In order to render the image of freedom, one should conduct archival research seeking out every image which reproduce a release from prison, states the voice-over in Harun Farocki’s Prison Images (Gefängnisbilder, 2000) while commenting the most moving assembly of fragments shown in the movie (released men and women walking out of prison, indeed).
But could an image of freeing be an image of freedom?
Among others, the 2015 Taryn Simon exhibition at the Jeu de Pomme (“Rear Views, A Star-forming Nebula, and the Office of Foreign Propaganda”) seems to deeply suggest a negative reply. Victims of wrongful conviction finally freed, The Innocents (2003) portrayed and filmed by Simon will never recover their lost freedom: even right outside the prison wall, they will be never able anymore to be walking around “without two or three alibis at hand”. Strongly supporting The Innocence Project (an independent non-profit organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice) and also recalling Joel Sternfeld’s work On this site (a political photographic project of the 90’s which challenged the racism inherent in the U.S. criminal justice system, by illustrating the landscape of forgotten revolutionary causes) the Simon’s photographic project made an effective contribution in helping raise awareness about miscarriages of justice dues to racial and social injustice.
The majority of reported cases having been associated with eyewitness misidentification, Simon, who inspects the relationship between knowledge and power in modern liberal societies in every single photograph she takes, rephotographed here the wrongfully convicted individuals at the scene of the crime: “this place, to which they have never been, changed their lives forever”, thus forcing us to question again and again the “photography’s function as a credible eyewitness and arbiter of justice”.
In order to confront the photography’s original and fundamental ambiguity and the role of images as visual evidences, I intend to evocate some paradigmatic examples, like Mike Mandel’s and Larry Sultan’s Evidence (1977), The Deaths in Newport, black and white research by Lewis Baltz (1989), the recent exhibition “Images of conviction” (Le Bal, Paris 2015) and, of course, the Bertillon’s invention of ‘metric’ photography of crime scenes, by analyzing the photo album “Service d’identification judiciaire de la Préfecture de Police de Paris”, collected by Georges Sirot and preserved at the National Library of France.
By using a certain Marxist or post-Marxist theoretical framework (Benjamin, Agamben, and Foucault), I will then approach some photographic works narrating previously invisible stories of bare life in revolt, like the recent photo projects of Clarisse Hahn and the Gerard Drolc’s photos of Nancy prison revolt (1972), published this year in the bookActive Intolerance.
By defining the dialectic between image of release and images of significant attempts for freedom, the paper aims to investigate the importance of photographic practice as a medium for denouncing injustice, tracing its limits and its charms.
Arianna LODESERTO: Post-doctorante en études visuelles, théorie des medias EA 7343 LIRA (Laboratoire International de Recherches en Arts) Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3