“Photo Requests from Solitary” invited men and women in long-term isolation in New York prisons to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined.
Featuring: People held in long-term solitary confinement in New York State prisons, working in collaboration with photographers on the outside
New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and Solitary Watch
Jean Casella, Jeanine Oleson, and Laurie Jo Reynolds
“Photo Requests from Solitary” invites men and women held in long-term solitary confinement to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined, and finds artists to make the images. The resulting photographs provide an archive of the hopes, memories, and interests of people who endure extreme isolation and sensory deprivation.
Instead of describing or replicating the bleak conditions in which these individuals live, “Photo Requests from Solitary” presents what they envision—the vivid and varied thoughts/objects/images that all minds produce, independently of senses and circumstances. Rather than implying that images are ‘missing’ from their lives and need to be provided from the outside, the project affirms that images are already there, part of their total world. People in solitary give us their images, and we give them back as photographs, in an artistic partnership that acknowledges our shared creativity and humanity.
The photographs on display at Photoville were taken for people in solitary confinement in New York who spend 22 to 24 hours a day in small cells without meaningful human contact, in conditions that the UN has defined as torture. More than 4,500 individuals are currently held in some form of isolation in New York’s prisons and jails, and some will remain there for months, years, or decades.
“Photo Requests from Solitary” is an ongoing artistic collaboration between people held in solitary confinement and photographers on the outside. The project was started in Illinois in 2009 by the grassroots anti-solitary group, Tamms Year Ten. Photos requested by men held in permanent solitary confinement in Tamms supermax prison were sent to the men inside, and also used for advocacy in efforts to close Tamms, which was finally shuttered in 2013.
That same year, “Photo Requests from Solitary” expanded to California and New York, in collaboration with Solitary Watch — a watchdog group that investigates, documents, and disseminates information about solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails — and Parsons The New School for Design. To date, more than 100 men and women in solitary have shared their visions and received photographs.
Continuing its mission to partner with local advocacy campaigns, “Photo Requests from Solitary” is currently working with the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, a grassroots coalition dedicated to ending the torture of solitary in New York’s prisons and jails through public education, community organizing, and passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act in the state legislature.
“Photo Requests from Solitary” is curated by artists Laurie Jo Reynolds (Tamms Year Ten), Jeanine Oleson (Parsons The New School for Design) and journalist Jean Casella (Solitary Watch), and is created by dozens of men and women in solitary confinement and volunteer photographers on the outside.