Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture

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Temple University Press, Aug 21, 2009 - Photography - 200 pages
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For more than forty years Bruce Jackson has been documenting—in books, photographs, audio recording, and film—inmates’ lives in American prisons. In November, 1975, he acquired a collection of old ID photos while he was visiting the Cummins Unit, a state prison farm in Arkansas. They are published together for the first time in this remarkable book.

The 121 images that appear here were likely taken between 1915 and 1940. As Jackson describes in an absorbing introduction, the function of these photos was not portraiture—their function was to “fold a person into the controlled space of a dossier.” Here, freed from their prison “jackets,” and printed at sizes far larger than their originals, these one-time ID photos have now become portraits. Jackson’s restoration transforms what were small bureaucratic artifacts into moving images of real men and women.

Pictures from a Drawer also contains an extraordinary description of everyday life at Cummins prison in the 1950s, written originally by hand and presented to Jackson in 1973 by its author, a long-time inmate.

 

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Contents

1 Pictures from a Drawer
8
2 Restoring the Eyes
20
3 Size
26
4 Dating the Images
29
5 The Women
33
6 Portraits
40
7 Seeing People
44
8 The Order of Things
50
9 Mirrors
53
The Portraits
59
Cooters Yellow Pad
189
Acknowledgments
203
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture, University at Buffalo. He is the author of more than 20 other books, including The Story Is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories (Temple), a documentary filmmaker and photographer. The French government named him Chevalier in L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France's highest honor in the arts and humanities.

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