Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture

Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture

Paperback

By (author) Bruce Jackson

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  • Publisher: Temple University Press,U.S.
  • Format: Paperback | 192 pages
  • Dimensions: 178mm x 251mm x 18mm | 590g
  • Publication date: 28 March 2009
  • Publication City/Country: Philadelphia PA
  • ISBN 10: 1592139493
  • ISBN 13: 9781592139491
  • Illustrations note: 33 Halftones, 121 Duotones

Product description

For more than forty years Bruce Jackson has been documenting - in books, photographs, audio recording and film - inmates' lives in American prisons. In November 1975, he acquired a collection of old ID photos while he was visiting the Cummins Unit, a state prison farm in Arkansas. They are published together for the first time in this remarkable book. The 121 images that appear here were taken between 1915 and 1940. As Jackson describes in an absorbing introduction, the function of these photos was not portraiture - their function was to 'fold a person into the controlled space of a dossier'. Here, freed from their prison 'jackets', and printed at sizes far larger than their originals, these one-time ID photos have now become portraits. Jackson's restoration transforms what were small bureaucratic artifacts into moving images of real men and women. "Pictures from a Drawer" also contains an extraordinary description of everyday life at Cummins prison in the 1950s, written originally by hand and presented to Jackson in 1973 by its author, a long-time inmate.

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Review quote

"I'm intrigued by the portraits of these prisoners. What were their lives like? Did they all come from poverty? Their expressions of wonderment, tragedy, and even amusement fascinate me. I want to know their whole life stories: How long did they live? Did they die in prison? What terrible act did they commit to become a prisoner? These pictures all speak to me of another time not only because of the way the people are dressed, but also because of the direct simplicity and innocence of the images. Today, when so many photographs are altered and manipulated, the honesty and reality of these images make them stand out as powerful and true portraiture for all time." Mary Ellen Mark "The absorbing opening chapters discuss everything from the nature and history of portraiture, to his trips to the prison, to the technical details of how he restored the photos without compromising what had happened to the prints over time. The faces in the photos, these pictures from a drawer, are haunting."-Foreword magazine, May/June 2009 "This book does not chronicle the lives, deeds, and misdeeds of the people shown in the 'portraits.' The people in the photos are numbered, remaining unnamed, and perhaps, rightly so. It is largely a pictorial book, with an essay on how the pictures were created and how they have come to be compiled. The essential thing, as we look in to [the] eyes of each subject, in the facial personification of their incarceration, is the utter honesty of portrayal." Sacramento Book Review, June 2009 "[T]his outstanding book makes the most of the 178 photographs that [Jackson] stuffed into his pockets thirty-four years ago. Pictures from a Drawer is part philosophical discourse on the meaning of photography, part technical treatise on the restoration and digitization of photographic prints, and part expose of the horrors of prison life (in the form of a memoir handwritten by a longtime inmate and presented to Jackson in 1973). However, what most strongly draws the reader into the book are the full-page portraits of prisoners, which Jackson has sensitively restored and contextualized. Indeed, Jackson has no peer when it comes to documenting and analyzing the folklife of prisons." Western Folklore, Vol. 70, No. 3/4, Summer/Fall 2011

Table of contents

1. Pictures from a Drawer; 2. Restoring the Eyes; 3. Size; 4. Dating the Images; 5. The Women; 6. Portraits; 7. Seeing People; 8. The Order of Things; 9. Mirrors; II.; Images; Appendix: Cooter's Yellow Pad