‘They are us and we are them’

Working title, ‘They are us and we are them’, a quote made by John Laub in Fergus McNeill’s Discovering Desistance documentary film ‘The Road from Crime’ . It seems to fit well with the concept of challenging the boundaries between ‘Us and Them’ and was recently mentioned to me by Fergus.

The process used in making this next set of portraits has been quite different to the ones I’ve presented previously. All the way through the project my system has been to make an image on Polaroid film initially (to ensure the composition is correct and as a reference for developing the film) and then, ensuring the sitter hasn’t moved, take the next shot on sheet film (negative). I kept hold of the byproduct of the Polaroid (it’s backing) and extracted the negative from this. It’s an unstable, messy and laborious technique. I’d originally planned on doing the entire project in this way but after extracting 18 negatives realised it was unrealistic. I also wanted to promote large format; the detail that is held within the 5″ by 4″ negative and the quality of the medium but because Polaroid negative is so drastically different (aesthetically) this wouldn’t come across. So I have essentially produced two quite different pieces of work at the same time. It adds an ethereal element to the final instillation and an innocence. Someone described this set of images as “womb-like” which I quite liked. I’d be interested to see what other people thought.

Full project description can be read on my previous post ‘Us and Them’.

© Jenny Wicks

  1. Neil Hutton said:

    For me these look nineteenth century and take me back to the origins of imprisonment as a punishment. Words that come to mind vulnerability and peace(?). There is also a religious resonance, prayer and reflection, perhaps it is the closed eyes. Moving portraits.

  2. The womb-like quality — which I think of as pointing to the similarity between these images and those hi-tech photos of near full-term foetuses in the womb — is really striking and provocatitve. Maybe I’m over-thinking it (it’s my job!) but the idea of prison (or any form of punishment) as a kind of hysteresis (a pregnant pause) or a suspension of citizenship has been in my mind a lot recently. Of course, for those of us interested in resettlement and reintegration, the pictures (and the metaphor) also beg lots of questions about being ‘born again’. That’s a phrase that we probably associate most with the kinds of evangelical Christians so involved (for better and worse) in the history of punishment (and arguably still in its contemporary development) — but we can also think about it in a secular sense. Can a punished person be born again as a citizen?

  3. Laura Piacentini said:

    I think the answer to that question Fergus may lie at the feet of the one and only Andrew McLellan, former Inspector at SPS. I went to a wonderful talk he gave to a group of committed, concerned Church of Scotland church goers ( I would say parishoners but not sure of terminology). These photos remind me of something he said: prisoners a citizens of God. I don’t agree, personally, but he made us all think , seriously, about redemption and the social self. Can prisons really do it?


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