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Photo Requests from Solitary Confinement

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2019

Photo Requests from Solitary is a project that takes photo requests from prisoners being held in solitary confinement and invites volunteer photographers to make the images for them. For prisoners being tortured with long-term solitary stays, photos can be a lifeline to the outside world.

They spend at least 22 hours a day in a cell that measures on average of 6 x 9 feet, either in supermax prisons or in segregation units in other prisons and jails. Meals usually come through slots in the solid steel doors of their cells, as do any communications with prison staff. Exercise is usually alone, in a cage or concrete pen, for no more than one hour a day. People in solitary may be denied contact visits, telephone calls, television, reading materials, and art supplies.

The goal of PFRS is to fulfill each request to exact specifications for the person who requested it, with images that — through some combination of form, content, composition, design, and/or sheer commitment — are compelling enough that someone would want to return to them for repeated viewing. (People in solitary are sharply limited in the numbers of photographs they can have, so every image is important.)

An inmate named Sergio requested:

I would like a picture of the Mexican flag at sunrise, at the Zocalo, in the capitol of Mexico City; while the sun is rising and it hits the Mexican flag un-furled, with the Zocalo in the foreground.

And photographer Nica Ross delivered this image:

Solitary Photos

Another inmate, Dan requested:

I would like a photograph of a female in black leather pants with the same material stitches but a different color like hot pink all which that can define her figures with a setting of orange and blue in the sky posted up next to a benz (powder blue) in a park black female with hazel eyes.

A photographer named Jason Altaan submitted this:

Solitary Photos

David requested:

My photo request is simple, yet, very poignant for me. I’d very much appreciate any photos of fallen autumn leaves. I have no particular preference of area or location; just any scene focusing on the beauty of autumn leaves, (which, as you know, we do not have access to in the concrete box that is deemed as “yard” here.)

Several photographers responded, including Gerard Gaskin:

Solitary Photos

If you look at the site, there are currently many more unfilled requests than requests with submissions. Current requests include “first lady Michelle Obama planting vegetables in the White House garden”, “police being arrested by regular citizens”, “sunrise over the Sahara”, “beautiful women laughing and playing volley ball on the beach in ‘free Raul’ t-shirts”, and “wise old man with an angry expression”. Submitting a photo is easy…you can upload right from the website.

Doreen St. Félix wrote more about the project for the New Yorker.