New Criticals

A response to the typical representation of criminals through mugshots, which “are meant to document a transgressor, but act to criminalize individuals and strip them of identity and sympathy,” we see the women choosing their pose, often smiling, reclaiming a piece of dignity and a sense of place by literally standing next to their memories and longings.

We move from the fine-grained analog faces of Gumpert and Wilkens to the interface of pixelated digital satellite images. Josh Begley’s “Prison Map” is a literal view from space. He collects aerial views of “every carceral facility in the U.S.”, some 5,000, from Google Maps. This twisted tapestry makes apparent not only the similarities in architecture, structures designed to maximize control and surveillance, but gives a “picture” of the size of the Leviathan, a creature whose tentacles extend across the landscape, that nourishes itself on the lives of these “criminals”—the organelle of the body inside the cells of the prisons that make up the organs of the behemoth.

Relatedly, Paul Rucker’s “Proliferation” is an animated video of a map that “compresses 250 years of American prison construction into 10 minutes.” The “picture” of incarceration now moves across time, and we see the “Big Bang” that has created these worlds. Perhaps the better metaphor is not of a “Big Bang” or a “Leviathan,” but one of disease, each dot a pox of a plague on all our houses, propagating, infecting. By condensing time, we see how the prison is a recent phenomenon in the history of human society. More critically, we see how the history of the prison runs parallel to the history of the U.S., a country so proud of being a “beacon of democracy”, a “City upon a Hill.” But where does this beacon’s light shine? Who do the cities on the peak look down upon in the valleys?