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Photo assignment at Folsom Prison

The Business of Prisons

Turning corrections over
to private enterprise


I was asked to create an environmental portrait of Elizabeth Hill, Legislative Analyst, Calif. State Joint Legislative Budget Committee, who was championing the privatization of prisons in California.  That is, turning over the operations of the State's correctional facilities to business concessionaires.  I figured there wasn't a hotter location than Folsom Prison, figuratively and literally. 

Situated in the Sacramento Valley, and known for its sweltering summers, Folsom Prison was experiencing a 105F day.  I couldn't very well have my subject sweating on camera.  We erected a canopy for shade and to better control the mid-day light.  We used a portable generator to feed electricity to our studio strobes and a couple of fans for comfort. 

Working on location, one needs to be open to spontaneity, which can really pay off in the end. I noticed one of her aids dressed in a suit and holding a briefcase.  Reluctantly at first, he agreed to leave the shade and stand out in the hot summer sun.  Poor guy, what a trooper.

The things I like best about this image are both the content and the composition.  The businessman in the background solidified the story angle.  Compositionally, his diminutive size, and position in the negative space, makes the business aspect subordinate to the primary subject, my only real purpose for being there.   I also like that the perspective lines in the prison fence are reiterated by the primary and secondary subjects.  In my opinion, these are the types of considerations that help to turn a still image into a single-picture essay.

One final thought. . .  I don't know if it was just my fertile imagination or something sensory, but visiting an intense correctional facility such as Folsom leaves one feeling an aura of dark malice within.  I've heard this from others who have had similar experiences and feelings as I did. One friend, who did some on-camera video work at San Quentin Prison, said the hair on the back of her neck actually stood up.  Regardless of whether it's imagination or senses, it is an eerie feeling.



I'm that guy who plays well with real people.

( Talent are real people too! )