Blog posts tagged ‘political prison’ - for Picture Tags click here

The Constant Eye, Vol.2: Theresienstadt

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
The Constant Eye, Vol.2: Theresienstadt

The Constant Eye, Vol.2: Theresienstadt

The second volume of The Constant Eye is now available from Blurb. You can preview the book and buy it here.

I visited the Czech town of Terezín in November 2003 without really knowing what to expect. I found an old Hapsburg fortified town that had been used by the Nazis as a transit camp for Jewish families from all over Europe, where intense overcrowding, malnourishment, disease and brutality had claimed tens of thousands of lives. Attached to the main town is a smaller fortress used as a Gestapo prison where thousands were tortured to death.

The visit made a profound impact on me, and began my Prisons of Conscience project.

Please have a look at the book, but for another way to see the pictures you can watch the slideshow movie below, or you can visit the gallery here.

Sites of Conscience

Friday, April 8th, 2011

I came across an organisation called the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience many months ago, while doing some research for my long term political prisons project. Last week I finally made contact with them and found that not only does my project align closely with their work, but they are delightfully friendly and encouraging people.

They are a worldwide network of historic sites, each one of which bears testimony to man’s cruelty and injustice to others. It’s a great initiative, giving its members a more powerful voice than they could have individually.

Yesterday we discussed several ways in which we could work together in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

The Sahrawi project

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

The Aftermath Project, set up by photographer Sara Terry after her experiences in Bosnia, dispenses an annual grant to documentary photographers. The grant is designed to facilitate a documentary project on the subject of the long term affects of war. As I understand it the money usually comes from George Soros’s Open Society Institute.

Yesterday was the submission deadline for a new grant, funded this time by the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, on the subject of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.

As usual, the brief is admirably open. The Aftermath people are interested to hear each photographer’s approach to the subject, what their work is like, and what their budget would be to realise the work. Simple. But it always takes me an age to prepare this kind of submission.

This time the subject was a very good fit with my long term project ‘Prisons of Conscience’, since the Sahrawi people were the victims of a campaign of ‘disappearances’ in the 1970s and 80s. Following the effective occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, the Moroccan security services routinely abducted individuals from their homes and detained them for years, leaving their families with no idea what had become of them.

After the death of the Moroccan King Hassan II in 1999, and the succession of Mohamed VI, the surviving detainees were released. Their troubles weren’t over, however, since they often had no idea where their families now lived (and the families had no idea whether they were still alive) and their country was divided by the Sahara’s equivalent of the Berlin Wall. For a pretty good description of the current situation read this Amnesty International report.

After a bit of research I found the main sites where the Sahrawi were detained and the areas where the surviving detainees now live, so I was able to put together what I hope is a fascinating photographic journey. We’ll see if the Aftermath people go for it.

The on-line submission process for these grants is always different, and yesterday’s was certainly interesting since I could see all the other photographers’ submissions as they came in! I didn’t look though guys. Honest.


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

I’ve finally got around to scanning some more pictures from the Theresienstadt story.

Administration office in the military prison used by the Gestapo during the Nazi era to hold political prisoners. Small Fortress, Terezin, Czech Republic. November 2003.

It really was an extraordinary day that I spent there in 2003, and quite unexpected. Have a look at more pictures here, or download the PDF, in which you can also read my thoughts on the place.

That day sparked a long term project about the prisons used by repressive regimes to suppress opposition. I’m hoping to do some more work on this over the next year.

Christopher Sims: Guantanamo

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Kudos to Christopher Sims – he managed to get photographic access to the US military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, including the cell blocks in Camp Delta, and he’s taken some pretty good pictures too. You can see some of the pictures on the Civilian Arts Project site.

In this post a few weeks ago I discussed the nature of this type of prison, and the improbability of the US allowing access to Camp X-Ray – the original prison camp – if it still exists. Maybe they will, but for the moment we have Mr Sims’ pictures, which are all the more powerful for not including any people.

He clearly felt, as I did at Theresenstadt, the contrast between the guard’s family lives and those of the prisoners.

And before anyone gets offended, I should point out that I do not equate what happened at Theresienstadt with Guantanamo, except that they were both built to contain individuals that the authorities did not want roaming free.


Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I’ve been working on a long term project – one of those that doesn’t have an end in sight yet – about political prisons. This covers places of detention, and often torture and execution, where the victims were not criminals but had simply upset their government. Or, in some cases, another government.

Small Fortress, Terezin, Czech Republic. November 2003.

Small Fortress, Terezin, Czech Republic. November 2003. Solitary confinement block.

The problem with continuing this project is that such places are quite hard to find – at any rate those that haven’t been turned into Theme Parks. If they’re still functioning the operators don’t want anyone to know – they know what they are doing is shameful and try to hide it – and when they cease to be of use the operators destroy them if they can, for the same reason. Do you think Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo will be allowed to stand around as a reminder?

The prisons that remain to be seen are those that were extant when the regime that built them fell, such as the Orwellian German Democratic Republic, or was defeated, such as the Third Reich.

I visited the old STASI prison at Hohenschönhausen in Berlin last month – a memorable location and well worth a visit (pictures soon). The surprise of this place was the mundanity of it. The patterned vinyl flooring (the same as the kitchen of a flat I used to live in!), the striped wallpaper. It was like a Cold War era East-Block hotel, but with heavy steel doors and a highly effective alarm system. As if someone had decided, back in the 70s, to “cheer the place up a bit”.

The Small Fortess, Terezin, Czech Republic. November 2003. One of the small prison cells. The Gestapo held up to seventy men in each of these rooms.

The Small Fortess, Terezin, Czech Republic. November 2003. One of the small prison cells. The Gestapo held up to seventy men in each of these rooms.

Sadly such places are by no means history – which brings me to the point of this post! I can’t see even a contrite new US administration allowing me to see the facilities at Guantanamo when they are closed, but the regime of Robert Mugabe surely cannot last more than a few months, and the thousands of people he has held illegally will be released. There will be an opportunity to record the conditions under which they were held. I hope it happens soon, and I can get to Zimbabwe to document it.

The people who suffer in these places deserve at least that much.