Photo Requests from Solitary
and Milk Not Jails
March 3 - April 12, 2014
Photo Request from Solitary - Big Cross. Willie requested a photograph of a
vigil at Bald Knob Cross in southern Illinois to pray for his deliverance from Tamms
and to be granted parole from prison. In order to take the photograph, TY10 caravanned
to the cross, held a litany of song and prayer, and celebrated with a dinner. The next day,
they drove family members to visit loved ones at the prison. On July 27, 2012, after 36
years in different prisons, Willie was transferred from Tamms and paroled.
Photo by Rachel Herman, May 6, 2011.
What would a person in solitary confinement want to see? People held in supermax prisons and solitary confinement units were invited to request an image of anything at all, real or imagined, and promised that artists on the outside would fulfill their requests. The resulting photographs provide an archive of the hopes, memories and interests of Americans who live locked in cells for 23 hours a day in extreme isolation and sensory deprivation--conditions that have been widely denounced as torture. The current exhibition features more than a dozen images made in response to requests from men in Tamms, the recently shuttered supermax prison in southern Illinois, along with requests from individuals in solitary confinement in California and New York. Photo Requests from Solitary is curated by Tamms Year Ten (TY10), Solitary Watch and Parsons The New School for Design with support from the Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project.
In addition, photographs from Milk Not Jails, a non-profit grassroots campaign working to build a new urban-rural alliance in New York State, illustrate the group’s efforts to revitalize and invest in an agricultural economy as an alternative to the prison economy. Ninety percent of the state’s prisons are located in rural New York, where they provide needed employment opportunities. Agriculture was the region’s historic industry and today has the proven potential to connect urban and rural communities in a healthy economic relationship.
Work by prison reform and social justice activist Five Omar Mualimm-ak is also on display. Mualimm-ak spent 12 years in New York prisons and five in solitary confinement. While incarcerated, he taught himself to draw, fine-tuning his skills and finding comfort in art. He currently works with the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow and the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement.
Special thanks to Savannah Crowley ’14 and SLU’s Amnesty International for their help organizing the exhibitions and Five Omar Mualimm-ak’s campus visit.