65

Weeks Stabbing in the Gym / 2.24.63

Weapon & Countraband / 12.9.64

Profiles / 8.26.74

Gym Crew / 11.5.75

Smith Assaulter / 2.3.65

Greenfield Head Injury / 11.16.63

Mother’s Day / 5.9.76

Mother’s Day / 5.9.76

Martinez Killed in Lower Yard / 12.14.65

Stabbed in SHU / 7.19.66

2 Inmates & Seal / 3.74

Victim of Assault /  4.9.65

Trunell for Dr. L.R. Berry / 12.11.75