Painted Prison Backdrops Offer A Temporary Escape From Incarceration

Victoria Williams, Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, California.

Victoria Williams, Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, California.

Anonymous , Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility, Ionia, Michigan.

Anonymous , Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility, Ionia, Michigan.

 
James Bowlin, United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois.

James Bowlin, United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois.

Anonymous Backdrop Painted in State Correctional Facility, Otisiville, New York.

Anonymous Backdrop Painted in State Correctional Facility, Otisiville, New York.

Photographer Alyse Emdur offers a fascinating look into the world of prisoner portraiture in her ongoing project Prison Landscapes. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, visitation rooms of penitentiaries have backdrops where friends and family can get pictures taken of/with the inmate to commemorate the time they spent together. Often, these backgrounds are idyllic landscapes that offer the inmate a moment to emotionally escape their sentence. Emdur’s series is two-fold; It features inmates posing in front of these faux scenes, as well as the rooms that the giant paintings inhabit.

There’s a stark and ironic contrast between the prisoner-painted backdrops and the rest of their interiors. “Prison visiting room portraits are constructed to intentionally leave out the reality of prison. The aim of my project is not to be an authority on that which is left out, but to rather make the artifice visible. Although the paintings on the backdrops represent freedom, they are vehicles to control the representation of prisons and prisoners.” Emdur explains to Featureshoot.

To obtain the some of the portraits seen here, Emdur spent years corresponding with inmates. “My role was to document a system that I did not have physical access to. I did this by asking those with access, to send me their own photographs,” she says. The limitation of her available sources adds to the institutional critique of prisons that are inherent within the scope of this project. (Via Featureshoot)

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