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Illuminating the Margins


Visual culture, the prison, and its tensions between visibility and invisibility

Thesis- Final Draft


Margarita Osipian
Thesis Advisor- Markus Stauff
Second Reader- Jan Teurlings
Third Reader- Joost de Bloois

Table of Contents

Introduction- The prison, power, and visual culture. 3


Chapter 1-

Photography and the prison.......... 13

Chapter 2-

Documentary film and the prison.... 30

Chapter 3-

Reality Television and the prison......... 48

Chapter 4-

Mapping the Prison... 66

Conclusion-83
Works Cited...86

Introduction Prison, Power, and Visual Culture

The North American prison, as the space on the margins of society where
mechanisms of power are heavily concentrated and where there have been recent shifts in
penology, is a complex and valuable place from which to analyse and understand current
visual culture. The prison boom in the early 1990s in America, coupled with shifts in
criminal law, which increased prison sentences and introduced new sentences for drug
crimes, led to an exponential increase in the prison population. In the last twenty years,
the number of incarcerated Americans has risen from 380,000 in 1975 to over 2 million
today. The arm of the penal system extends outside of the prison, impacting those
wavering precariously on the margins. If you factor in partners, children, and other family
members of those that are incarcerated, the impact increases exponentially. This impact
of the prison on so many aspects of the cultural and social environment makes it a
primary place from which to understand the role of visual culture in these various
entanglements between points of incarceration and points of freedom. The prison, as
an institution that straddles the border between visibility and invisibility, is often made
socially and geographically invisible, while simultaneously impacting the lives of a large
percentage of the American population.
The heavy integration of the poor and the already marginalized into surveillance
and control mechanisms can be taken to its extreme in spaces of incarceration and on the
edges of those spaces. Although, as Deleuze argues in Postscript on the Societies of
Control, control is now modulated and moves through the emptied out institutions, we
still have institutions that serve as spaces of incarceration, namely prisons and mental
institutions, and which still function within the disciplinary mode of power. There is a

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governing of poverty, criminality, and deviance that, when it goes outside of the margins
of normalism, is quickly incapacitated. It is precisely the funneling of those on the edges
of normalism into the prison system that makes the borderline between the normal and
the abnormal, between the law-abiding citizen and the criminal such a contentious space.
These points on the border where things are rubbing against one another, both physically
and metaphorically, are places to begin analysis. If the prison is harbouring these tensions
between visibility and invisibility, then it is precisely at the point of entry into the prison,
at the moment of crossing over that boundary, that we can begin to explore these interrelations.
In 1971, the debate in America, according to Loc Wacquant revolved around
decarceration, intermediate or community sentencing, and harm reduction. In the climate
of the time the number of inmates was steadily decreasing and institutions of
incarcerations were being closed. Wacquant writes that America was a leader in
penological innovation and primed to show the world the way toward a nation without
prisons,.but, counter to these hopeful expectations, the carceral population ballooned
abruptly from 380,000 in 1975 to one million in 1990. It has since doubled to pass the
two-million mark, of which more than one million are non-violent offenders (Curious
Eclipse 382). Wacquant writes that levels of crime have remained essentially unchanged
while the prison has grown at a historically unprecedented level. This phenomenon
implies a split between the social body outside of the prison and the one within it, the
prison is changing, growing, and impacting society but these shifts are not mirrored by
the society outside of the prison. The vertical extension of the prison has been
supplemented by its horizontal extension: the population under criminal justice
supervision outside of jail and prison walls (that is, put on probation and released on
parole) has increased pari passu. In 1980, 1.8 million Americans were under penal
authority; today there are 6.5 million, amounting to 5 percent of all adult males, including
one black man in ten and one young black man (aged 18 to 35) in three (Wacquant,
Curious Eclipse).
After the 1970s the prison was abandoned by sociologists doing ethnographic
work in favour of looking at the decentralized structures of discipline and social control
that Foucault gestured towards. Wacquant writes that leading students of the prison

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during the 1960s and 70s failed to realize that, far from being fated to recede into the
societal background to make room for dispersed disciplines, the prison was here to stay
right alongside them indeed, it was about to grow to proportions never before
envisioned (Curious Eclipse, 384). As Waquant notes, as scholars turned to the study of
newer forms of decentralized social control in schools, public aid offices and hospitals, in
line with Foucaults verdict, they left the prison off their radar screen (Curious Eclipse
385). Studies depicting the everyday world of inmates vanished and much of the
observational data on prison life came from journalists and the writings of the inmates
themselves, and so the ethnography of the prison thus went into eclipse at the very
moment when it was most urgently needed on both scientific and political grounds
(Wacquant, Curious Eclipse 385). It is through this very eclipse that the prisoner inside
the prison is then made invisible to the outside world, abandoned by sociologists who
discarded the ethnography of the prison. Contemporary ethnographic access to the prison
in the United States has grown increasingly more difficult due to the lack of openness of
correctional facilities to inquiry and the limited cooperation forthcoming from the various
authorities that oversee them. By becoming simultaneously more bureaucratic and more
porous to the influences of the political, juridical, and media fields, jails and penitentiaries
have turned into opaque organizations that can be difficult and sometimes nearly
impossible to penetrate (Wacquant, Curious Eclipse 387). However, the ethnography of
the prison has been taken up in a variety of other forms, namely within the realm of
visual culture. Documentary films and photographic projects which document the prison
and its inhabitants function as a form of visual ethnography, potentially opening up the
space for a new kind of visibility of the prisoner.
The prison population is not an internally homogenous group, although they are
segregated from society, and are at the lower, perhaps even the lowest, end of the
stratification of society. So, while I am going to be looking at urban marginalization and
the strong demarcation that is constructed between the prison and society, it should be
kept in mind that the prison and prisoners as a category are quite diverse and
heterogeneous. The prison is not an institution that is external to social space, and
intrudes from the outside. In fact, it is complexly coordinated with other organizations
and bureaucratic and political centres. It is deeply embedded and runs through the fabric

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of the lower classes. In this way, and as we will see in Chapter 4 about mapping the
prison, the carceral system is quite heavily interlinked and connected to the space outside
of the prison, but these interconnections are often made invisible, hidden by the rhetoric
that the prison is a space apart, both physically and metaphorically.
In order to explore this potential relationship between increasing marginality, as
seen through the spectrum of the American prison system, and the shifting visual
constructions of the prison, I will engage with a number of specific dynamics between the
prison and its presentation, rather than with individual case studies. With the examples
that I have chosen to focus on for each of the chapters, I am not making a statement or
analysis of all forms of visual culture, but rather looking at the tendencies that are
currently present in the various forms of visual culture that I have chosen to explore. The
visual presentations of the prison that I will focus on will be documentary work.
Although I differentiate between documentary work and fictional work, I want to make
clear that the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are not easily demarcated and
consistently seep into one another. A fairly large body of work exists on the
representation of criminals and the prison in literature, film, and fictional television
dramas, but little has been done on the documentation of the prison through documentary
films, television shows, and photography. When it comes to non-fiction documentary a
number of questions arise regarding how the surveillance structures that are already in
place in the prison are used or subverted by those that are doing documentary work
within that environment. How does the surveillance of the prison population through
ethnographic or documentary work within the prison interrelate with the general theories
of surveillance as a form of control? Is this just a form of control that is being extended to
the general population, through the use of spectacle, so they can also watch those that
have become entangled within the confines of the law?
Although there are a handful of studies which have been done on the spectacle of
the prison and documentary work within the prison, there is still quite a lack of academic
analysis of how the workings of spectacle influence and are affected by the major shifts
and growth in the U.S. penal system. Paul Masons study of the televisual portrayal of the
British prison between 1980-1990 sheds light on the debate around the renewal of
spectacle through the televisual portrayal of the prison and how the television allows the

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viewer to see the inner workings, the mechanical structure of the prison system.
However, this study was done in the UK which has a much lower prisoner population per
capita than the U.S. and it is also quite old since there have been major penological shifts
after 1990. There are also a number of contemporary publications on how the media
represents crime,1 but not enough on how the media represents the incarcerated
individuals after the event of the crime. What we have is a disproportionate amount of
analysis on crime and the media, which is reflective of the overwhelming news media
coverage of crime, even with crime rates steadily dropping. However, it is vital not to
allow the prison to get left behind, since this would perpetuate the very structure of the
prison as being an invisible and hidden aspect of society.
As Foucault historically traces in Discipline and Punish, the very workings of the
system of punishment used to be a major spectacle. People were summoned as spectators,
corpses of criminals were displayed for days near a crime scene, scaffolds and gallows
were erected in public squares: Not only must people know, they must see with their
own eyes. Because they must be made to be afraid; but also because they must be the
witnesses, the guarantors, of the punishment, and because they must to a certain extent
take part in it (Foucault 58). However, by the end of the eighteenth and the beginning
of the nineteenth century, the gloomy festival of punishment was dying out.a few
decades saw the disappearance of the tortured, dismembered, amputated body,
symbolically branded on face or shoulder, exposed alive or dead to public view. The
body as the major target of penal repression disappeared (Foucault 8). In this
transformation, the process of the disappearance of punishment as spectacle was at work,
a process through which punishment becomes invisible and becomes the most hidden
part of the penal process (Foucault 9). Perhaps it can be argued that there is a renewal of
punishment as spectacle today. Whereas the tortured body during the moment of
spectacle claimed the space between the criminal act and the death of the criminal, now

Examples of this work can be seen in the Media, Culture, and Crime Journal, A. Doyles
Arresting Images: Crime and Policing in Front of the Television Camera (2003), and R.
Surettes Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Images, Realities, and Policies (2007).

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the penitentiary claims this space. We have therefore moved from a moment of spectacle
during the act of torture, to a moment of spectacle in the very space of the prison. The
function of the prison, beyond the place where the penalty is carried out, is also the place
for the observation of punished individuals. The prisoner must be held under permanent
observation, constantly being reported on, recorded, and computed. This state of
permanent observation is valuable because, perhaps, it can be said that when the prisoner
is increasingly appearing in the public sphere through documentary, it is a further
expansion of this scopic mechanism to the 'greater public'. Foucault, tracing the history of
the spectacle of punishment, references the chain-gangs that would pass through the
French countryside. When the chain-gang was passing through the towns, broadsheets
were distributed which listed the crimes of those who would pass by, recounted their
lives, and provided a physical description so that they could be easily identified: People
also came to examine different types of criminals, trying to decide, according to facial
appearance or dress, the profession of the convict, whether he was a murderer or thief:
it was a game of masquerades and marionettes, which was also, for more educated eyes,
something of an empirical ethnography of crime (Foucault 259). The spectacle of
watching the prisoner, the ethnography of this other species is still alive today. This
takes on the quality of a theatrical performance. The spectacle has always been there, it
just manifests itself in new ways as the prison and the penological system shifts and
changes with new formations of power. The question then becomes not whether the
prison and the penal process is visible or invisible, but how we navigate between these
tensions between the renewed spectacle of the prison and punishment, and the invisibility
of punishment and the relegation of the prisons to the very margins of society.
Before we begin, it may be useful to trace the outline of Foucaults notion of the
heterotopia onto the prison. Foucault, in Of Other Spaces writes that the present
epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity:
we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of
the dispersed (229). Time and space intersect with one another, and space itself has a
history, shifting and changing temporally. He writes that our epoch is one in which
space takes for us the form of relations among sites (230), and this relationality and
focus on the storage, marking, circulation, and classification of human elements is

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indicative of the tendencies inherent in the disciplinary society. Heterotopias as defined
by Foucault are existing places and institutions which act as counter-sites in which all
the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented,
contested, and inverted (231). Although these places are locatable within reality, they
are outside of all places.
Heterotopias of crisis, spaces reserved for individuals who are in a moment of
crisis in relation to the society in which they live, are being replaced today by
heterotopias of deviation, of which is the prison is an obvious example. These
heterotopias of deviation are spaces in which individuals whose behaviour is deviant in
relation to the required mean or norm are placed (Of Other, 232). The second principle
in his description of the heterotopia is that as a societys history unfolds, it can make an
existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion (Foucault, Of Other 233). In
relation to the prison, if we see it as a heterotopia, its function has shifted overtime,
although not in large overtures. The fifth principle is that heterotopias always
presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them
penetrable (Foucault, Of Other 235) and the heterotopic site is not freely accessible like
a public space. Looking at the prison through the lens of Foucaults heterotopia allows
for a better space on which to map the tensions between visibility and invisibility that
occur there. The system of opening and closing allows for a simultaneous isolation and
penetrability, for a simultaneous visibility and invisibility.
In order to begin an analysis of how the tensions between visibility and invisibility
within the prison are taken up by different forms of visual culture, it is important to
construct a general outline of what visual culture means in the context of this paper. The
sheer amount of essays by a diverse range of scholars in Nicholas Mirzoeffs Visual
Culture Reader, shows that the notion of visual culture and its role within academia is
still under debate, and constantly shifting with the emergence of new digital technologies
and visual events.2 Its status as an interdisciplinary academic approach is still being
questioned, as well as its overwhelming focus on contemporary images (beginning with

The visual event according to Mirzoeff is the constituent element of visual cultures practice,
with September 11 serving as the apogee of all such events.

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the emergence of photography) and disregard for scientific images.3 James Elkins
positions visual culture academically within similar disciplines such as visual studies
and cultural studies. Elkins notes that visual culture is younger then cultural
analysis, appearing as a discipline in the 1990s, and is preeminently an American
movement. Elkins writes that visual culture is less Marxist and further from the kind of
analysis that might be aimed at social action, more haunted by art history, and more in
debt to Roland Barthes and Walter Benjamin than the original English cultural studies
(2).
In my analysis of visual culture which takes the prison as its subject matter, the
focus will not be on the way the audience or the viewer perceives or reacts to the various
examples that will be looked it. As Mirzoeff writes, visual culture must go back and
forth across the interface that is now much more multifaceted than the object-screenviewer triptych (9). Although the individual viewer and their reaction is valuable, my
aim is to understand the visual objects themselves and their relationship to the social, the
political, and the cultural. The focus will be on visuality, the intersection of power with
visual representation. For Mirzoeff that the disciplinary mode of power, as outlined by
Foucault and his example of the panopticon, was focused around the relationship of
seeing and being seen. He then moves on to argue that this straight sight line, which
equates to visibility, is no longer the case. For visual culture at the present moment,
visibility is not as simple as a straight sight line between seeing and being seen, but
rather, its object of study is precisely the entities that come into being at the points of
intersection of visibility and social power (Mirzoeff 10).
W.J.T. Mitchell presents a series of counter-theses in response to common myths
about visual culture. His second point is quite pertinent to the subject at hand, he writes
that
Visual culture entails a mediation on blindness, the invisible, the unseen, the unseeable,
and the overlooked; also on deafness and the visible language of gesture; it also compels
attention to the tactile, the auditory, the haptic, and the phenomenon of synesthesia (90).

Taken in conjunction with the previous point, Mitchells seventh counter-theses that

For more on this critique, see James Elkins Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction.

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visual culture is the visual construction of the social, not just the social construction of
vision (91), outlines the basis for the analysis that will follow regarding the visual
culture around the prison. The tensions between visibility and invisibility are intertwined
within visual culture, and are especially prominent within the prison. The emphasis is
never only on what is made visible, but also on what is made invisible, or put under
erasure, in the making visible of something else.
In an interlinking between the spectacle of the public torture of criminals and the
recurring tendencies for the criminal and prisoner to always be under some system of
heightened visibility, I will turn to Mitchell again for a moment. Having coined the term
pictorial turn, Mitchell did not mean that the modern era is unique in its obsession with
vision and visual representation, but rather, he wanted to acknowledge the perception of
a turn to the visual or to the image as a commonplace, a thing that is said casually and
unreflectively about our time (94). There is therefore, according to Mitchell, not a single
great historical divide between the age of literacy and the age of visuality, and any
attempt to position the emergence of one form of image making (painting, photography,
film, etc.) as a central historical turning point can be problematic. We are tracing
emergences that fall in line with a genealogical history of previous emergences, rather
than eruptions.
The question of the power of visual images, their role as instruments of
domination, deception, and persuasion, is far too big to be taken up here. As Mitchell
notes, while there is no doubt that visual culture (like material, oral, or literary culture)
can be an instrument of domination, I do not think it is productive to single out visuality
or images or spectacle or surveillance as the exclusive vehicle of political tyranny (96).
The point that we can begin at is that images are entangled with systems of power, and
that they can each say something about the other.
For the purposes of this analysis, I will be using visual culture in a general sense,
outside of the specific confines of what visual culture is as an academic field, and more
in line with an understanding of how the specific examples I am using fit within this
field. Elkin writes that the best brief definition he knows is George Roeders, which he
borrows from Gertrude Stein,
Visual culture is what is seen, Roeder says, and continues: Gertrude Stein observes

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that what changes over time is what is seen and what is seen results from how
everybodys doing everything. What is seen depends on what there is to see and how
we look at it.

This definition is not rigid and quite fluid, emphasizing the work that images do in
culture and the role that the viewer plays within the shifting landscape of images. The
emphasis on fluidity and instability is vital here, since we need to focus on the way that
visual culture alters and is altered by the social space that it exists in.

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Chapter 1 Incarcerated Light: Documentary photography and the criminal body

To begin this analysis of the visual culture surrounding the prison with
photography is a conscious decision. Historically, photography came before the other
visual mediums that we will be discussing and so it is only fair to position it
chronologically within these continuums of visual culture. Photography then also forms
the basis of film, and subsequently television, existing as the single frame of the
photographic capture of fragments of reality. With a longer history, it is also complexly
embedded in the power structures of the social, and tracing its genealogy sheds light on
the shifts in various systems or epochs of power. Contemporary photography that uses the
prison as its point of entry and its subject matter finds its place within the tensions of
visibility and invisibility taken up by the prison. As a medium of light, serving to
illuminate its subject matter, the photograph serves a very particular role in the
documentation of the prison. In the other aspects of visual culture that we will look at
later, the moment of visibility and the very act of making visible has the potential to shed
light on the prison system, its interconnections with the rest of society, and the conditions
within the prison itself. The photograph makes this relationship of visibility complex
because photography is so heavily implicated in the history of the documentation and
categorization of the criminal and the criminal body. So while the photograph makes the
prisoner more visible, and while this process of visualization can be potentially liberating
and politically emancipating, it cannot be done without an understanding of how the
history of photography has been entangled with the history of criminology.

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Photography that takes place inside the prison and photographically captures
images of prisoners is part of a documentary style of photography that can be placed
within a historical continuum. The criminal is perpetually in a process of being under
visual surveillance, and this occurs in a three-fold process through the linear trajectory
that begins from the criminal act until the act of imprisonment. Criminal identification
photographs are designed, quite literally, to facilitate the arrest of their referent. The
criminal is marked for arrest through the criminal identification photographs, then
photographically captured again upon arrest, and then placed inside the prison, which is a
space of constant, never ceasing, visual surveillance. The image of the criminal, being
circulated widely, both in order to facilitate arrest and as a part of the process of arrest,
engages citizens to take part in the work of detection. Wanted posters and television
shows like Americas Most Wanted deploy photographic portraiture as a tool to aid in the
apprehension of criminals who are in hiding or running from the law. The canonical
mug shot, developed by Alphonse Bertillon, with the full frontal face and profile shots, is
not simply an instrument of identification. The mug shot carries the signs of capture and
detainment, and a verification that the police system works. Still used as the central
photographic method of documentation upon arrest, the mug shot is a precursor to the
space of the prison, where the criminal, turned prisoner, is under permanent, never
ceasing surveillance. The entire process is one of heightened visibility, from the mug shot
upon arrest to the ubiquitous surveillance within the prison walls. Crime and criminality,
which is metaphorically associated with darkness, sees its counterpart in the photographic
documentation of the criminal body.
The history of prisoner photography, as Allan Sekula argues in The Body and the
Archive, was born simultaneously with projects of archiving, statistics, and criminology
in general. Sekula writes that although in the 1820s and 30s the British police system
had not yet embraced photography, this time period was seeing a growth in governmental
inquiries and legislation that was designed to standardize and professionalize police and
penal procedures. Photography was used in the systemic regulation of an urban
dangerous class that was growing due to the increasing congestion of cities during
industrialization. Sekula writes that although photographic documentation of prisoners
was not at all common until the 1860s, the potential for a new juridical photographic

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realism was widely recognized in the 1840s, in the general context of these systemic
efforts to regulate the growing urban presence of the dangerous classes, of a chronically
unemployed sub-proletariat (5). Sekula argues that the criminal body, as a new object, is
defined as a result of the battle, being played out during the tail end of the nineteenth
century, between the presumed denotative univocality of the legal image and the
multiplicity and presumed duplicity of the criminal voice (6). The construction of the
criminal body is linked to the birth of a juridical photography, which sought to pin down,
or photographically capture, the criminal.
The traditional function of portraiture as a way to provide the ceremonial
presentation of the bourgeois self, is said to have taken its early modern form in the
seventeenth century. The photographic portrait, according to Sekula, extends,
accelerates, popularizes, and degrades (6) this traditional function and so photography
subverted the privileges inherent in portraiture, but without any more extensive levelling
of social relationships (6). Instead, photographic portraiture began to perform a new role
that was not derived from the honorific portrait tradition, but was instead tied to the
imperatives of medical and anatomical illustration. The practice of portraiture then
oscillates between the two poles of honorific portraiture and the repressive portraiture of
the police. This tension is encapsulated in contemporary projects of prisoner portraiture.
In serving to introduce the panoptic principle into everyday life, the honorific and
repressive functions of portraiture were welded together through photography. As Sekula
argues, every portrait implicitly took its place within a social and moral hierarchy (10)
and the portrait of the criminal or the prisoner is placed on the lower rung of this
hierarchy. The private moment of looking at a frozen image of a loved one was
shadowed, according to Sekula, by two more public looks: a look up, at ones betters,
and a look down, at ones inferiors (10). The tensions between the private and the
public are at play in prison photography because the private of the prisoner is always
simultaneously public, always highly visible. This visibility manifests itself in the pubic
record laws of many US states, which allow open access to the mugshots and criminal
records of state prisoners. As Sekula argues, photography came to establish and delimit
the terrain of the other, to define both the generalized look the typology and the
contingent instance of deviance and social pathology (7). The normalization process of

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punishment and discipline traces the limit that will define difference in relation to all
other differences, the external frontier of the abnormal (Panopticism, Foucault 183) and
so this process works on a twofold process to simultaneously exclude and then
hierarchize those that are included. Abnormality is the external frontier.
In order to place contemporary photographs of prisoners and the prison within the
tensions between the visibility and invisibility of the prison, it is vital to trace the criminal
portrait back to its place in the statistical and archival juridical photograph. The
photographic archive contains an all-inclusive general archive which carries within it a
range of visible bodies, from heroes and leaders to the poor and the criminal. Sekula
argues that the clearest indication of the essential unity of this archive lies in the
widespread prestige of a single hermeneutic paradigm, that of the two intertwined
branches of physiognomy and phrenology. Both of these branches shared the belief that
the surface of the body bore the outward signs of inner character. Physiognomy isolated
the head and face and assigned a characterological significance to each element of the
face, such as the eyes, ears, forehead, and nose. In this process, distinct physical elements
of the face were understood in relation to their conformity to a specific type. Phrenology
looked at the topography of the skull, and sought for a correlation between the skulls
topography and the mental faculties within the brain. Sekula writing about the origins of
phrenological research, quotes the Viennese physician Franz Josef Gall, that the origins
of this research began with him assembling a group of people at his house whom he had
drawn from the lower classes (Sekula 11). It is those individuals in the lower classes
that mark the boundary of abnormality and deviance. As Sekula argues, the criminal
archive came into existence only on the basis of mutual comparison and the construction
of a larger universal archive within which the criminal body could be placed in order to
clearly demarcate zones of deviance. Sekula writes that [e]specially in the United States,
the proliferation of photography and that of phrenology were quite coincident (12) and
the culture of the photographic portrait needs to be understood in relation to the prestige
and popularity of a physiognomic paradigm.
Photography is bound up in the process of documenting and marking the body as
a way to gain access to some form of inner character, and through this process placing the

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body within a hierarchy of bodies. The law-abiding body needs to measure, and
subsequently define itself, through its comparison to the criminal body. The unified
system of visual documentation of the body and interpretation of the bodys signs
intersected in the 1840s and carried with it the archival promise of a taxonomic ordering
of images of the body. This promise never came into fruition due to the complications
inherent in an image based system of organization. However, as Sekula writes, the
camera is integrated into a larger ensemble: a beaurocratc-statistical system of
intelligence.The central artefact of this system is not the camera but the filing
cabinet (16). The filing cabinet, as the physical ordering system of the archive, allows
the user to retrieve an individual instance from a large quantity of images. In the 1880s
two systems of description of the criminal body were deployed, one which sought to find
the criminal type and one which analyzed individual criminals. Both of these systems,
according to Sekula, aimed to ground photographic evidence in more abstract statistical
methods and this merger of optics and statistics was fundamental to a broader
integration of the discourses of visual representation and those of the social sciences in
the nineteenth century (18). Sekula writes that the intersection of statistics and
photography led to two strikingly different results, which he exemplifies by exploring the
work of Alphonse Bertillon and Francis Galton. Bertillon invented the first effective
modern system of criminal identification which positioned an individual record within a
larger aggregate and Galton invented a method of composite photography in order to
capture the criminal type from an aggregate of images. Both men, according to Sekula,
were committed to technologies of demographic regulation (19) and the permanent
quarantine of a class of habitual or professional criminals. Bertillon sought to curb
recidivism by identifying habitual criminals through the construction of a complex visual
police archive.
Sekula, in a footnote on the Panopticon, writes that Foucault traces the birth of the
prison only to the 1840s, just at the moment when photography appears with all of its
instrumental promise and so a reading of the subsequent development of disciplinary
systems would need logically to take photography into account (9). Sekula argues that
any history of disciplinary institutions must recognize the multiplicity of material
devices involved some literally concrete in tracing not only the importance of

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surveillance, but also the continued importance of confinement (9). The photograph,
according to Sekula, operated as the image of scientific truth (40) in the war of
representations being fought between different criminological theorists (i.e. the Italian
school with Lombroso and the theory of atavistic regression, Galton and the politically
and ethically charged eugenics, Bertillon and the criminal as a product of social groups).
They all shared a common battle, since photographs and technical illustrations were
deployed, not only against the body of the representative criminal, but also against that
body as a bearer and producer of its own, inferior representations (Sekula 40). Bertillon
treated the body of the criminal like a text, whose signs could be read, marked, and
catalogued. 4 This reading of the marks of the criminal body is echoed in the following
chapter on reality television shows within the prison, where we are witness to corrections
officers checking the bodies of prisoners for gang tattoos and other marks that would
affiliate them with certain groups within the prison. Galtons composites do visually what
statistical information does numerically, it creates an aggregate of information through
the process of photographic aggregation. Galton himself described his process as a form
of pictorial statistics and believed that he had translated the Gaussian error curve into
pictorial form (Sekula 48). As Sekula argues, the Galtonian composite can be seen as the
collapsed version of the archive. In this blurred configuration, the archive attempts to
exist as a potent single image, and the single image attempts to achieve the authority of
the archive, of the general, abstract proposition (54).
The marking of the body is one of the four main types of punitive tactics that
Foucault writes about in The Genealogy of Morals. Although confinement is the
privileged form in our own time, Phil Carney argues that Foucault by no means
excluded, despite the rhetoric of Discipline and Punish, the other kinds of tactic (24).
The photograph, as Carney argues, carried the new function of marking the criminal
body. Branding, along with other forms of punitive spectacular practice, which had been
declining rapidly at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was used as both a punitive

The markings of the criminal body have piqued contemporary interest, with a resurgence of
books and films on prison tattoos. See the documentary film Mark of Cain (2001) and the three
volume set of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia.

19
practice and a means of identification (Carney 21). In a shift from physically marking
the body, to capturing it through spectacle, Carney writes that the French inspector
general of prisons, Moreau-Christophe, saw the photograph as a technology that would
replace the brand. He writes that not only did prisoners fear the power of the camera, it
marked their bodies with a stigma that was more than just symbolic; for in the developing
culture of photographic circulation, the spectacle of the brand was extended and
intensified (Carney 21). The body of the criminal, through the circulating photograph,
would be stigmatized in front of a mass audience, branding the body with the markers of
criminality and deviance. Carney notes that if the spectacle of public punishment had
rapidly declined in the early nineteenth century, the new spectacle was to open up
different forms of spectatorship of crime and punishment (20). These new forms of
spectatorship were seen in the circulating images of criminals. Photographers who were
hired to take arrest photographs in order to track recidivism would supplement their
income by selling their images to other customers. In this way, the photograph
simultaneously held within itself the institutional function of documenting arrests and
criminals for the juridical archive and the spectacular function of feeding the public need
for photos of the criminal class.
Keith Hayward, in the introduction to Framing Crime acknowledges that while
the everyday experience of life in Western society may not be suffused with crime, it is
definitely suffused with images of crime. For Hayward, it is extremely valuable to
understand the interconnection and growing relationship between visual culture and
criminology, which he terms as visual criminology. Hayward is not just interested in the
creeping in of images into criminology, a process as we have seen that can be traced back
historically, but rather into a more encompassing and dynamic look at the way visual
culture intersects with, acts upon, and shapes criminology. Hayward writes that over the
last decade or so, cultural criminology has emerged as a distinct theoretical,
methodological, and interventionist approach that situates crime, criminality, and control
squarely in the context of cultural dynamics (3). In this light, the social institutions that
deal with crime control, policing, and imprisonment are also now cultural enterprises.
Police work is embedded with the visual, with the increasing reliance on CCTV cameras
and other tools of photographic documentation and identification. This enveloping of the

20
juridical sphere with the visual can also be extended to the space of the prison, where
there is an ongoing increase in video surveillance technology and other forms of optical
infiltration. The link between the visual and the juridical is not a new shift, but rather fits
on a historical continuum within the photographic capture, documentation, and filing
away of the criminal body.
The merger between statistics and visual representation, which culminated in the
unceasing photographic documentation of the criminal body in the wake of the archive, is
always trailing behind the photographic documentation of the criminal body. Although
this history is always in the background of the photographic image, it can be disrupted or
challenged through new forms of representation of the captured criminal body. Phil
Carney argues for understanding the social practice of photography as production, instead
of thinking of the photograph as a deficient image of something else (16), as something
that can never come quite close to reality. Photography can then be seen as a form of
surplus, rather then a deficit of the real. Through this lens, we can come to understand
the photographic practice that documents prisoners and life inside the prison not in its
relation to the reality of the prison, but rather in its productive value, in its value of
bringing forward images that may otherwise not be seen. A focus on the continuities
between the cultural phenomena of the spectacle and the mass media allows practice and
performance, rather then message, to be central. The analysis of the practice of
contemporary photography taking place within the prison will focus more on how
understanding this practice can further inform an analysis of the tensions between
visibility and invisibility, rather then on the potential political message that these
photographs bring forth.
Jeff Ferrell and Ccile Van de Voorde argue that if cultural criminology is coming
to be associated with a certain visual trajectory, then it is already even more closely
identified with another: the resurgence of the ethnographic field research (37). They
write that ethnography has been revitalized within the field of cultural criminology as a
response to the numerical datasets of orthodox criminology. Ethnography allows for a
slower process of understanding and analysing the criminological landscape, away from
numerical data and aggregation of information. Ferrell and Van de Voorde write that

21
good ethnography is inevitably and intentially political and an ethnographic sensibility
could nicely attune us to the nuances of the photographic world and to the complex
human process by which visual productions are invested with cultural and political
significance (37). This convergence between the photographic and the ethnographic has
been underway for decades, especially in the work of photojournalists and war
photographers. Photographic documentary work, through its very element of
attentiveness, closeness, and time spent with the subjects being photographed, declares a
certain affiliation between the photographer and the subject, which counteracts and
defends the subjects against those who would degrade or dismiss them (Ferrell and Van
de Voorde 43). Unlike the reality television shows, which we will look at later, which
often project onto the prison environment a trajectory of violent action and eruption,
photography has the potential to capture the slow time of the prison, to capture the
stillness and the creeping of time. The prison is a space that borders on the visible and the
invisible since it is difficult to penetrate from the outside, but once inside, everyone is
under visual surveillance. The photographer inside the prison is operating within the
historical tension of adding to an already heavily laden visibility of the prisoner, but
simultaneously, through a process of ethnography that deals with a different form of
spectacular treatment then the ceaseless eye of the CCTV camera, is producing a new
kind of image.
The prison as a demarcated and closed off physical structure is often relegated to
the margins of the geographical and the social landscape. As a space that is wrought with
social stigma and which serves the role of warehousing the poor, the criminal, and the
deviant, it is often made invisible. In the same manner that the juridical archive served to
catalogue the criminal body and place it within a hierarchy of other bodies, the prison
quite literally serves this role of marking off the space of what is normal and what is
abnormal, of the criminal class and the law-abiding citizen. Stephen Tourlentes, in his
project Of Length and Measures: Prison and the American Landscape, documents
prisons at night, as they illuminate and radiate out from an empty landscape. He has
documented close to 100 prisons, in 46 states, constructing a visual archive of these
places of exile. In his project statement, Tourlentes writes that the presence and location
of these institutions of exile paradoxically reflect back upon the society that builds them

22
and that these institutions tend to sit on the periphery of a societys consciousness.
Through this project, Tourlentes appears to be attempting to place the prison back into
the central focus of societys consciousness. He writes that the land that these prisons sit
on is never allowed to go dark and that the use of light and surveillance technology has
changed the architecture of confinement. The prison sits, illuminated by the unceasing
need for surveillance, illuminating the landscape around it. It walks the tense line
between the visual erasure of the prison from the American landscape, and the
simultaneous growth and impact that the prison has on the communities around it. Pete
Brook, in an interview with Tourlentes writes that designed as closed systems, prisons
illuminate the night and the world that built them purposefully outside of its boundaries.
In response to Brooks question about the impact that an artistic project can have on the
issue of prison expansion, Tourlentes states that sometimes an artists interpretation
touches a different nerve and if lucky the work reverberates longer than the typical news
cycle. These drawn out and slower forms of documentation carry the potential for a
different kind of political impact. Tourlentes states that he wants to connect the outside
world with these institutions since prisons are meant to be closed systems; so my visual
intrigue comes when the landscape is illuminated back by a system (a prison) that was
built by the world outside its boundaries. These photographs taken at night, through a
long exposure, capture the stillness of time, and the slow illumination. Just driving by
these illuminated spaces may not awaken anything in the viewer, but having them
captured photographically, made still, opens up the space for a dialogue about the
relationship between the prison and its environment.

23

Penn State Death House, Bellafone, PA, 2003. Stephen Tourlentes

Carson City, Nevada, Death House, 2002. Stephen Tourlentes.

24

Prison Complex, Florence, AZ, 2004. Stephen Tourlentes.

From the documentation of the prison as a space of exile, which illuminates its
existence onto the landscape, we move into the very space of the prison itself. There are a
wide range of photo documentation projects within the prison. Although I have only
chosen one to look at, it is important to get a grasp of the vastness of this field. Some
examples of projects include Jackie Dewe Mathews Traficantes5, where she documents
women in prison in Brazil for drug trafficking; Kirk Crippens Hidden Population6,
which is a series of portraits of the back of prisoners heads as a workaround of
department of corrections legal restrictions on identifiable depictions of men in its
custody; and Melania Comorettos Women in Prison7 series. Contemporary projects of

http://www.jackiedewemathews.com/stories/trafficantes/trafficantes.html

http://www.kirkcrippens.com/gallery.html?gallery=San%20Quentin%3a%20Hidden%20Populati
on&folio=2010
7

http://www.melaniacomoretto.com/categorie.asp?id_menu=10&id_gruppo=44&z=3&q=1

25
prison portraiture are diverse and shed light on this growing field of documentation, but
for the purpose of this analysis, I have chosen to look at one of the most well known
documentary photography projects of prisoners.
In 1993, photographer Ken Light and his partner Suzanne Donovan, got
unparalleled access to the prisoners on Texas Death Row. Light was the first
photographer to get this kind of access into an environment that was heavily closed off
and restricted. In the accompanying book that was published of Lights photographs and
Donovans interviews, the viewer gets a look into a world that had never been visually
documented to such an extent before. In the introduction of the book, Donovan wrote that
they were interested in painting a portrait of life on the Row, rather then looking at the
individual stories. The tension between objective inquiry and subjective analysis is forced
to the front in photo-documentary work. The photograph is both representative, a point
by point snapshot of a moment in time, but also heavily mediated through the aesthetic
choices the photographer makes at the moment the picture is taken. What is vital is
understanding that the documentary photograph is neither the objective reproduction of
an external reality nor a subjective construction of the photographer, but rather a visual
documentation of the relationship between photographer, photographic subject, and the
larger orbits of meaning they both occupy (Ferrell and Van de Voorde, 41). The reality
that a photograph captures is not of the people in front of the lens, nor is it the reality of
the photographer, but it is the shared relationship and cultural meanings created between
the photographer and the photographed subject in a specific context.
Donovan notes that although there is unabashed public support for the death
penalty in Texas, most Texans are unaware, or dont care, about who is being executed
(7). Donovan writes that the image of Death Row as a place of darkness and relentless
despair has been created from popular culture and from flimsy media stories.but when
you scratch below the surface, you get a glimpse of a complex underworld (9). It is
precisely this relationship between the photographer and the subject, the act of making
visible and illuminating a darkened space, that forms the political borders of these
projects. The images that Light captures are structured by the confines and markers of the
physical space of the institution of the prison. Men are lifting weights made out of

26
makeshift barbells, there always bars in the background, and the separation from the
outside world by glass. However, it is precisely the humanity that is depicted within these
institutionalized spaces that makes these images strike something in the viewer. The
photograph cannot depict time, and this decontextualizing potential can give an
alternative view on the prison. The capturing of fragments of time, in a place that is
drowning in the slow movement of time, in doing time, in waiting as time slowly creeps
by, in waiting for death. On death row, the photographic preservation of prisoners,
outside of the juridical process of documentation, is politically powerful.

Weight-lifter with Makeshift Barbells. H-20 Wing, Work Capable Cell Block, Texas Death Row.
Ken Light.

27

Telling Tales in the Yard. Texas Death Row. Ken Light.

Martin Draughon Greeting his Mother. Visiting Room. Texas Death Row. Ken Light.

28

Cameron Todd Willingham in his cell on Death Row. 1994. Ken Light.

Roland Barthes, in Camera Lucida, writes that the photograph whose meaning is
too impressive is quickly deflected; we consume it aesthetically, not politically (36). The
aim behind many photographic projects within the prison is a political one, and it is vital
to question whether the relationship between the photographer and the subject can create
images that open up a kind of dialogue. The proliferation of photography and the
transformation of the majority of the population into photographers makes Sontags
statement that to take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are, in the status
quo remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it takes to get a good picture (On
Photography 12) quite ethically challenging and potentially problematic in light of the
subject matter of the prison. The production of a photograph is woven through with the
production of power. As Sontag argues, [t]o photograph is to appropriate the thing
photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like
knowledgeand therefore, like power (On Photography 4). At one end, power is

29
disseminated to the photographer and puts them into a specific power relation with the
world, and subsequently with their object. On the other end, the photograph itself is
powerful because of its relation to reality. It is valuable to take into account the historical
genealogy of the portraiture of criminals, when engaging with this form of
documentation. Documentary work within the prison often allows room for narration and
for the telling of stories in a process of unfolding rather than as sound bites. These
photographs can potentially function to counteract the visual images, especially those
pushed forth by reality television, of the prison as a space perpetually at the brink of
violent eruptions. Placed within a history of photographic documentation which is
inextricably linked to a juridical system that sought to medicalize, hierarchize, mark, and
archive the criminal body, there is a heavy weight on contemporary documentation of the
prisoner. The prisoner lives in a physical environment in which he or she is constantly
under photographic and visual surveillance, and what the photographic projects that
document inside the prison can potentially do is disrupt these streams of visibility, to
create new paths and new forms or representation that stem from a productive
relationship between the photographer and the subject. Perhaps this can follow in the path
of Roland Barthes who writes that ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it
frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks (38).

30

Chapter 2 - Prison Documentaries and their relation to the visibility and invisibility
of the prison

In order to link the present moment, where documentary work envelopes and
encompasses a wide range of media techniques, and the past, with a more typical
documentary style, this chapter will look at two documentary films that deal explicitly
with the prison. Documentaries about the prison are not a new thing, and their historical
underpinnings shed light on the situational factors that allowed access into the prison, and
also an interest in the prison as a topic for further exploration and inquiry. In relation to
the chapter on reality television depictions of the prison, it is valuable to ask whether the
documentaries have a different form of visuality and what a different form of
documentation says about the prison and its tensions between visibility and invisibility.
Documentary film is inextricably tied to power. Michael Chanan writes that the
documentary claim on reality is not just a theoretical question but a matter of practical
concern to authority, at times a matter or law, and even of state. Authority naturally
responds to the provocations of documentary with suspicion, even within actually
existing democracy (37). There is a danger posed by documentary to those that are in
power, especially because the control over what is and is not seen is wrestled away. For
Chanan, the public sphere within a democracy is both permissive and normative; on the
one hand, a space where dialogue is encouraged, on the other, where convention,
compromise and legal authority are brought to bear in order to discourage and restrain
over-independent thinking (38). In this way, there is a tension, or a contestation,
between which aspects of reality are allowed to be made visible.

31
There is an element of time and slowness in the documentary projects, since they
often involve more time spent inside the prison and a longer duration of interactions.
There is the potential for this elongation of time to depict a different aspect of the prison,
to potentially recapture the slowness of time within the prison environment. The
documentary prison film has not been very actively written about or theorised in
academic literature. There is a wide range of work on cinematic representations of the
prison, but non-fiction works have been largely left out of this analysis. This lack is
interesting because, as Paul Mason writes, the majority of films about the prison are
documentaries. His analysis of British prison films points to the large percentage of
documentaries within this grouping, but unfortunately, this kind of quantitative analysis
has not yet been done for the North American prison film. However, it would not be an
unfair assumption to state that the same stands for the prison film in North America, since
the documentary genre is well suited for the topic of the prison. There is a long history of
films that deal with the prison, and Paul Mason notes that cinematic representations of
the prison can be traced back as far at the early 1900s (280). Mason, in his analysis,
looks mainly at fictional depictions of the prison in film. He moves through a historical
chronology of the prison film, stating that it highlights some of the more obvious themes
of the prison film: escape, riot, violence, wrongful conviction and so on (283). These
themes, similarly, reappear in the reality television productions focused on the prison, but
are absent from the documentary work that will be the focus of this chapter. Mason writes
that perhaps most appealing to the audience is the fact that the prison film opens up the
world of the prison (289). This may seem like a very simple conclusion, but it gets down
to the basic understanding of the relationship between the prison and the documentary
film. Documentary is a fitting genre for the prison because documentaries often hold the
underlying premise that they are attempting to access a space that few people have access
to, typically environments that are off limits or inaccessible. The access into the prison
alone, which is often a bureaucratically daunting task, is often an underlying aspect of the
documentary film.
Michael Chanan, in The Politics of Documentary, writes that the most
unexpected turn in cinema over the last ten to fifteen years has been the return of
documentary to the big screen (3). The documentary film now holds a growing role in

32
the space of visual culture, especially with the use of digital technology and new media.
Digital video has opened up the space for an increase in documentary works, considering
the lower costs of digital filming and production, and the creation of video-film transfer
technology so the documentaries shot digitally can be shown in cinemas. Although very
little academic literature has been devoted to the non-fictional cinematic representation of
the prison, the documentary image is a very special point from which to look at
contemporary culture.
Documentary is one of the forms through which new attitudes can enter wider
circulation. Chanan writes that the mainstream media which serve both the state and
civil society as the central means of communication are never entirely closed off but, on
the contrary, always to some degree permeable to ideas and opinions arising in the
interstices, the margins and from below (7). In this way, documentary film often
functions as a tool for the direct expression of minority groups, novel social trends, and
newly emerging tendencies. What is often marginalized, hidden on the periphery of the
social world, can be made visible through the documentary film. Chanan writes that
documentary is ready to take up the political challenge because politics is in its genes,
though not always expressed. But the documentary camera is always pointing directly at
the social and the anthropological, spaces where the lifeworld is dominated, controlled
and shaped by power and authority, sometimes visible, mostly invisible but often
palatable (16). This is precisely why the prison is well suited to be taken up by the
documentary film. Chanan argues that the pubic sphere is the home ground of the
documentary, since it speaks to the viewer as a citizen, as a member of the social
collective, as a participant in the public sphere. The prison, as a public institution that is
largely hidden and private, exists at an interesting crossroads. The prison, as a subject for
documentary film, allows access into a public sphere that is often inaccessible, and one
that the viewer can feel simultaneously compelled and turned away by.
Frederick Wiseman was one of the most prominent documentary filmmakers,
shooting primarily within institutional settings, and with a unique style of narrational
composition. Although Bill Nichols essay on Wisemans films was written in the late
70s, it sheds light on Frederick Wisemans documentaries, which focus on institutions,
and are therefore relevant historically in an understanding of the tendencies present in the

33
documentation of institutional spaces, especially the prison. Nichols writes that
Wisemans films all utilize the documentary mode of indirect address, that is, the viewer
is not explicitly acknowledged by the film (16), with the characters not looking directly
at the camera or speaking to the audience, and without an omniscient narrator. The
documentary films that I have looked at for this chapter utilize the traditional mode of
direct address, with the characters speaking to the audience and with an overarching
narrational voice.
Nichols writes that traditional film theory has assumed a certain transparency
between sign (image) and referent (reality) and he wants to ask what would happen if
we hypothesize that this transparency is an effect produced by work in and upon a
system of signs and codes, that it is the site of formal and ideological strategies of
considerable significance in their own right? (15). Nichols wants to move away from
this notion of a transparency between reality and representation in documentary film. The
contemporary academic and cultural understanding of documentary film necessarily takes
into account the constructed nature of this genre. However, although we have become
comfortable with the basic understanding of the constructed nature of documentary film,
it is important to reassert that the relationship between the image and reality is
wrought with formal and ideological strategies. The characters, in both the reality
television programs and in the documentary films, carry out specific functions
determined by the institutional structure. Nichols writes that in Wisemans films the
characters carry out functions determined by the institutional structure in which they are
embedded rather than by a narrative structure. The institution imposes certain functions
and excludes others; it acts like a code or a langue8 similar to a narrative code (18).
There is always a warden that is being interviewed, or a series of prison guards, and of
course the prisoners themselves who fit within different categories of the prisoner from
the ones who are repentant and changing their ways, to others that appear to always be

Langue or language is defined by Roland Barthes in Elements of Semiology as being both a


social institution and a system of values. A language is a system of contractual values that we are
forced to accept if we are to communicate with one another and since it resists the modifications
coming from a single individual, is consequently a social institution as well.

34
thrown back into states of anger and violence. Just like in the prison photography chapter,
where the images were marked and constrained by the very physicality of the prison, the
institutional environment constrains the possibilities of the actors within that space.
The topic of the documentary is almost universally chosen by the film-maker and
this point of entry is often a certain attraction by the film-maker to the topic or the figure
of the subject which is sometimes related to deep personal identification (Chanan 216).
Although the relationship between the film-maker and the subject is an asymmetrical one,
the motivation for the subject, or the protagonist of the film, is useful in shedding light on
this relationship. Chanan lists a number of reasons: a need to be heard, a need to be seen,
a wish for mirroring, a wish for a sympathetic ear, for an admiring eye, for an interested
eye, for an empathetic eye/ear combined (216). It is no surprise that the majority of
these reasons are related to visibility, and being made visible. Prisoners complicate this
exhibitionism since they are under perpetual surveillance, either through the human eye
of the prison guards or through the mechanical eye of the camera. The entrance of the
documentary film-maker allows for an alternative way of being seen, where the prisoners
are potentially given a space to tell their stories. The prisoner is also a captive subject,
one that, like Nichols describes when speaking of Frederick Wisemans films, is
constrained by the boundaries of the social institution in which they exist. Chanan writes
that because people behave differently in different social spaces, then as the
documentary camera enters spaces that were previously inaccessible to it, it encounters
the subject in situations where they are not used to being under scrutiny (218). The
prisoner, who in the examples chosen for analysis, is always consistently within the same
social space and always under scrutiny, has a potentially different relationship with the
entrance of the documentary camera into the social space. I am not implying that the
prisoner is immune to the presence of the camera, since the presence of the observer will
always, according to the filmic version of the Heisenberg principle, change the behaviour
of the observed. An institution, having certain kinds of geographical limitations and
where the people have well-established roles, is a space in which, according to Wiseman,
people do not significantly alter their behaviour for the camera. Wiseman believes that if
people are made uncomfortable by the camera, they will fall back on behaviour that is

35
comfortable for them, rather then take on new roles, and so their natural human character
and tendencies can be captured by the camera.
The Farm, set in the infamous Angola prison in Louisiana, is an award winning
documentary produced in 1998 by Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus. This documentary can
be used as a valuable point for analysis due to its popularity and status, having won
sixteen awards and an Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature. What
is also important about the film is the continued presence of the filmmakers after the
original film was made. The producers returned almost immediately to the penitentiary
and continued to follow some of the characters from the original film. This work has
culminated in a new film ten years later, A Decade Behind Bars: Return to the Farm.
This return to the subject matter and continued presence of the filmmakers allows for a
very different form of visuality and for a focus on temporal duration within the space of
the prison. In an interview, Stack also responds to the Lockup documentaries on MSNBC,
which depict a much more ominous world then the one Stack has found in Angola. He
says that Im not saying things arent that way in some prisons. Ive spent more time in
Angola, I imagine, than any filmmaker has spent in any prison (blog.nola.com).
Functioning in a kind of feedback loop, Stack says that he thinks the prison has evolved
over the years because of the first film, that when you celebrate the best of people in the
worst of situations, you have an impact. This is, in many ways, an inverse of the
television documentaries, which tend to celebrate the worst of people in the worst of
situations, with a trajectory aiming towards a violent end.
The film opens with a blue bus labeled LA State penitentiary and the beginning
of a funeral with prisoners singing. The narrator begins, Angola is a world into itself.
5,000 inmates serving some of the longest sentences of any prison in America. This is the
story of six men trying to overcome the odds. One of the misconceptions is that
prisoners do not serve their full terms, but as the narrator states, in Angola prison, life
means life. Life and time are inextricably linked in this film and are woven through all
aspects of it. After the initial scene, we are introduced to one of the newest inmates at the
point of entry into the prison. So it begins as it all begins, with the processing into the
prison, the documentation of the body, its measurements and its markings. The prisoner is
put in a line-up, given a uniform, and he subsequently enters into the vast paper archive

36
of the prison. This is very typical cinematically, the first moment is a point of entry into
the prison. Where the prisoner enters the prison, the viewer also enters this space that has
previously been off limits. In this case however, the point of entry follows the funeral
scene, which creates a circular feeling, the visual life-span of the prisoner in Angola. The
director juxtaposes this scene of very bureaucratic processing of information on top of the
prisoners monologue about his fears of being in the prison and his personal history. This
disrupts the typical structure of the dehumanization of the prisoner, the turning of the
prisoner into a number, into just another part of the system. Mason points to this
machinic metaphor that is the undercurrent of many prison films where the motion of
inmates, in contrast to the solid silence of the walls that contains it, mirrors the workings
of a machine prisoners are the cogs that whir around, driving the huge mechanism of
punishments unswervingly forward (284). This mechanistic quality appears in the reality
television shows, where large groups of inmates are consistently depicted, with very little
focus on specific stories.

Stacks appears to go against this current by following

individual stories very closely and staying away from mechanistic visual metaphors. The
storylines of the six men allow for an individuation of the prisoners and also allows those
typically denied a voice to tell their story. Although the narrator notes that during its one
hundred year history, Angola has been known as one of the most dangerous and bloodiest
prisons and still strikes fear in the hearts of people throughout the south, this fear and
violence is not conveyed in the film itself.

37

One of the first scenes in the film. A prisoner being processed for entry.

The fragment of film taken from reality is only given meaning through montage
and the process of editing. The scene in front of the camera, which in semiotics is called
the profilmic scene, is no longer identical with itself, and only reveals its new identity
when combined with other such non-identicals (Chanan 47). In short, whatever is in
front of the camera is profilmic, while the filmic indicates the domain of human agency
which photographs, directs and edits the film, and cannot avoid making all sorts of
aesthetic and subjective, conscious and unconscious choices in the process (Chanan 53).
In a very direct relation to Loc Wacquants analysis of the prison as a genealogical
trajectory from slavery to mass incarceration, the narrator says that Angola was once a
slave plantation, and turned into a prison at the end of the civil war. In an interview with
the warden, Burl Cain, he said that the prison was called Angola because the slaves that
were originally on the plantation came from Angola in Africa. This narration is
underpinned by a visual shift from old plantation photographs to the prisoners going out
to work in the field, inextricably linking the historical past to the present moment. In
another relation to the roots of slavery, field duty is the lowest job in the prison, paying
only 4 cents an hour, in comparison to 20 cents for the highest paying job. The prison
also employs 1,800 workers to keep everything running on the large compound, which is
comprised of six complexes, called camps. The immensity of the prison is put into

38
perspective when we find out that a town was built within the prison gates to deal with
any emergencies. Employees and their families would live in this town within the prison
complex, already setting up the precedent for the Prison Valley documentary, with the
integration of a town into the very heart of the prison through the incarceration industry.

Michael Chanan notes that the documentary image has a quality or dimension
that is different from fiction because it carries a determinable link with the historical
world.it has a historical reference (4). Chanan also points to the aspect of time, of
temporality, that is present in documentary since the moment that is captured by the
camera is grabbed from a specific day and time. The time aspect of the documentary film
is valuable, especially in the context of the prison, since the prison environment is
overflowing with time, perpetually drowning in the slow movement of it. The themes of
life and the passing of time are woven throughout the narratives of this film. The narrator
says that since sentences are getting increasingly longer, more and more men are dying in
prison and being buried in the prison cemetery. Logan Theriot, one of the prisoners we
meet, who is in the Angola hospital dying of cancer, said that your life is not finished just
because you are in Angola. The idea of a life sentence in prison as actually having some
semblence of a life puts a level of humanity on this film.

39
The film ends with interviews with the featured inmates, where they answer the
question asked by the interviewer, what would you do if they were able to get out of
prison. It also, subsequently, ends with the burial of the inmate who had cancer and was
dying in the hospital. He chose to be buried in the prison cemetery rather then outside of
it, reinforcing the relationship between the prison and the span of life. The filmmaker
constructs a link, with each of the six men, to their moment of incarceration through the
use of the mugshot. In this way, their present moment is linked to their past, to the point
which began their life in prison.

Juxtaposition of initial mug shot image with the prisoner today.

This documentary allows the viewer access into parts of the juridical process that
are often hidden, showing the bureaucracy and easiness through which incarcerated
individuals are given and denied freedom, given and denied life. In the film, we are
introduced to Vincent Simmons who says that he is innocent of a rape charge that has
given him a sentence of 100 years in prison, and he is trying to work on proving it. The
film shows his parole hearing, which is important, because it allows a look into a juridical
process that is often made inaccessible. Eventually we find out that he is denied parole
and as the viewer there is an emotional bond to him and a feeling of despair because the
evidence he has for his innocence appears to be quite solid. There is a lot of sadness at
this moment and the camera pans through all the other men in the prison, in these
moments of solitude. There is a sense of despair, a sense of duration, of the slow
movement of time. There is also an uneasy normalcy to certain aspects of the prison,

40
including the process of execution. There is a scene where the warden and some of the
other prison employees are shown practicing the procedures of an execution. In another
scene, the warden is driving and says that in the prison they see what nobody else sees,
they see the struggle between the spiritual and the worldly, the struggle of life itself.
Although there is an execution that occurs in the duration of the film, the viewer is only
witness to the remnants of the last meal, to the body being taken away. The execution is
not shown. It is absent from the visual environment.

Sequence of stills following the denial of the parole board.

41
Digital video, as was stated previously, has allowed for a shift in documentary
film production. In this same trajectory, other forms of digital media have facilitated a
shift in how documentary information can be presented, in a space outside of the
cinematic screen. Prison Valley is a web documentary that transgresses the boundaries of
the screen and utilizes a wide range of new media technologies. This documentary was
created by French journalists David Dufresne and Philippe Brault, and recently won the
FRANCE24-Radio France International Web Documentary Award. Pete Brook, of the
prison photography blog, writes that the format of the documentary and the interactivity
inherent in its online presence is pioneering in the field. The introduction into this online
space begins with a dramatic narration, Welcome to Caon City, Colorado. A prison
town where even those living on the outside live on the inside. A journey into what the
future might hold. In Caon City the economy is based almost entirely upon
incarceration, with 16% of the population inside one of the 13 prisons, one of which is a
Supermax. With a population of 36,000, the city is dominated by the spectres of
incarceration.

Prison Valley opening screen

42

Inside hotel room. Different options for exploration are available.

Portfolio of characters. The highlighted characters are the ones that are accessible to the viewer.

43

Screen shot of one of the characters in the film the viewer can talk to.

The introduction appears to be quite hyperbolic and dramatic at first, with a very
emotive voice over. This immediately creates a shocking undertone to the facts about the
city that are being listed and creates a very particular environment for the viewer. Initially
then, it does not allow the viewer a chance to make his or her own reaction, but rather
primes them for the intended reaction. This can be construed as initially problematic, but
since the prison is often relegated to the periphery of peoples minds, and the sheer size
of the prison industry in America is often hidden, perhaps it is valuable to create a certain
aura in the initial introduction to the documentary. This over-dramatic stylization peppers
the documentary, but does not dominate it, since the structure of the web documentary
allows the viewer to move through the various multimedia aspects in a multitude of ways.
To view the film beyond its introduction, the viewer must sign in with either Twitter or
Facebook social network accounts. This is an important structural quality of the
documentary in three ways. First, it revitalizes an old prison subject matter. Second, it
links the prison, an archaic social institution, with new media and social networking,
creating a digital network of sorts. Third, it creates a metaphorical linking, or entering in,
of the user into the prison world. By connecting with the social networking sites, it links
the social world outside of the prison, to the prison environment, which is often cut off
from most social ties, including digital ones. Once signed into the site, the viewer can

44
move between documents, interviews, video-clips, and photo galleries. The documentary
pulls much of its information and videos from interviews with different characters that
the filmmakers meet along the way. The characters give their opinion about the prisons
and what it is like to live in Canon City. In Prison Valley, there is also a focus on time,
since accessibility to the characters and more indepth information is marked by and
increased over time. The longer the viewer/user spends moving through the online space,
the more characters they are allowed to meet and interact with.
The documentary also has a detective story undertone, where the viewer moves
through different forms of evidence and documentation about the prisons, and the
inhabitants of the city. This creates a layer of accessibility into a secret and hidden space.
It constructs the prison, and the town surrounding it, as a place that is not very well
known and which the viewer has special access to. This aspect of the documentary is
interesting because it ties into the other side of the criminological sphere, the side of
crime and detective work. The viewer, in many ways, is working through an investigation
of their environment; unearthing clues, interviewing individuals, exploring a variety of
virtual landscapes.
What is interesting in the Prison Valley documentary is that people who lived in
the town that was depicted in the work responded quite strongly to their depiction in the
documentary. This allows another look into the dynamics and intersections between those
that are entangled in the prison environment and those that enter in and view it from the
outside. The differing reactions to the depiction of the town and its relationship to the
prison is indicative of the complexities inherent at the boundaries of the prison, where it
becomes entangled with the social world outside of its borders. Pete Brook writes that his
original blog post about the documentary drew complaints from Canon Citys chamber of
commerce and subsequently, a response from the filmmakers. Brook notes that Prison
Valley was a controversial production because it displeased the people that it portrayed,
who did not think a dystopic frame would be put on the cinematic depiction of their lives
and environment. Looking at the comments on Brooks blog, one of the residents of the
town, Doug Shane, wrote that the documentary was slanted and that the information
was incorrect and misrepresented. He felt that the filmmakers scammed the community
and they were taken advantage of. Another commenter, Rick van Laf responded that

45
no matter what criticism residents think they have to oppose the form of this
documentary, or even if some think the journalists got some facts wrong: i still feel that
this documentary is asking a question. What happens when a community, a society and
an economic system chose to look at incarceration as one of its sources of activity and
revenues. What are the consequences of such a choice and is it, in the long term, made for
the common good? (comments, Prison Valley). Brook responded in a similar vein,
stating I believe that the Prison Valley documentary was made in order to convey the
abnormality of US prison policy as it focused down on a single community. Some of the
other residents that commented appeared to be upset about the misrepresentation of the
town, and stated that it was a great place to live, but perhaps this also says something
about the lack of insight into what it means to have a community economically reliant on
a problematic penal system. The filmmakers also responded to the criticism on their site,
stating that Prison Valley is not about judging any of its inhabitants, but about trying to
understand a system that implicates the residents of Canon City. The filmmakers point
out what motivated them to make the film, and that what they are critiquing is the prison
system in America, not the town itself. One of the commentators on this post wrote that:
No one asked for empathy. Most have chosen to live here, live here surrounded by
prisons. We can drive by them every single day and dont look twice.9 I think you
could have learned about the system without making our community look so pitiful.
Fremont County is not the reason the USA incarcerates 1 out of 100 citizens. What is
of interest in this quote is the ability to put the prison into the margins, into a space of
invisibility, especially for an individual who lives virtually surrounded by prisons at all
times. If it is so simple for a resident of a county surrounded by prisons, to ignore the
very prison itself, then it is even potentially easier for the rest of the American population
to disregard this every growing industry of incarceration.
The filmmakers address the aspect of time and duration when they state their
personal intentions for the project. They write that [o]ur greatest satisfaction is to see,
every day, that people come back more and more and go to the end of the film. So 59

Emphasis is mine

46
minutes. That was our challenge: to believe in the long format on the Internet, in the
stories that are told in length. And not only believe in an Internet done by frantic video
clips. Another satisfaction is to see the forums grow. Our goal here is: to provide the
elements and tools of the debate about prisons (Interview). This notion of longevity is
present in the film and its underlying intentions, but this idea of longevity is valuable in a
political sense, because it allows for duration and thought, for debate to grow and foster
new opinions. In an environment of frantic video and decreasing attention spans, there
is the possibility for time spent on, and with, a particular topic. It is the elongation of time
and participation that creates an element to this work that is absent from the reality
television dramas constructed within the prison.
The narrative structure, the choices made in the arrangement of shots and frames,
creates a certain feeling to the film. Nichols argues that Wisemans films have a mosaic
structure, versus a typical narrative structure, in which events are shown in an
associational manner. Wisemans films have a mosaic structure of the whole, but a
narrative structure of the sequences, which assumes that social events are multiplycaused, and must be analyzed as a web of interconnecting influences and patterns. It is
dialectical rather than mechanical (18). To use Wiseman as a starting off point from
which to understand two different modes or tendencies of documentary film (mosaic and
narrational), we can place The Farm and Prison Valley loosely into each of these two
spaces. The Farm has the more typical narrative structure, with the voice of god
narration, sequential scene structure, and a fairly obvious political trajectory. As a web
documentary, Prison Valley has more of a mosaic or associational structure, where there
are sequences (or parts) which have a narrative structure, but in which the movements
between the sequences in guided by the viewer of the film. The movements between the
various parts of the film, which deal with the different personal, political, and
institutional consequences of the rise of mass incarceration, allow the viewer to enter into
a dialectical process of gathering knowledge.
As noted in the prison photography chapter, where the finished photograph
invokes the relationship between the photographer and the subject, a documentary film
can say something about the relationship between the filmmakers and the people they
depict. This film has a quality to it that does not exist in more stereotypical, and less

47
celebrated prison documentaries. Although there is a lot of imagery through bars, inmates
talking to the interviewer behind their cells, this seems to be an aspect of the structural
limitations of the space rather then as a way to imprint clichd imagery onto the film.
In a telephone interview, Stack says that the original film was well received by Angola
officials, who participated in screenings around the state and still use it in training
sessions for employees (Montoya). Stack says that this is obviously why they were
allowed back time and time again: I used to always say, Any smooth-talking producer
can get into a place. The question is after youve been there once, will they let you back
again. Did you keep your word? Here, obviously, we did (blog.nola.com). Stack
screened the new film in 2009 to about 400 of the inmates depicted in the film, and said
that it was probably the most interesting and powerful screening of his life. The warden
of the prison, Burl Cain, also came up and said that the film should serve as a lesson, a
blueprint for how the inmates can conduct themselves and potentially get out of prison.
The reception of the film by past and current inmates, as well as the screenings of the
film for them, helps to illustrate that these documentaries were not solely for the
spectatorship of an external audience. These documentaries also illuminated something
about prison life to those inside the prison as well.

48

Chapter 3 Reality Television and the Prison

The focus on reality television as a social text rejects the tendency to dismiss this
form of programming as purely dramatic, highly constructed, trash television. Rather, it
allows for an analysis of the current state of society by looking at the tendencies inherent
in this kind of programming. As McCarthy writes to see reality television as merely
trivial entertainment is to avoid recognizing the degree to which the genre is preoccupied
with the government of the self, and how, in that capacity, it demarcates a zone for the
production of everyday discourses of citizenship (17). Referencing Laurie Ouelettes10
essay Take Responsibility for Yourself: Judge Judy and the Neoliberal Citizen, Anna
McCarthy gestures towards an analysis of the reality television format as a kind of social
text. Furthermore, this understanding of reality television as a social text illuminates the
link between the rise of the presence of reality television and the neoliberal policies and
discourses of the 1990s (McCarthy 17). McCarthy puts forth the argument about the
shrinking of the public sphere, which is linked to the privatizing momentum of the
neoliberal political economy, but which also takes up shrinking through the weakening
of public discourse, and the strengthening of arguments about governance and rights that
are based in psychologised models of public culture (18), which often functions to
redefine citizenship as a private, rather than a public identity. The rise of neoliberal

10

Ouelette, Laurie. Take Responsibility for Yourself: Judge Judy and the Neoliberal
Citizen. Reality TV: Remaking TV Culture. Eds. Laurie Oulette and Susan Murray. New
York: New York University Press. 2004.

49
policies in the 1990s11 led to an exponential expansion of the prison system and the prison
population, so the link between the cultural and social impact of these policy shifts and
the rise of reality television functions as a space from which to better understand how
visual culture and power function through this specific type of programming.
The analysis of the reality television program, put forth by McCarthy, as
proposing the makeover as the key to social mobility, stability, and civic empowerment
within a neoliberal climate, sees its other side within the prison reality television show,
which arguably functions to reinforce this makeover into the proper role of the citizen
by showing the risks of transgressing the boundaries of the law. Writing about the
television courtroom as seen in programs like Judge Judy, McCarthy writes that as a
form of governance, these programs are notable in their disciplinary reliance not on the
inculcation of virtue but rather on shame and scolding (18). The courtroom reality
television shows, by heralding self-disciplining, risk-averting individuals, reinforces the
neoliberal states shrinking access to legal services and state assistance, and puts the onus
heavily on personal responsibility. This is taken one step further within the prison
environment, which is televised as another form of the shame spectacle. The civic
operations of reality television, as argued for by Ouellette, are taken to their logical
conclusion by McCarthy writing that the reality television show is one such pungently
fertile concoction (20). The role of the citizen, and of citizenship in general, within a
neoliberal state, can be understood through reality television.
McCarthys argument is focused on the interconnections between trauma,
neoliberal governance, and reality television. McCarthy argues that the excesses inherent
in reality television shows demonstrate points of contact between two analytical frames
of understanding modern institutions of the civic self that might seem at first glance to be
entirely incompatible (20); the first is the technique of dispersed government, what
Foucault called governmentality, which includes the regulation of the conduct of
conduct through the self management of individuals, and the second is the failure of self
government, which emerges through the experience of trauma. Liberal rule is

11

See Loc Wacquants extensive documentation of this shift in Prisons of Poverty


(2010)

50
increasingly centred on the conduct of conduct, resolving the problems of despotic
governance by transferring the pastoral responsibilities of the state to the self-managing
activities of individuals (25). The prison, as a subject taken up by reality television, fits
into another aspect of this argument since it is a state run institution, where the bodies of
citizens are heavily controlled.
The question needs to be asked as to what function the prison reality television
show has within the context of this notion of self-governance. Does it act as a final
frontier of sorts, teetering on the edge of marginality? If you cant properly govern
yourself within the neoliberal climate, then you will be heavily governed by the state. The
modern state secures its sovereign power over life and death through a variety of
biopolitical tactics, and this power is even more evident and concentrated within the
prison environment where you have marginalized individuals, those hovering on the
borders, within a physically secured environment.
Jack Bratich examines reality television as a cultural form of Gilles Deleuzes
control societies, in a way that can shed light on the space that the prison holds
between the disciplinary society and the control society. Bratich writes that the oft-heard
initial responses to reality TVthat it is really constructed and artificial because of its
highly stylized representationsmiss the crucial innovations that the genre brings (656). Bratich approaches reality television from the point of its intervention in the real
rather then its representation of it. What is valuable in Bratichs approach is his argument
that reality television is about power as it is configured in the new society of control and
communication (66). The focus on power intertwines the elements of visual culture in
their relationship to contemporary society, and nods to the entanglement of these
elements with power structures. The interventionist argument put forth by Bratich, in that
reality television intervenes into the current conjuncture of self-governing as a neoliberal
form of governance and enhances particular skills required by it, becomes complicated
when placed against the prison example. For the prison reality television shows, there is
not necessarily a moment of intervention into the lives of those that are being depicted.
Rather, it appears that the moment of intervention is the entrance into the prison space
itself, the entry into a typically closed off space.

51
The prison also problematizes the public/private dichotomy, in that the prison is a
public space (with the overwhelming majority of US prisons still under state power), but
simultaneously a kind of private space, in that access to it is heavily restricted and
controlled. While Bratich is analyzing reality television shows which intervene into the
private space and alter it or make it over in some way, the prison shows are essentially
intervening into an already public institution. In the reality television shows that Bratich
analyzes, the relationship with the audience is often one of co-producer or potential coparticipant in the process (being able to vote to alter the course of a show, etc). In
Americas Toughest Prisons, the relationship with the audience is skewed in a slightly
different direction and operates on a split process depending on who is watching. Certain
viewers are meant to be deterred from committing crimes by seeing how violent and
horrible the prison is, while for another segment of the audience, these shows function to
reinforce the need for prison by displaying the violent and anti-social tendencies of
prisoners.
Throughout its history, television has sought to represent, capture, and alter its
perceived other: reality. RTV is a culmination of this long history, taking the powers of
transformation to a new level by embedding them in everyday life (Bratich, 68). Reality
belongs to the historical displacements of power and authority and Deleuzes notion of
the control society can act as one way to understand the current ordering of power and
subjectification (Bratich 69). In the control society, modulating the relations between a
series of forces becomes the primary operation of power. So power functions to moderate
the relations between a variety of forces and so the relations between the prison and the
society outside of the prison are controlled through the power of accessibility to the
prison, through the ability to see or not see that environment. This argument that
Bratich puts forth however, rests on an agreement about the shift into the control
society12, but the prison functions in a slightly different space between the disciplinary
and the control society. Perhaps the reason that the prison environment does not fit into

12

It should be noted that Deleuze is also not pointing to an entire epochal shift into the control
society, but rather looking at techniques and strategies that have begun to surface in regards to
power.

52
the typical reality television framework is that it is not part of the control society, but
rather still quite invested in the disciplinary modes of power on one level.
Bratich sums up his argument by stating that reality television is about power as
it is configured in the new diagram of control and communication. It seeks to appropriate
the powers of appropriation and to render reality visible, manageable, and programmable
in accordance with the imperatives of a control society (77). If we try to understand the
space that the prison holds on the borderline between control society and disciplinary
society, then the control society forces want to render the space within the prison
visible, although not necessarily manageable, malleable, or programmable, so that they
remain locked within the power structures of the disciplinary molds.
Criminal anthropology emerged as a discipline of power during the last decades
of the nineteenth century because it claimed to know the nature of the criminal
completely through the basis on a science of what is evil. Cesare Lombroso, born in
1835, was a criminal anthropologist and is best known for his work on the categorization
of specific atavistic traits of the born criminal. Lombroso, and other criminal
anthropologists believed in atavistic regression in criminals, that they were biologically
closer to an early ancestor or a more primitive species than they were to a common man
or woman. Lombroso believed in the biological determinism of the criminal subject. The
existence of the born criminal creates predictability around being able to identify the
criminal, it constructs guidelines that are etched onto the criminal body. There emerged
new engagement with pathological phenomena, with the abnormal, by a number of
investigators, of which Lombroso was a part. Lombroso used a number of techniques to
catalogue and categorize the deviant human being, including physiological measuring
methods, craniometry, anthropometry, photography, and fingerprinting for identification
(Zielinski 212). At this moment in time, the advents of criminal anthropology constructed
the criminal as natural, but also as a thing that could be measured and filed away. The
consequence of this was that once the criminal had been declared natural, he or she did
not even need to commit an infringement of law; such persons could be arrested
beforehand because inescapable biology had determined that they were evil (Zielinski
215). In many ways, we are looking at the workings of Foucaults disciplinary society,

53
the subsequent massing and individualization of the body and the transformation of the
individual into a case study.
In Discipline and Punish Foucault maps out the emergence of disciplinary modes
of power, as different from earlier juridical forms. Foucault writes that discipline
makes individuals; it is the specific technique of power that regards individuals both as
objects and as instruments of its exercise (170). The minor forms of disciplinary power,
using instruments such as hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement, and the
procedure of the examination, gradually invaded the major forms (such as sovereignty).
Foucault writes that the exercise of discipline presupposes a mechanism that coerces by
means of observation (170), and the development of optical technology allowed for the
enhanced potential of surveillance and one-sided observation. Surveillance runs right
through the labour process in the form of supervision and becomes a decisive economic
operator both as an internal part of the production machinery and as a specific mechanism
in the disciplinary power (176). Surveillance was organized as a multiple, automatic,
and anonymous power, because it functioned on a network of relations, where everyone
was simultaneously observing and being observed. Disciplinary power is of an order that
intersects natural learning patterns with regulated standards and so involves a double
juridico-natural reference. It must also be essentially corrective, favouring punishments
that are exercises, in the goal of reducing gaps. All behaviour falls in the field between
good and bad (gratification-punishment system), and the good and bad subjects are
hierarchized in relation to one another. Through this system of a perpetual penality all the
acts work off one another, creating the value of the individual. Foucault writes that rank
in itself serves as a reward or punishment (181) and so the distribution according to rank
has a double role. Foucault sums it up well when he writes that the perpetual penality
that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institutions
compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes
(183). The juridico-anthropological functioning revealed in the whole history of modern
penality originated in the disciplinary technique that operated these new mechanisms of
the normalizing judgement. The examination introduces individuality into the field of
documentation, and situates the subject in a network of writing that captures and fixes
their individuality within power relations. The individual is analyzed, and then placed

54
into a comparative system of overall phenomena. The examination, through all its
documentary techniques, makes each individual a case. Lives become documents,
constituting all the administrations of disciplinary power.
Foucault writes that the exercise of discipline presupposes a mechanism that
coerces by means of observation (170), and the development of optical technology
allowed for the enhanced potential of surveillance and one-sided observation. The
individual is analyzed, and then placed into a comparative system of overall phenomena.
The examination, through all its documentary techniques, makes each individual a case.
The normalization process of punishment and discipline traces the limit that will define
difference in relation to all other differences, the external frontier of the abnormal
(Foucault 183) and so simultaneously excludes and hierarchizes those that are included.
Abnormality is the external frontier, and Lombroso was attempting to classify those
outside the sphere of normality. These same themes that emerged through criminal
anthropology are appearing again within the reality television shows about the prison. As
we will see later upon closer analysis, the bodies of the prisoners are perpetually under
surveillance, being measured, and physically probed in a myriad of ways. A recurring
theme is the focus on gang tattoos as a marker by which to demarcate what the prisoners
position is within the prison and to determine gang affiliations and potential sources of
violence.
The prisoner is already part of a system of surveillance, measurement, bodily
inspection, and so the role of the television camera within the prison is just a further
extension of the cataloguing of the criminal and of the deviant body. A series of questions
arise about the role of the camera itself within these television shows: Do the shows use
the tools and the structure of the prison to film or do they bring their own crew in? How
are the surveillance mechanisms of the prison taken into account? The camera as a
recording tool appears both as a television camera brought in by the filming crew and the
CCTV cameras that are part of the infrastructure of the prison. It appears that the
television crews include some of the CCTV footage in the episodes, but it is rather
infrequent. The majority of footage is taken by the film crew. In season 1, episode 4 of
Americas Hardest Prison, the narrator mentions that the previous summer, inmates rioted
on and off for weeks. The images of these riots were taken from CCTV footage. In

55
episode 1 of season 1, there was also the use of internal CCTV cameras that depicted
male prisoners breaking out into large fights. The CCTV footage was used multiple times
in this episode and these permanent cameras serve as extra footage in case the film crew
is not there to cover certain scenes of violence. Notably, the only time the CCTV footage
is shown is for the scenes of violence and not for any other scenes, as if the cameras are
the only ones privy to these scenes that occur in confined spaces when guards are not on
watch. All the solitary confinement cells in the gang unit have their own cameras
installed inside them as well, but this camera footage is not used, although it would
provide a very different view of the life of the prisoner, rather then the constant fear and
escalation of violence that is depicted through the CCTV camera footage.
We are inundated with images of crime, through various forms of the media and
also through a number of television shows. However, the reality television series about
the inner workings of the prison system and those that are incarcerated has been slow in
coming forth. The crime rate has remained fairly stable in the last twenty years in the
United States, while the incarceration rate has been growing exponentially. This has not
been reflected in the media since the oversaturation of images of crime has been growing
with very little reflection of the current rate of crime statistics. Keith Hayward writes that
images of crime were becoming as real as crime and criminal justice itself (2).
According to Cheliotis, with little exception, and in stark contrast to official statistics or
victim surveys, the media tell us a scary story of huge increases in crime rates, also
focusing overwhelmingly on violent and interpersonal offences (173). If images of
crime are increasing, with no correlation with crime statistics, what is occurring with the
images around the prison? Cheliotis suggests that owing to the development of the
communication media, the prison world currently enjoys far greater visibility than ever
before. Yet, rather than fulfilling any pedagogic or civilising functions, the mediated
visibility of the prison couples with that of crime to naturalise, moralise and perpetuate
the physical marginalisation of convict populations (170). What is the relationship
between the image of the crime being committed and the image of the inmate who is tried
for that crime inside the prison? There is a sharp contrast of visibility and invisibility
between images of crime and images of the prison, in that crime tries to hide and has to
be brought into the light, whereas the prison is hidden, but once you have access within

56
its walls you can see everything. Prison reality television shows begin where the crime
shows end.
Ideology, as theorized by Slavoj Zizek, is the generative matrix that regulates the
relationship between the visible and the non-visible, between the imaginable and the
non-imaginable, as well as changes in this relationship (1). According to Jodie Dean,
Zizek upgrades the concept of ideology in order to apply it to a cynical age. In a split
from the Marxist understanding of ideology, which involved a process of unmasking or
making visible in order to escape false consciousness, this new concept of ideology does
not elevate the power of making visible. It is precisely because cynicism incorporates
an ironic distance from everyday social reality, unmasking is clearly pointless (7).
Cheliotis writes in the concluding remarks of her paper on visibility and the prison that
The overwhelming majority of people have no direct knowledge of the worlds of crime
and criminal justice. Save for criminal justice professionals, lawbreakers and their
significant others, victims and social researchers grappling with pertinent issues, the rest
cannot but glean information solely from mass-mediated representations (178). If we are
to take this point seriously, that one of the only ways to enter into the space of the prison
is through mass-mediated representations, then the images of the prison and the television
shows that take place within the prison walls are a vital source in understanding the
perception of the prison by the general public.
The field of vision, in the age of mass media, is no longer constrained by the
spatial and temporal properties of the here and now, but its rather shaped by the
distinctive properties of communication media (Cheliotis 170). Visibility aquires a despatialised dimension, and groups of people who may not have had access to one another
due to geographical distance, or to geographical barriers, are now able to access each
other. This flow of communication permeates all spheres of social interaction, and so
there is no longer a truly segregated social setting if the devices of the mass media,
cameras, telephones, microphones, are present within the space. This shift that mass
media has caused within studies of visualization is valuable, since it has altered the
scopic field and broadened what is accessible. However, this is a historical shift that
occurred before cameras, telephones, microphones, and of course the Internet, with the
advent of the printing press and mass dissemination of information. It is just getting more

57
amplified, with the growing potential for access to a variety of spaces that may have been
off-limits in the past.
The prison is far more visible then ever before, with documentaries, reality
television shows, and photography projects that serve to make visible the very conditions
that were, more or less, hidden away. However in the present moment of overwhelming
visual saturation, visibility, in and of itself, does not automatically fulfill any sort of
political function. What is of interest is not whether the prisoners have been made visible,
but within what kind of framework this visibility occurs. This chapter is not meant to be a
comprehensive analysis of every episode of prison reality shows, but rather, the goal is to
figure out the framework that is being constructed and the overall themes that emerge
through the various episodes. What is the structure of the shows? How are they portrayed
by the networks that show them? How are the shows filmed and what is the underlying
presumptions or ideas that are thrust forward through the shows?
Cheliotis points out that, as is the case with all media, the mass media resemble a
double-edged sword so they can be used and abused, they can be empowering as well as
disempowering, they can be an instrument of direction democracy as much as a subtle
means of symbolic manipulation and oppression (171). Despite the attempts to analyze
the various aspects of visibility and invisibility within the prison, Cheliotis points out that
here is another reminder about confinement: communication is not dialogical, but
monological. It almost always flows in one direction, inmates being forbidden to
transmit information back to the world outside (177). This stance on the nature of the
flow of communication seems rather static and simplistic and actually serves to fortify
the strong demarcation or boundary between the prison and the rest of society. Inmates
are not expressly forbidden to transmit information. They are allowed to write letters,
make telephone calls, publish information about themselves in blogs, and have their
stories told through the voices of others. It is true that these transmissions of information
to the outside world are heavily mediated and controlled by the prison system (blacking
out sensitive information, confiscating certain letters, etc.), but this does not preclude the
possibility of disseminating information in the first place.
There has been very little critique or analysis of reality television shows that take
place within the prison, but James Parker, in his article Prison Porn for The Atlantic,

58
examines his own experience of watching MSNBCs Lockup. Parker writes that although
the show is sensational, sort of exploitative, and intermittently debasing, it also goes into
unexpected zones of sympathy and catharsis. He is referring to the segments in each
episode which deal with one individual and their personal history. Parker questions what
the purpose might be for the existence of these kinds of television shows and where does
the attraction for prison TV lie. The curiosity, he surmises, might lie in the attraction to
the harsh and hard nature of prison life and culture, but this curiosity is distanced since
the viewer is made thankful that they are part of the free, the unincarcerated. Parker
notes that Lockup has an educational aspect to it as well, especially in the Extended Stay
sub-genre of the show, where the crew spends months in one facility, rather then
bouncing from one to the next in each episode. Matt Kelly, in a short article on prison
reality television, writes that sometimes a poignant episode of Lockup, can actually help
take us through the walls, rather than building them up. In this way, there is the potential
for a redemptive, or educational element to these shows, rather then a purely
sensationalistic aspect.
The

Alaska

Department

of

Corrections

commissioner

wrote

in

the

Commissioners Corner newsletter from August 2006 about the filming of the MSNBC
episode of Lockup at the facility. He writes that the crew spent a little over a week at
the Spring Creek Correctional Center filming for the episode. The commissioner also
states that the value of this show to the department comes in its ability to give the public
at large a brief view into the difficult environment in which our staff work; and a sample
of the dedication and hard work that is required to safely operate correctional centers
(3). The commissioner is very clear that for him, the value of the show lies in depicting
the very difficult job of correctional officers. MSNBC, on their website, describe the
show like this:
Lockup takes viewers inside America's prisons and jails each week and exposes
viewers to never-seen-before footage of what goes on behind the walls and inside the
minds of correctional officers and inmates. For many of the men and women living
and working in the system, the daily challenge is simply to survive. With its
extraordinary access, Lockup gives viewers an opportunity to see how this system
works, from the regular routines of inmates and staff to the unexpected possibilities
that anything can happen.

This same rhetoric of the unexpected possibility that anything can happen is a theme

59
that is repeated through Americas Hardest Prison as well and media representations
reinforce public perceptions of the overall essentialness of the prison institution and of
the essentialness of its further growth and harshening (Cheliotis 175).
National Geographic has taken an interest in this form of documentation, which
implies, in the very pairing of the television channel and the show, that there is a form of
a world apart for the prisoners, that they are to be looked at in their caged existence.
Within the closed space of the prison, the television shows construct an ethnographical
analysis of the dynamics and the relationships inside these spaces. The website for
Americas Hardest Prison states that the show
provides a no hold-barred look at some of the toughest penitentiaries and jails in
the USA. Jobs don't get much tougher than dealing with thousands of dangerous
convicts but that's exactly what the officers at these menacing jails have to do
every day. For staff and prisoners alike, problems with overcrowding,
understaffing and gang politics create the constant risk of erupting violence. Can
the officers prevent some of the most violent men and women in America from
winning the battle? This is a world where violence, gang warfare and escalating
tension all come with the territory, and only the very toughest are able to cope.

From the very outset of the description of the series, we are confronted with the major
themes that emerge in all of the episodes; gang politics, the constant battle between the
correctional officers and the prisoners, and the inevitability of violence. Scanning through
the language used to describe the episodes online, there is an overarching framework of
the looming violence that is always on the horizon: trouble is never far away in this
jail, this outdated facility has become a ticking time bomb, as trouble escalates this
jail has to keep inmates and officers safe from harm, even with a 24-hour response
team, it might not be enough to stop gang rule from taking hold. The opening image
that flanks each episode is that of a prison complex, with barbed wire overtop and the
name of the television show. Violence is the main focus of the short descriptions of the
episodes online. In an episode titled The Stabbing, which takes place at the Wabash
Valley Correctional Facility, the episode summary states that this facility houses 2,000
of the most violent men in the U.S in the Secured Housing Unit. This episode deals with
the daily threats against one of the nurses and the stabbing of a child killer. Another
episode titled Attacked Nurse is about a nurse being brutally attacked, which causes the
prisoners and guards to face up to the violent reality of everyday life. The main themes

60
that emerge through simple glances at the episode summaries, are also quite apparent in
the hour-long episodes themselves. According to Cheliotis, the media frame crime
through the lens of individual and group pathologies, and thereby divert attention away
from such structural crises as deindustrialisation, economic deregulation and the collapse
of the welfare state (173). This same dynamic is played out in the representations of the
prison, where we encounter individual stories of a violent life spent growing up in gangs
in conjunction with scenes of groups of gang members, and scenes of violence en masse.
The first episode of Americas Hardest Prison sets the framework for what will come
with the continued series. The topic of this show was gangs and violence behind bars, and
the choice that one inmate had to make between her family and her gang. The subtitle of
this episode was gang versus family. The episode takes place in the Utah State Prison
which houses eighty percent of the states incarcerated population. There are many
obscured images, either through the bars of a cell, or hidden behind the backs of guards.
Images of inmates arms reaching out through the food slot in the door and making gang
signs. Images of naked tattooed gang members proliferates. We are also privy to watch,
although not directly, the inmates getting strip searched, mainly through a video of a
guard telling them to go through the motions or actions of being strip searched. There is a
scene taken from the police department, where the local police are talking about gang
violence and we see the arrests of a number of gang members. This links images of
crimes and arrests with the prison, which is seldom done since we mainly just see the
arrest in most crime shows.
The overarching focus of this episode was about controlling the gangs within the
prison and their segregation into the gang unit section of the prison. There is an
interview with an older gang member, where he is chained by his legs and handcuffed to
a chair, sitting in an empty room, talking to the camera about his regrets and his
experience with gang violence. One of the main characters of this episode is Natalie,
who is a female gang member who needs to decide between staying in the gang and
keeping her daughter. Scenes of her doing her hair and makeup are juxtaposed with her
narrative of the crimes she has committed, her history, and how she beat an officer. This
scene of the everyday which is potentially humanizing, is immediately layered on top of
stories of violence. There is often educational information within the episode, such as the

61
scene when visiting one of the mental health facilities within the prison, the narrator
mentions that fifty percent of inmates have mental health issues, but mental health
facilities in prisons are very rare. There is a short expose of the mental health unit which
exposes the violent nature of the space and the chaos within it, including scenes of fingers
coming out of the base of doors, and heavy banging of doors.
There are many images of bloody and bruised bodies, bodies that have been cut.
These are always juxtaposed against the stories of violence, in case further evidence is
needed. The narrator says that gang activity has simmered for weeks, but now it boils
over. This is indicative of an underlying assumption of inevitability, that the end is
always violence and it cannot be placated for long. One of the gang members has been
asked to assault another member of his gang who is believed to be a snitch. The inmate
shows the television crew the letter he has gotten, the secret words that are used, and
there is an assumption that violence will occur, even if the main guard of the prison is
aware of this potential violence. He watches the two inmates together, but he is just
waiting for an assault to occur. This reinforces the idea that the violence is always the
final outcome.
In one scene we get an overview of weapons made within the prison by using a
number of regular objects. This is followed by a scene of the cells of the prisoners being
ransacked in search of weapons and gang communication. One of the inmates, who is the
focus of the episode, shows how a weapon is made using typical materials found within
the prison. Natalie shows the best areas to fight in, where there are not so many guards.
She also shows how to send a secret message (a kite), and the cameras follow her as she
constructs the message, hides it in a stack of food trays going to the male prison, and that
the message was received on the other end since Natalies request to assault a member of
the skin head gang was carried out. This entire scenario was a bit strange because it
seemed heavily contrived and more obviously constructed then the rest of the show. It
seems odd that the film crew would not intercept a message requesting violence against
another prisoner, or at least report it to the guards. I am not here to investigate whether
this entire scenario was completely fabricated in order to show how messages travel
between the various factions of the prison, but what this does show is the need to get the
inside scoop on the goings on of the prison from the prisoners perspective. The

62
division between the guards and the prisoners is obviously demarcated. The guards talk
about how they control the prisoners and the various tactics they use, and the prisoners
talk about how they bypass that control. There is a very strict hierarchy and a relationship
that is painted, with very little deviation.
In episode 4 of the first season of Americas Hardest Prison, entitled Inmate
University, the focus is on the university and college programs inside the prison. The
narrator states that the prison is hot, overcrowded, and at double capacity. He goes on to
say that overcrowding means one thing, and that is violence, so inmates must always
prepare for battle. The violent undertones of the prison and the inevitability of erupting
violence is furthered by a female guard who says that there will be rioting, either today,
tomorrow, or the next day, and that anything can happen at any moment and so riots are
always at the back of her mind at all times. The narrator perpetuates this theme, stating
that at Ironwood, everyone is on edge, and as temperatures rise, so do tempers. This
episode also has a segment dedicated to a showcasing of weapons inside the prison,
including a sharpened toothbrush disguised as a shrub planted in the ground.
The racial segregation within the prison is a main theme of this episode. The
segregation is also tied into the gangs that the inmates belong to, with specific tattoo
designs attributed to the different groups. The guards identify the gang members through
what is written on their bodies, but they also presuppose gang affiliation based on these
tattoos. Unwritten rules govern every aspect of life in the overcrowded gym at the prison,
where inmates have been put since cell space has run out. There are invisible boundaries
based on racial segregation and gang affiliation, which the narrator notes makes the gym
the perfect place for something to erupt. White, one of the inmates, says that it is a
powder keg.
One of the older prisoners, White, has helped to create the educational program
within the prison where over 400 inmates go to college. White states that the rate of
recidivism is 22% for those that finish the college programs, compared to 73% for those
that dont. However, in the dichotomy that is set up within the framing of this episode,
this information about the potential for rehabilitation through education is juxtaposed
against the fact that students are often targeted for violence by other inmates due to their
participation in the educational programs. Green, one of the older inmates and a member

63
of a gang, is now enrolled in school for Business Studies in order to better himself for his
daughter. However, the narrator points out that his gang affiliation can stand in his way
since he will have to fight if members of his gang are involved in any riots and that his
violent streak can put his potential future success in danger. The graduation scene is quite
heartwarming and hopeful, but is again juxtaposed with the reality of the penitentiary.
Graduation gave them a break from prison life, but it is reiterated that these graduates are
convicts and so they should be treated as convicts. One of the young inmates wants to
succeed academically, but the narrator reiterates that he is still an inmate in this
overcrowded prison. There is also the theme of correctional staff versus prisoners in the
battle to maintain order and control. One of the guards presents information during the
episode about the underground drug economy, how inmates usually smuggle drugs, the
value of drugs in prison, and the steps taken to prevent drug smuggling. In this game of
cat and mouse, one of the guards says that the inmates main mission is to beat us, and
our mission as correctional staff is to beat them.
Another episode of Americas Hardest Prisons, Mexican Lockdown Notes,
featured a prison in Mexico which has a history of murders, riots, and deadly escapes
according to the narrator, but now a new warden is trying to turn things around. The
question should be posed as to why there is a Mexican prison in Americas Hardest
Prisons? This could be reflective of the proliferation of the American carceral structure
all over the world. The cities close to the prison, Nuevo Larado in Texas and Larado in
Mexico, are right on the border from one another and it is a major thoroughfare for drugs
smuggled into the U.S. When the drug cartel was at its strongest, members of the drug
cartel were imprisoned at this penitentiary, but virtually ran the prison since they were all
inside together. Over the years Sedez has been proven to be a lethal place for prisoners,
and this is reiterated through a historical listing of all the violence that has occurred and
the various prisoners that have been killed, especially many American born prisoners,
within the prison. Again, there is a focus on gangs and weapons and how to make your
own weapons. The typical scenes are dotted throughout the episode of officers with guns,
barbed wire, bars. We never know when this place can explode says one guard. So he
has to keep his eyes open at all times. They never underestimate the power of the drug
cartels. One inmate says that it is a terrifying place, that they live there one day at a time.

64
The new warden says that the new rule of the prison is respect and mutual respect, and
hopes this will make changes and help control the violence and the issues. The prison
complex is like a mini city, with four general stores, three churches, and a tortilla making
factory. Inmates can work inside the prison and make some money to buy clothes, make
phone calls, buy food, etc.
One of the more intimate and indepth interactions in this episode is with Luis,
who has turned his life around and has been rehabilitated. He has been rewarded by being
removed from the drug member part of the prison. Luis says he wants to be free, and fly
like a bird. He receives his release papers early and he is released immediately, with his
mother waiting for him outside the prison. The narrator mentions that steering clear of
crime will be even harder outside of the prison walls, since the drug cartel will know that
Luis is out on the streets again. Luis does not want to go back to the drug life, but the
cartels are not letting up. Marcos, an inmate who has been living in America for most of
his life, has now been sent to this prison, where he has no family around him since they
are all in America. They say it is hard for him to make connections here, and that this
might make him a target since he has to figure out how to make money. They show him
making potatos and cooking tortillas with make-shift devices in his cell. There is a pretty
heartbreaking scene with Marcos and his family not showing up to see him on fathers
day, with him hoping that they might come as a surprise, but in the end he is left alone.
There is always a reoccurring dichotomy in the framework of the show, where the
potential for normalcy is heralded, but then taken back again with the possibility of
deviance and defiance. Women are allowed to keep their children with them in the prison
until they are six years old. The narrator says that this means that small children are
raised among thieves, drug dealers, and killers. First the narrator says that in order to
lower tensions within the prison and maintain family ties, children are allowed to stay
with their mothers, but then makes the point, cuing the ominous background music, that
this also means the children are raised among killers.
A central focus of the tension in this episode is around the biggest visiting day of
the year, and the day when things are most likely to go wrong for the officers. The
warden doesnt want to limit the number of visitors because the family is very important
in Mexican culture and he believes that creating a connection to the outside world will

65
limit tensions within the prison. Already, and again, there is a preclusion of violence, the
seed for it is planted and framed into the discourse of the episode. The guards is not
enough for all the people, and we cant look at everyone says the warden. There is a
placement of this potential new violent history into a previous history in 2002 where
there was a violent escape by members of the drug cartel during a visiting day and the
prisoners used the control mechanisms of the guards against them. The precautions and
fear around the visiting day are set up in relation to a previous violent occurrence, and so
there is a pre-determined quality to the potential of violent eruptions before they even
occur.
The prison environment, within the reality television series, is made visible
through the very aspect of its documentation and public airing, and yet this visibility is
highly problematic because it hinges on clichd and typical themes of the prison. The
shows are highly dramatic and are always leading or gesturing towards a violent end, an
eruption of the violence that has been held down within the confines of the prison
structure. Any empathy with, or sympathy for, the characters that are depicted is
undermined by the underlying current that the prison is a boiling pot of violence that is
being, and needs to continue to be, contained at all costs.
Andrejevic writes that asymmetry lies at the heart of panoptic powerin terms of
both the monitoring process and the structured power relations that characterize panoptic
institutions (396). The prison, through certain forms of visual culture, has a double
exposure of panoptic monitoring, where the prisoners are monitored within the prison,
but also by the public through the reality television shows. Andrejevic also traces the link
between neo-liberal governance and post-welfare state forms and the monitoring of
individuals by one another as a form of risk management.

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Chapter 4 - Mapping the Carceral Boundary: Prisons, new media technology, and
the visualization of networks

The interconnections between new media technologies and the institution of the
prison appear to be coming from two different realms and appear, initially, quite difficult
to trace. However, it is precisely the space where the older institution of the prison and
the networked structure of new media technologies are in tension with one another, where
they rub against each other, that is valuable. The prison is one of the institutions that has
remained largely stable and unchanged over time in regards to its policies and models of
incarceration, so it is precisely at the point where it interacts with the network society that
is especially of interest. It is beneficial, for pubic policy and carceral stability to maintain
this illusion of the prison as a world apart, as a space that is demarcated and separated
from the rest of society. Projects that make use of new media technologies, like the
Architecture and Justice project by the Spatial Information Design Lab and the
Incarceration Nation project by Thousand Kites are working to make visible the
network connections of what is often seen as a distinct and physically marked off space.
One of the critiques of new media often revolves around the project of making
visible the centralized structures of the network society and revealing the high
concentrations of power that occur as a result of the knowledge economy or
communicative capitalism. The material structure of the immaterial is brought forth in
these debates. According to these arguments, what many media theorists often see and
praise are the networks and their interconnectedness, and decentralizing tendencies, but
what is hidden is the continued concentration of power, centralization, and

67
hierarchicalization. In order to ground the facets of this debate, I will look at four
theorists who work on highlighting the material, centralized, and hierarchical structure of
the network society; David Golumbia, Matteo Pasquinelli, Tiziana Terranova, and Jodi
Dean.
David Golumbia is contesting theories put forth by network scholars and scholars
of Web 2.0 about the decentralized or distributed nature of the computational system. He
argues that "at the bottom of most of the claims about instant communication and
worldwide networking, computationalism presents a view of politics in which mass
actors, either corporations acting in concern with the State or acting with the power
traditionally associated with States, execute majoritarian decisions from a central
perspective; whatever the diversity of the input story, the output is unified, hierarchized,
striated, authoritative" (208). Golumbia argues that at the structural level of computing,
there is a fixed and hierarchical system of grouping, categorization, and structure. Despite
the formal decentralization of the network protocol used in large institutions like
universities, corporations, and non-profits, their structure seems to remain highly
centralized and hierarchicalin some ways, in fact, more controlled and centralized than
they could ever have been without computerization (213).
For Matteo Pasquinelli, the essential question is where the profit ends up in the
free society. We need to recognize the material structure that is tied into immaterial
production in order to understand where this occurs. Pasquinelli writes that the energy of
semiotic flows is not the energy of material and economical flows. They interact but not
in a symmetrical and specular way (2). In the conceptual figure of the parasite,
Pasquinelli puts forth the idea that there is never an equal exchange of energy, but always
a parasite stealing energy and feeding on another organism (3), so the immaterial flow
extracts surplus from the material flow and through continuous exchanges. Pasquinelli
also points to the material aspect of the online world and that it is being sustained by the
production of electronic components in the offline world. He argues that we cannot
escape from the material underpinnings of the immaterial and writes that there is a
general misunderstanding about the cognitive economy as an autonomous and virtuous
space.the nodal point is the friction between free reproducibility of knowledge and
non-reproducibility of the material. The immaterial generates value only if it grants

68
meaning to a material process (9).
Although some theorists have argued against using a Marxist perspective to look at
the current issues of capitalism and labour, Tiziana Terranova thinks that it is Marxist
theory that can help us understand the relations between technology, labour, and capital.
Of importance is her analysis of the disappearance of reality and the structure of
immaterial labour. Terranova writes that "it is possible, however, that the disappearance
of the commodity is not a material disappearance, but its visible subordination to the
quality of labour behind it" (Terranova 90). Again, the focus here is on making the
material visible beneath the veil of immateriality.
Jodi Dean also points out that communicative capitalism has been heralded to
potentially lead to more equitable distributions of wealth and more richer varieties of
modes of living and practices of freedom, but has not lived up to its distributive power.
Rather, communicative capitalism has produced massive distortions and concentrations
of wealth. This line of reasoning ties in with our previous theorists in regards to an
increase in marginalization, control, hierarchicalization, and concentrations of power.
The digital networks that the previous theorists critique appear quite distant from
the prison which appears to function in another realm, outside of the free flowing digital
networks. In Postscript to the Societies of Control Deleuze writes of Foucaults
disciplinary society as that of an organization of vast spaces of enclosure (3), through
which the individual never ceases passing. The disciplinary society is located in the
spatial organization of people and institutions. Deleuze argues that we have ceased to be
a disciplinary society and there is now the crisis of the institutions, which is reflective of
the move into a society of control. The society of control, similarly to the disciplinary
society, works as a series of relations, within which liberating and enslaving forces
simultaneously confront one another. Deleuze is working on studying the mechanisms of
control, which, grasped at their inception, would have to be categorical and to describe
what is already in the process of substitution for the disciplinary sites of enclosure, whose
crisis is everywhere proclaimed (7). In the disciplinary society the individual passes
through the various spaces of enclosure, but each institution is independent and they do
not share a common language outside of their analogical commonality to one another.
Deleuze argues that in the control society the different mechanisms of control are

69
inseparable and change and shift depending on their relations to one another. One
pressing question regarding this shift from enclosures to controls, from molds to
modulations, is the changing role of the institutions, namely the institution of the prison.
Foucault reinforced the argument that one mode of power does not entirely overtake the
other and that they can potentially function together in a multiplicity of spaces. In relation
to the prison, then, there appears to not be a complete shift into the institutional
framework of the control society, but rather a simultaneous existence in the disciplinary
society and the control society. With the Foucaultian understanding that history does not
function as a teleological trajectory, but rather as a series of emergences and fissures, it
would be plausible to theorize the prison as simultaneously existing between two regimes
of power. The prison can be visualized as existing as both a remnant of Foucaults
disciplinary society (static, separate from other institutions, hierarchical, centralized, etc),
and as a part of Deleuzes control society (connected to other institutions, has flows of
people in and out, etc). What is of interest for the prison is that it is precisely its network
structure, its Deleuzian properties that are hidden in the common understanding of the
prison as a demarcated place marginalized from society.
I want to use Alexander Galloway and his theory of the network as an inverted tree
structure where we have control and centralization on one end and distributed flowing
power on the other end as a metaphorical starting point. Different theories serve to
highlight different parts of this tree structure. Galloway makes this tree structure visible
initially, by highlighting the control that exists after decentralization. For Galloway,
control exists after decentralization through protocol. Protocol is a set of rules used by
computers to communicate with each other across a network. A protocol is a standard
that controls or enables the connection, communication, and data transfer between
computer systems. Protocol is similar to language because it can be defined as the rules
governing the syntax, semantics, and synchronization of communication. Galloway
argues that the founding principle of the Net is control, not freedom, and that the
controlling power lies in the technical protocols that make network connections (and
disconnections) possible. Coming from a different view of power than Deleuze and
Foucault, Galloway writes that a protological analysis shows that control is almost never
in abstract form and that protocol ensures that control is literally inscribed onto the

70
very cells and motherboards of bioinformatic networks (150). Protocol is both an
apparatus that facilitates networks and a logic that governs how things are done within
that apparatus. Through the notion of protocol, what Galloway is doing is highlighting
the control that exists at the base of the distributed network.
In The Exploit Galloway and Thacker go a step further in order to understand the
contradictions that are inherent in a space of both control and distributed power. In
Galloways work, what is pointed out is the strict control at the physical structure of the
network and the codes inscribed into the very material aspects of it (DNS), but also the
fluidity and freedom in other aspects of the network (TCP/IP). The prison can also be
seen in this way, where its physical structure operates in a very strict, hierarchical, and
centralized way, but there is still flexibility and a network that links into the prison.
Whereas scholars that critique the digital network and new media are attempting to get
back into the material space and point out the control, centralization, and exploitation of
resources that still exist within the distributed, decentralized, and immaterial realm of the
network society, the making visible of the prisoner and the prison attempts to do the
inverse of this. The prison operates as the inverse since we see the hierarchy and the
physical centralization of the prison institution, but it is its networked interconnections to
society that are often made invisible.
What is on display here is the apparent contradictions and irreconcilability in
theories of increasing societal marginalization and in theories of network societies of
free-flowing and modulated power. It is through Galloways work in Protocol and in The
Exploit that this can be further explored. Galloway and Thacker write that networked
power is based on a dialectic between two opposing tendencies: one radically distributes
control into autonomous locales; the other focuses control into rigidly defined hierarchies.
All political regimes today stand in some relation to networks. So it is possible to have
unilateralism and networks, a fact that makes the American regime so beguiling (19). It
is not either networks or sovereignty, but the very notion that they may be inextricably
linked to one another that is interesting. Galloway and Thacker want to suggest that the
juncture between sovereignty and networks is the place where the apparent contradictions
in which we live can best be understood (4). The space of the prison in America is the
potential place where this juncture occurs.

71
Golumbia criticizes the idea of "centralized" and "networked" as two distinct
aspects of our current society and argues that they are often inseparable, and things that
are labeled as one or the other often flow over into each other. The decentralized,
democratic, empowering, and borderless qualities cited by computer advocates,
Golumbia argues, has not transferred into the political systems we have today, which are
increasingly becoming more authoritarian. This critique is especially true of the prison in
North America, and the American urban landscape in general, which has shifted into the
space of increasing marginalization (imprisonment of the poor, those with mental health
problems, etc), while simultaneously being one of the most technologically and digitally
advanced and heavily networked societies. It is valuable to understand how these two
things occur simultaneously, and the tensions that exist between increasing
decentralization and increasing marginalization.
In order to further elaborate on the tensions and contestations within the current
societal space, I want to use the notion of the zero-institution. Slavoj Zizek takes the term
from Levi-Strauss who used it to describe the way two groups in a single tribe can have
radically different views of the structure of the tribe, but still feel that they belong to the
same tribe. The function of the zero-institution is a purely negative one of signaling
the presence and actuality of social institution as such, in opposition to its absence, to
pre-social chaos (Zizek 7). Dean writes that differently put, one would expect
dissonant, irreconcilable accounts of any given zero institution. Again, the concept
functions simply as a placeholder to designate institutionality as such (Dean 105).
Galloways network operates on two types of individuation which are in tension with one
another. The first identifies the network as a cohesive whole, but the second is the
individuation of all the nodes and edges of the system. The network is internally variable
and network power operates through a process of adding rather than exclusivity, on and
rather than or. This tension between the two types of individuation within the network
falls in line with Jodi Deans understanding of the internet as a zero-institution, a
general framework that signals the institution as such, but within which there can be
opposing, competing, and contestational tendencies.
The prison boom in the early 1990s in America, coupled with shifts in criminal
law, which increased prison sentences and introduced new sentences for drug crimes, led

72
to an exponential increase in the prison population. Loc Wacquant writes that levels of
crime have remained essentially unchanged while the prison has grown at a historically
unprecedented level. This phenomenon implies a split between the social body outside of
the prison and the one within it; the prison is changing and impacting society but these
shifts are not causally linked to the social space outside of the prison. New media
technologies and ways of visualizing can actually function to make visible the often
invisible network structures and flows that connect the prison to other parts of society. By
becoming simultaneously more bureaucratic and more porous to the influences of the
political, juridical, and media fields, jails and penitentiaries have turned into opaque
organizations that can be difficult and sometimes nearly impossible to penetrate (e.g., in
California, even journalists are barred by state law from talking to prison inmates without
express permission from the Department of Corrections, in violation of the constitutional
right of freedom of information) (Wacquant, Curious Eclipse 387). The maintenance of
the view of the prison as a space apart is complicated by projects like the Justice
Mapping Project and Incarceration Nation which work to visualize the links between
the prison and the rest of society. The prison is one of the institutions that has remained
largely stable and unchanged over time in regards to its policies and models of
incarceration, so it is precisely at the point where it interacts with the network society that
is especially of interest.
New media surveillance technologies, which are often heavily criticized for their
big brother qualities, are taken up in an online project predicated on the geographically
marginalized aspect of the prison. The Incarceration Nation project is quite simple in
its construction, but quite poignant in its impact. It uses GoogleEarth technology to create
a short video mapping the locations of a number of American prisons. The website
features an interface which allows the user to choose a specific state and then a prison in
that state which the user wants to map. The visual element of this project, which employs
satellite images, is what makes it impactful. Although listing the addresses of all the
prisons in the United States would also geo-locate them, it would be less powerful then
the video documentation of their location. Once a prison is chosen, the videos all have the
same visual structure; they begin with a view from above the prison, zoom down onto the
prison, and back up again. What stands out is the process of looking down onto a body of

73
land, then zooming into what at a distance appears to be an empty space, and watching
the prison slowly materialize. The massive scale of many of the prison complexes is
made starkly clear when seen from a distance. At the top of the video of each prison is
the following statement: Use the provided Google Earth video for your blog, social
network, or other communication work. Use the power of video to strengthen your story
or campaign (Thousand Kites). The physical uncovering of the prison can be coupled
with other communicational and media tools in order to provide a visual element to
political work around prison policy and mass incarceration. The prison, in its very
physicality, is both architecturally enclosed and geographically marginalized, often
existing on the periphery of the American landscape. The very physicality of the prison,
its architectural construction and geographical location puts into perspective the way the
prison is physically hidden and placed on the margins of society. This dynamic pulls in
the political work of making the prison more visible through the processes of highlighting
its geographical presence.
The unparalleled growth of the U.S. prison system over the last three decades is
coupled with the growth of vast archives of data of criminal justice information, which is
used to regulate and organize the lives of individuals inside its system, playing its part in
an institutional self-perpetuation (Spatial 4). In the control society, Deleuze argues, all
of us and our surroundings have been transformed into data. He writes that in the
societies of control it is no longer the signature that is important, the mark of the
individual, but a code. He goes on further to write that the numerical language of control
is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We are no longer dealing
with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become dividuals, and masses, samples,
data, markets, or banks (6). The relationships between the war on drugs and
incarceration rates, between crime rates and prison admission numbers, between prison
populations and poor communities, between responses to poverty versus responses to
crime, between jailed populations and homeless ones, become evident when criminal
justice data is aggregated geographically and visualized in maps (Spatial 3). The shift
away from a case-by-case analysis of the crime and punishment of an individual and
toward a geography of incarceration and return is potentially fitting in regards to the
argument put forth by Simon and Feeley about the new penology, which is an

74
alternative view of correctional policy. They contend that a new set of terms, concepts,
and strategies have begun to replace those of traditional penology. Whereas traditional
penology stems from criminal law and criminology and has emphasized punishing and
correcting individual offenders, the new penology adopts an actuarial approach in which
specialists assess the risks of specific criminal subpopulations and recommend strategies
that attempt to control these groups. The new penology does not respond to the individual
offender, nor does it deal with the underlying societal conditions that serve as the root
causes for many forms of street crime, instead it concentrates on maximizing social
control and utilizing prediction tables and population projections to streamline the
criminal justice system (Welch 74). If, in the new penological system, the focus is on
aggregates, rather then on individual crimes, then it is fitting to focus on, and make use
of, aggregated information since it is more reflective of the current system of penological
policy. Since civic, urban, and global networks today are formed not only of visible but
also invisible information resources with concrete effects on our daily lives and
[i]nformation builds and organizes most of the structures, policies, and landscapes of our
cities (Spatial 4), the translation of these networks of invisible information into visual
images can help to refocus the understanding of the prison and its relationship to the rest
of society.
A criminal justice data set is commonly maintained as a list of individual cases as
people make their way through the justice system and information is collected on them.
The information forms a portrait of the case and the aggregated cases create a statistical
portrait of society. Crime maps are quite common for cities, and map what crime was
committed and where, in order to help law enforcement pinpoint hot spots of criminal
activity and urban centres where they should focus police and political attention.
However, these maps are stable and static and focus on the crime that was committed and
its location, rather than on the individual that committed it. The Spatial Information
Design Lab visualized the same data, but rather than placing the focus on the address of
the crime, they instead mapped the home addresses of the people incarcerated as a result
of the crime.13 They write that with this map, we stop talking about where to deploy

13

See Appendix 1

75
police resources or how to track individual prisoners for institutional purposes; instead,
we begin to assess the impact of justice on a city, even a city block, and start to evaluate
some of the implicit decisions and choices we have been making about our civic
institutions (Spatial 7). The human underpinnings of crime were left largely unaffected
when the focus was solely on the event of the crime in the process of mapping. Different
patterns emerge when the maps focus is shifted from crime events to incarceration
events. Crime is diffused and dispersed across the city, but the people who are
convicted and imprisoned for urban crimes are often quite densely concentrated
geographically (Spatial 8). Focusing solely on the event of the crime works to eclipse
the real factors that impact and influence criminal behaviour. They write that like
poverty, incarceration is spatially concentrated, much more so than crime. Its as if by
imprisoning the residents of these neighbourhoods, making them disappear from their
city, we were simply mirroring the disappearance of the conversation on poverty
(Spatial 9). This conversation can be opened up again when the focus shifts onto where
incarcerated people live when they are not in prison, and the stark conjunction this has
with spatially mapped poverty levels.2 This spatial mapping visibly highlights
Wacquants argument about the criminalization and imprisonment of the poor. He writes
that penal rigor was delivered very selectively in social space. Class and ethnic selection
was achieved primarily by the targeting of certain geographic zones, which guaranteed
that the categories composing their residents would be the primary if not exclusive
beneficiaries of the newfound policing zeal and penal largess of the state
(Criminalization 67).
Currently, more than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, with a
disproportionate number of them coming from very few neighbourhoods in some of the
countries biggest cities. The concentration is so dense in many places that states are
spending in excess of a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of single city
blocks (Spatial 3). The Spatial Information Design Lab and the Justice Mapping Centre
are using rarely accessible data from the criminal justice system to create maps of these
million dollar blocks14 and of the city-prison-city-prison migration flow of the nations

14

See Appendix 4

76
cities15 (Spatial 3). To track this movement of people and to place them within the
framework of patterns of migration is quite radical. One of their projects maps the mass
migration of prisoners from parts of Brooklyn to prisons in New York state. Of the
600,000 people that return from prison each year, roughly 40 percent will return to prison
within the next three years, creating a cyclical pattern of migration between two places
(Spatial 10). Following in line with Wacquants argument that the decline of the socialwelfare state in America is tethered to the increase in penal spending, they write that the
maps suggest that the criminal justice system has become the predominant government
institution in these communities and that public investment in this system has resulted in
significant costs to other elements of our civic infrastructure education, housing, health,
and family (Spatial 3). The relationship that the city has with the prison, the prison that
is quite often geographically distant and dispersed from the city centre, is visually
constructed through the mapping of the cyclical migrations of people between cities and
prisons. Prisons and jails form the distant exostructure of many American cities today and
no matter how physically removed they are from the neighbourhoods of the people they
hold, they remain firmly rooted as institutions of the city, as everyday parts of life for
people, impacting their homes, social networks and migrations (Spatial 13).
Incarceration maps help to visualize the massive migrations and flows of people in and
out of the city and the potential impact that this kind of movement can have on stability
within the highly concentrated resettlement communities. In the same way the prison
produces and reproduces the construction of the black man as criminal, it serves its
function to maintain that those in the margins remain there, and not venture into the
"normalized" space. The high rates of recividism point to the success of this very process.
Wacquant points to a threefold movement of exclusionary closure that inmates are a
target of: prisoners are denied access to valued cultural capital, prisoners are
systematically excluded from social redistribution and public aid, and convicts are
banned from political participation (From Slavery, 58-9). Prisoners are therefore
excluded from, and denied access to, a number of social, political, and cultural aspects of

15

See Appendix 2

77
societal participation.
Loc Waquants essay From Slavery to Mass Incarceration sociologically outlines
the very structures of the cyclical migrations of prisoners from communities of low socioeconomic status into the prison, and back again. In this essay, Wacquant traces the
several American institutions which have successfully operated to "define, confine, and
control African-Americans in the history of the United States": first is chattel slavery,
second was the Jim Crow system of legally enforced discrimination and segregation,
third was the ghetto and fourth, is the current system of mass imprisonment. The mapping
project functions to visually make these migration patterns clear and to trace the flows of
individuals between communities and prisons. Wacquant argues that slavery and mass
imprisonment are genealogically linked and that there is a linked relationship of structural
symbiosis and functional surrogacy between the remnants of the dark ghetto and the
carceral apparatus (41). The prison system has come to shoulder a number of extrapenological functions in the wake of the crisis of the ghetto and in the increasing
reallocation of government money from social welfare institutions into the expansion of
the prison. The extra-penological functions that the prison has taken up are rarely
addressed in popular discourse, and it is precisely through the process of linking the
prison back to the community where the incarcerated individual previously resided that
serves to highlight the connection between a decrease in social spending and an increase
in carceral spending. Wacquant writes that young black men (and increasingly women)
circulate between the ghetto and the prison, moving from a physically open space of
marginality to a physically closed space. They circulate in a self-perpetuating cycle of
social and legal marginality with devastating personal and social consequences (From
Slavery, Wacquant 53).
The Million Dollar Blocks16 mapping project maps the yearly cost of housing each
prisoner, but places that economic figure physically within the context of the city and
neighbourhood where the incarcerated individual is from. This unhinges the monetary
framework from the prison and puts it into the context of potential social spending, or
lack of, in very specific densely populated locations. The money spent on funnelling
16

See Appendix 4

78
people into and out of the prison system is money that could be spent on other civic
institutions in these urban blocks. By constructing a visual map of the cost of the
detention of citizens, it takes the physical removal of the criminal out of the public
space and puts them back into it in a different way. This potentially disrupts the
invisibility of the prisoner, so that the prisoner is symbolically put back into their
neighbourhood, while simultaneously drawing attention to the costs of incarceration. In
this way, it is precisely technologies that make prisoners and their interconnections with
the rest of society visible that can be extremely beneficial for public policy changes. The
tracing of these networks works to unhing the prison from its solitary space at the edges
of society and puts it back into the urban environment.

79
Appendix 1.

Appendix 2.

80

81

82

83

Conclusion

Visual culture is reflective of society, but also shapes and alters it through a
dynamic and complex relationship. The prison is a specific and important topic for visual
culture because it is through the visualization of the prison and its dynamics that a
counteracting force can potentially be constructed to mitigate the increasing invisibility
of the prison from the American landscape and thereby the increasing invisibility of those
inside the prison and their ties to a vast social network outside the prison walls. Modern
society is defined by institutions whose functions and inner workings we are often wholly
unaware of, and since the prison in America has come to be the institution par excellence,
it is a valuable place from which to understand the heavy impact of visual culture. The
prison works on an axis of invisibility and visibility, where those that are inside the
prison are always visible, heavily integrated into the systems of surveillance, their
information logged into massive databases; yet they are invisible to those outside of the
prison. However, this simple distinction becomes more complex when documentary film
and photography within the prison is introduced, in which the prisoner becomes highly
visible to an outside audience.
In this paper I am not attempting to create a causation argument between the
contemporary growth in the prison population and the prison industry in America and the
increase in the documentation of the prison environment through the various forms of
visual culture. Rather, what is of interest here are the interconnections between visual
culture, power, and the prison. Reality should not be thought of as primarily a matter of
representation, which is why the reality needs to be understood in its relation to power
and the organization of power.
One of the more prominent visual culture scholars, Nicholas Mirzoeff ,writes that
visual culture is a tactic for those who do not control such dominant means of visual

84
production to negotiate the hypervisuality of everyday life in a digitized global culture
(4). This quote was in reference to an independent radio station, B-92, which was shut
down by the Serbian government during the NATO attack on Serbia in April of 1999, but
which was still able to broadcast and publish reports through a myriad of alternative
sources and networks. Mirzoeff argues that visual culture is a discursive formation that,
by retaining the term culture in the foreground, is a reminder to critics and practitioners
of the discipline of the political stakes inherent in the academic practice. Through the
analysis of various forms of visual culture and the way they depict the prison
environment and interact with it, we can reach certain political conclusions, or at the least
open some possibilities for further investigation into the complex relationship between
visuality and its objects within the contemporary political sphere.
The thread running through this thesis is wound around the tensions between
visibility and invisibility of the prison that are taken up by visual culture. What needs to
be stressed is that all forms of visual culture 'visualize' the prison in some way, while
other tendencies are at work to make the prison invisible. Often, the 'making visible' of
the prison highlights its tendencies of invisibility, and can therefore potentially serve a
political function. Photographs taken inside the prison function in two parts; first in their
relationship and connection to the ethnography and documentation of the prisoners body,
but second, in their potential to disrupt the historically embedded patterns of prisoner
documentation. In this way, there is always this tension at the moment of making
visible, between history and the present moment.
Public and private are not fixed points, but rather exist on a continuum, with the
boundary constantly shifting and blurring. Although prisons are private, in that the public
cannot enter, the prisoners do not have control of their own space. Michael Chanan, in
looking at two films that took place in institutions (Titicut Follies and Warrendale), notes
that the subjects of these films didnt have the right not to be filmed since they were in
places of detention, institutions controlled by authorities on whom the film-makers
depend for permission to film, and where the defense for invasion of privacy is the claim
that the film is in the public interest because society has a duty of care to these citizens
(225). It is therefore always important to understand the way the boundaries and borders

85
of spaces of incarceration have an impact on those within them and their relationship to
the process of documentation.
In Postscript to the Societies of Control, Deleuze writes of Foucaults disciplinary
society as that of an organization of vast spaces of enclosure (3), through which the
individual never ceases passing. The disciplinary society is located in the spatial
organization of people and institutions. Deleuze argues that we have ceased to be a
disciplinary society and there is now the crisis of the institutions, which is reflective of
the move into a society of control. The society of control, similarly to the disciplinary
society, works as a series of relations, within which liberating and enslaving forces
simultaneously confront one another. The mechanisms of control, grasped at their
inception, would have to be categorical and to describe what is already in the process of
substitution for the disciplinary sites of enclosure, whose crisis is everywhere
proclaimed (Deleuze 7). In the disciplinary society the individual passes through the
various spaces of enclosure, but each institution is independent and they do not share a
common language outside of their analogical commonality to one another. In the control
society the different mechanisms of control are inseparable and change and shift
depending on their relations to one another. There has been a shift from enclosures to
controls, from molds to modulations. As I have previously argued, the prison exists on
contestational ground between the disciplinary society and the control society, not fully
in one space and not fully in the other. Simultaneously networked with society, as I
argued in Chapter 4, and also cut off from it in a number of other ways. These tensions of
power dynamics, of the fissures in societal shifts, manifest themselves in the tensions
between the visible and the invisible. Visual culture then, acts as the space where we can
begin to understand how power functions in relation to the visual, through the analysis of
the various manifestations of visual culture that emerge at these moments.

86

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