THE FIGHT against mass incarceration takes many forms: from protesting outside prisons, to blocking jail construction, to journalism that reaches inside, to hearing prisoners’ voices, to making oneself aware of gross abuses, to viewing the most gruesome pictures, to letter writing, to education and more. Sometimes the fight requires coming together and “hacking” the system by sucking up costs collectively and *joyously* paying bail.

The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund is celebrating creativity, raising consciousness, and tackling unjust bail policies by paying them. The group is identifying poor people who needlessly languish in jail while they await trial. In the past…

An archived archive gets dusted off for a group show about vernacular photo collections

In the summer of 2013, I attempted to temporarily get out of my prison-photo-bubble and find out what people loved about photographs by asking them which of theirs they loved the least. Which did they wish to condemn to the trash-bin of history?

For two long weekends at Photoville, a couple of volunteers and I took submissions of embarrassing, forgetful, incriminating and emotionally-burdensome images. The Depository Of Unwanted Photographs (TDOUP) was born. Comprised of a little over 200 images, TDOUP has been in permanent storage over the intervening 5-and-a-half years. Well, it’s going to get a public run out.


Recently, major magazines — and photographers — have portrayed them as redemption in action. Are we seeing the full picture?

Prisoner firefighter Eduardo Amezcua puts out a hotspot while Jon Hooker, standing with a chainsaw, looks on. Photo: Brian L. Frank

In boots, overalls, and gloves, they traipse along forested trails. They carry picks, chainsaws, hose lines, and water canisters. Their goggles, pushed back on their helmets, reflect the tree canopy above. Below, they move through the dust, smoke, and shafts of golden-hour light. The firefighters in Brian Frank’s images are fatigued but focused. In photographs of them — and in the popular imagination — these individuals are heroic because of the lands they save and the risks they take. They are also prisoners of the state of California.

Over the past couple of years, I have noticed an uptick in…

Taking on the stigma of mental health issues, one playlist at a time

SOME YEARS AGO, my hometown community back in Britain was hit hard by the suicide of a friend. He was a musician on the rise and his loss was felt across the isles. Out of the tragedy came a resolve to speak openly about mental health struggles. Depression and suicide and difficult issues to discuss but I think neglecting the realities of the former leads to higher risk of the latter.

Consequently, We Are Hummingbird (WAHB), a community of music lovers who spread awareness of mental health within the music industry, was established. Among the many initiatives WAHB coordinates, The…

If you’re in San Francisco, consider joining us April 10th

For the latest Creative Mean convening, I will be talking on the theme of Relationships. I’ll be talking about my teaching and learning in the classroom at San Quentin. I’ll reflect on how the ideas about photographs that my students and I hold have shifted and shaped. There’s no scoop here, just observations. There’s no drama, mostly quiet gratitude.

Writer Rita Bullwinkel and artist Sam Vernon are speaking too. 15-minutes per person, followed by a Q+A/panel chat with the audience.


Event is 6pm-8pm on Wednesday, April 10th, at Heath Newsstand, San Francisco. Here’s a map. …

Images foreground not life’s dark moments but on the light and comparative lightness former users create for themselves.

The War On Drugs has lasted more than 45 years and cost over $1 trillion dollars. Everyone from Rolling Stone to the Cato Institute to the Obama White House has concluded it a failure. The root of the failure is this: A nation cannot incarcerate, punish and brutalize people out of their already traumatic lives. Drug use and abuse is not solely a criminal matter; it is mostly a public health issue. People addicted to substances need treatment not cages.

The Trump Administration is cheering on its bipartisan First Step Act (and ignoring that the promised $75million for its rollout…

On the week anniversary of the death of SF Public Defender Office’s Chief Attorney, we revisit a 2015 conversation with Adachi about images, equity and justice

Jeff Adachi (1959–2019) was a public servant for over 30 years. From 2002 until his unexpected death on February 22nd, Adachi served as the head of the San Francisco Public Defenders Office. San Francisco is the only county in California that has an elected Public Defender. Adachi won re-election five times. Such were his suitability, leadership, fierce advocacy and approval numbers, he ran unopposed four times. His latest re-election was in January 2019.

A memorial in the lobby of the SF Public Defender’s office. On Friday the 22nd of February Jeff Adachi died.

Editor’s note: A shortened version of this conversation originally appeared in the book for Status Update, a photography exhibition about the changing San Francisco Bay Area. …

Some preppers are hyper-vigilant while others are more altruistic. The common factor is fear.

“There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” — Hunter S. Thompson

Not content with merely imagining disaster, preppers lurch toward it. They play out fearful futures, buying survival goods and stockpiling basements with supplies. They have bought in — spiritually, financially, and politically — to the worst worst-case scenarios. Motivated by an array of politics and theories, preppers do seem to be united, at least, by anxiety and alarm, and Allison Stewart’s Bug Out Bag puts this national portrait of fear on display.

A “national portrait” might seem a grand claim…

Artist Lorenzo Triburgo on how to see absence, photography’s capacity to harm, and the queer voices leading the U.S. prison abolition movement

Originally published by Prison Photography

I’ve stated it before but not often or forcefully enough: The LGBTQ community nurtures many of the most effective and motivating voices in the fight for prison abolition. LGBTQ people are frequently subject to the harshest and most dehumanizing treatment at the hands of the prison system. It is from this position that activists and formerly incarcerated individuals have mobilized against the prison industrial complex.

In the news, it is the circumstances of transgender people in prison that are most often described and decried. For clear reasons: imagine being held within a male facility when…

“When you see this photo I took of you, what does it make you think?”

Working as a public defender, Sara Bennett has met a great many women who have faced struggle and hardship. Many serve, or have served, long sentences. Since 1980, the number of incarcerated women has increased by 800% in the U.S. There are nearly 100,000 women in state prisons and federal penitentiaries. A further 110,000 are in county jails, 80% of whom report having been the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. Women who have been convicted of serious crimes have, more often than not, been the victims of serious abuse themselves. Irrespective of crime, I have consistently argued that…

Pete Brook

Writer, curator and educator focused on photo, prisons and power. Sacramento, California.

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