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 Photo Requests from Solitary project was initiated in 2009 by Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots coalition of artists, advocates, family members and men formerly incarcerated in Tamms Correctional Center in southern Illinois, which was shuttered in 2013 after years of opposition.
Like some 80,000 other people in U.S. prisons, the men in Tamms were locked in small, concrete cells for 23 to 24 hours a day without human contact. Mental breakdowns, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts were common at Tamms, and are an expected consequence of long-term isolation.
Photo requests from the men in Tamms included the sacred mosque in Mecca, comic book heroes locked in epic battle, Egyptian artifacts, a lovesick clown, and a grey and white horse rearing in weather cold enough to see its breath.
In 2013, in collaboration with Parsons The New School for Design, Solitary Watch, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the project expanded to California and New York. Photo Requests from Solitary is currently filling requests from these states, and using the project to support local campaigns to stop the use of solitary confinement.
In May 2017, the new round of photos taken for men and women in New York’s state prisons will be featured for the first time, in an exhibit at the Legislative Office Building in Albany on May 2, in collaboration with the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement.
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My childhood home, my mom with a mansion… and J-Lo’s derriere: The strangely touching requests for pictures from supermax prison’s ‘worst of the worst’ inmates stuck in solitary for the rest of their lives
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by Hamilton Nolan, Gawker
Partners and Supporters:
Tamms Year Ten
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Parsons The New School for Design
New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement
Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project
Sullivan Galleries, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The Puffin Foundation