Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Prison Industrial Complex / Three Projects

360degrees > Picture-Projects
The Corrections Documentary Project > Ashley Hunt
Recording Carceral Landscapes > Trevor Paglen

360degrees: Perspectives on the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Even as the crime rate is dropping, the criminal justice system continues to grow. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there will be 30 new federal prisons built over the next 7 years. Throughout this unprecedented growth, there have been few opportunities for critical examination of what is working and what isn't. It is our hope that this site will challenge your perceptions about who is in prison today and why. We also hope that it will generate ideas, big and small, about how we can reduce crime and strengthen our communities without continuing this unprecedented rate of incarceration.

Over the next two years, we are continuing to work with educators and students to develop local dialogues in schools and communities. We will be partnering with radio producers and journalists across the country to tell stories about how crime and incarceration affects not just the people who are directly involved, but whole families and communities.

360 Degrees of Criminal Justice: Documentary, Method & Law / by Ashley Hunt

The Lock-Up Society / American RadioWorks

The Prison Diaries / NPR - All Things Considered

360 Degrees of Incarceration: Web Documentary Slams Home Reality of Prisons / by Francine Russo / The Village Voice

Picture Projects, a NYC-based studio founded in 1995, uses new media technologies, audio and documentary photography to examine complex social issues. Over the past ten years, the studio has become well known for its unique use of interactive narrative in both commercial and documentary work. Picture Projects produces websites and interactive installations for cultural institutions including The Women’s Museum in Dallas, Texas, The American Museum of Natural History, The Tenement Museum in New York City, and Harvard University's Schlesinger Library, and also includes clients such as IBM, National Voting Rights Institute and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

The studio's two most recent documentaries are - Perspectives on the U.S. Criminal Justice System and The Sonic Memorial Project, an open archive and online audio installation of the history of The World Trade Center. is the first online project to receive a Peabody Award since the category was introduced a few years ago. The site also received a Gracie Allen Award from Women in Television and Radio. grew out of our concern about the growing numbers of incarcerated Americans. We spent three years researching the criminal justice system, working with advisors, and scholars, securing funding and interviewing inmates, victims and family members, judges, lawyers and corrections officers. Picture Projects built a diverse team of scholars, writers, programmers and radio producers to bring to light stories and statistics that are often overlooked. was recently given the Online Journalism Award for Most Creative Use of the Medium, the Pew Center for Civic Journalism's Batten Award for Innovation, the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association, and a Webby Award for

In our current projects, we continue to weave new technologies — wireless, broadband, satellite — and smart design into an ongoing exploration of our social fabric through first-person stories, dynamic data and dialogue. Our projects include: The Sonic Memorial Project with National Public Radio; Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business, a museum installation and website for a traveling exhibition developed for the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University; RaceTalks, a website in collaboration with law professors Lani Guinier and Susan Sturm who are working to create spaces for experimentation, learning, and problem solving around issues of race, gender, social justice and social change; Tactical Media, a website for the NYU Center for Media Culture and History that explores how new media technologies are strategically used to further or change contemporary social issues; Toldot, an online Jewish Museum for kids; A redesign for the architectural firm VSBA; Six Months, a website accompanying the WNYC Public Radio series on New York City, six months after September 11, 2001; The Tenement Museum's Virtual Tour; and Conversations with History, a website for UC Berkeley that features unedited interviews with distinguished men and women from all over the world.

Alison Cornyn is an artist, founding partner and Director of Picture Projects. Her installation and video work as well as curatorial projects have been exhibited in Europe, South America and the U.S. She has worked as an art director on films in Los Angeles and New York and has extensive experience in interactive and web design as well as in building online communities. Cornyn produced an international, online dialogue for The New York Times Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace (1997) - the first website to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She has taught at City College and guest lectured about digital documentaries at New York University and other institutions. Cornyn curated b/t*, a new media show at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Fl (1998). The exhibition was part of the Boston Cyberarts Festival in 2001. She has a B.A. from Connecticut College, a Masters in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU and an M.F.A. from Hunter College. She was an artist in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program during 2000-2001.

Sue Johnson worked as a documentary photographer before meeting Cornyn, a fellow student, at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in 1995. Johnson's photography examines the impact of economics on rituals within different cultures including quinciñeras, pilgrimages, marriages and debutante balls. Johnson's interactive video installation, Window Pane, was presented by Creative Time’s Arts in the Anchorage in Brooklyn, New York (1997), and The Impakt Festival in Utrecht, Holland (1998). Johnson's web project Chant was awarded a Finishing Fund Grant from the Center for Experimental Television in NY and was exhibited as a physical installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Fl. (1998). Johnson has taught photography and new media at Harvard University and City College. She is a frequent lecturer at new media programs throughout New York City. Johnson has a B.A. from Harvard University in Visual and Environmental Studies and a Masters Degree from New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Johnson left Picture Projects in 2003 to pursue other interests.

Ashley Hunt

Ashley Hunt is an artist and activist based in Los Angeles, working with experimental video, forms of mapping, documentary and multi-media installation. Primarily interested in questions of power, language, structures of political possibility and their representation, Hunt's main work of the past five years has been developing the Corrections Documentary Project, which investigates these questions through the framework of the rapid growth and commercialization of the U.S. prison system.

Select exhibitions and screenings have included the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta, the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies (LACPS); screenings include the Oberhausen Film & Video Festival, the Impakt Festival, the Slamdance Film & Video Festival and the New York Underground Film & Video Festival. Hunt was a participant in the Whitney Independent Studio Program in 2000, received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998, and his Bachelor's Degree from the University of California at Irvine in 1994.

The Corrections Documentary Project

The Corrections Documentary Project began simply as a single documentary, CORRECTIONS: a 56 minute feature documentary that uses "prison privatization" as a lens into a prison system growing for reasons other than simple "justice." Seeing that privatization was an issue that needed to be debated publicly, it also opened up room for conversations on how ideas of crime and punishment not "natural," but are built upon and coded with politics of race and class.

As CORRECTIONS proved a useful tool for grassroots and activist groups, new opportunities arose to make pieces focused on specific campaigns and circumstances. This led to the production of "footnotes" to CORRECTIONS, pieces which are each in a way a "footnote" to the larger original piece.

Today there are a growing number of footnote pieces and other related projects, continuing to investigate the relationship of mass incarceration in the U.S. and abroad to the broader changes society is facing, the lingering challenges of race, class, gender and sexual based discrimination, and to question the value of "the prison" as an institution in society.


The second of two videos dealing with a campaign to shut down the notorious Tallulah youth prison in Northern Louisiana, CLOSE TALLULAH NOW! follows a growing movement of parents, community and advocates through public hearings where bereaved parents get the rare chance to spell out their frustrations to law makers and demand a prison be closed.

But as we watch the lead up to these hearings and go through them with the parents, we also witness the disconnect between the needs, tragedies and demands of communities and the contrary priorities of the politicians who are supposed to represent them.

A compelling mix of frustration and inspiration, CLOSE TALLULAH NOW! gives an important window onto how people take their demands to the state and try to make them matter.

I Won't Drown on that Levee and You Ain't Gonna' Break My Back

I WON'T DROWN... began with an invitation to travel to New Orleans as part of a delegation to investigate what actually happened at the Orleans Parish Prison during and after Hurricane Katrina. What came up was not only a botched and deadly evacuation of the prison, but a broader climate of racial tension and brutality throughout the local and Federal response to the disaster, where the population was divided into survivors and looters along lines of race and class.

Based around a press conference by the delegation — itself an interesting form of public speech with its own politics of representation — it takes the viewer through a timeline of the disaster and its representation through the mass media, with stories of individuals returning to New Orleans for the first time, testimonies of the evacuation, and a look at grassroots relief efforts not covered in the media.

The video is a central part of a campaign calling for Amnesty for criminalized hurricane survivors and people whose legal cases have been jeopardized by the hurricane. (click here for campaign)

Prison Maps

Prison Maps is a set of two mappings of the Prison Industrial Complex, "What is the Prison Industrial Complex?" and "What is the Context for Today's Prison Industrial Complex?"

The first map, "What is the Prison Industrial Complex?", maps out the relationship between the many forces which profit from and influence prison growth and criminalization. The second map, "What is the Complex for Today's PIC?", maps the historical change from the Welfare State to a new security state in which the state's function has been reduced to one of force, apprehension and detention. Both are lend abstract visual representations to forces and things that can't be represented in a photograph or through video, giving an understandable form to the complex workings of a growing and dispersed system.

Trevor Paglen / Recording Carceral Landscapes

Recording Carceral Landscapes is an investigation of the United States' enormous prison system by artist/geographer Trevor Paglen. By inquiring into the financial, social, and cultural elements that compose the Prison Industrial Complex, the project shows some of the invisible ways that mass incarceration has been woven into the fabric of our society.

In addition to the documentation of this project's exhibition, the website contains a collection of interviews with prominent activists. Each interview contains a discussion about different aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex. These interviews are illustrated with images from the exhibition.


Documented here are a number of projects developed over the course of the Recording Carceral Landscapes investigation. The Following Piece consists of a series of “spy” missions into sites associated with the Prison Industrial Complex, from the supermax unit at Pelican Bay State Prison to the headquarters of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, and from the corridors of government in Sacramento to the halls of finance at Siebert, Branford, Shank, and Co. The Prison Infiltration and Surveillance Suit is a collection of hidden recording technologies embedded within a work suit. Silence captures the sounds from within the recesses of the country’s first supermax prison, and the PIC Diaries is a collection of media produced and interpreted over the course of the Recording Carceral Landscapes project. Finally, the Prison Reclamation Project is a collaboration with a group of progressive architects to imagine alternative uses for existing prisons.


One of the central ideas behind the Recording Carceral Landscapes project is that mass incarceration is a social and cultural “machine” that runs throughout society. The Prison Industrial Complex is, in fact, very complex. The PIC does not exist somewhere “out there” but is woven into the fabric of everyday life.

In each of these conversations with prominent prison activists, a different aspect of the Prison Industrial Complex is taken up. Prof. Ruth Wilson Gilmore talks about the roots of the PIC in slavery, the convict lease system, and the Military Industrial Complex. Rose Braz describes the political scene in Sacramento, California and explains how decisions about prisons get made in government. Craig Gilmore talks about California’s rural areas and the effects of the California prison boom on the Central Valley. Dr. Terry Kupers takes up the question of the Security Housing Unit (the notorious “supermax” prison model) and explains how torture became normal in U.S. prisons. Finally, Rachel Herzing talks about prison abolition and what it means to imagine a world without prisons.

These interviews are presented here in both HTML and in PDF forms. Please feel free to download, print, and distribute these texts for educational or other non-commercial purposes.


Recording California's carceral landscapes / Art Journal, Spring, 2004 / by Trevor Paglen

Hitching Stealth with Trevor Paglen / by Bryan Finoki

Spying on the government / by A.C. Thompson

The CIA's torture taxi / by A.C. Thompson and Trevor Paglen

The Underground Geographer @ Subtopia: A Field Guide to Military Urbanism

Paglen on KQED


PRISON NATION: Posters on the Prison Industrial Complex

March 19 - June 4, 2006
Watts Towers Art Center
1727 E. 107th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90002

PRISON NATION epitomizes the Center for the Study of Political Graphic’s (CSPG) mission to link art and social action. Powerful posters from artists, designers, activists, and organizations around the country and the world, cry out against the devastating nature of the rapidly growing prison system in the United States. These graphics reinforce CSPG’s claim that there has never been a viable movement for social change without the arts as pivotal to conveying the ideas and passions of that movement. Grassroots efforts are more effective when strong graphics project their messages.

The Center for the Study of Political Graphics collects, preserves, and exhibits posters relating to historical and contemporary movements for social change. Through its varied programs, CSPG is reclaiming the power of art to inspire people to action.

There has never been a movement for social change without the arts—music, poetry, theater, posters - being central to that movement. Political posters in particular are powerful living reminders of struggles worldwide for peace and justice. Communication, exhortation, persuasion, instruction, celebration, warning: graphic art broadcasts its messages through bold images and striking designs. The archive contains more than 50,000 posters produced in a staggering array of visual styles and printing media, dating from the Russian Revolution to the present. University, museum, and public collections of this material are rare, and are seldom accessible to the public. CSPG is uniquely committed to widely exhibiting this rich visual record of social movements.

The Prison Industrial Complex: Rehabilitating the System
Sponsored by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics
April 7, 2006

One of the primary goals in the punishment of crime has been the hope for reform. Today, however, the role of the prison as a place for rehabilitation, growth, and personal advancement appears obsolete. Since the privatization of the United States prison system in the 1980s, the system has become a vast $40 billion-a-year industry, the most elaborate in the world. At a time when the United States has achieved the highest rate of imprisonment per capita in the history of the world--in which, for instance, one in four African American men are under correctional supervision--the U.S. public is slowly awakening to an unprecedented crisis of mass incarceration. Investigating notions of punishment and imprisonment, repentance and acquittal, this discussion addresses many of the issues surrounding the prison industrial complex, focusing on privatization and industry.

Participants include Ashley Hunt, artist and activist; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, scholar, University of Southern California; and Trevor Paglen, artist, writer, and experimental geographer.