Prisoner Fantasies: Photos from the Inside

May 22  - August 31, 2012

Prisoner Fantasies: Photos from the Inside

Curated by David Weinstein, Alanna Heiss
Gerardo, courtesy Dave Adler collection
Gerardo, courtesy Dave Adler collection

Closing Friday, August 31! The exhibition consists of photographs of prisoners, by prisoners, using prisoner-created painted backdrops featuring a fantasy scene of life outside, as collected and documented by artist Dave Adler.

This collaborative photography movement is national in scope – virtually every major American prison has its own painted backdrop, created by inmates for use in taking photographs. The photographers themselves are also inmates, with the resulting photos the preferred method of communicating with family and friends. It is possibly the largest photography subculture in America, but is largely unknown in "the free world" (the inmate term for life outside prison).

The exhibition features 16 of these prisoner photos. Three original painted backdrops from different prisons are not on display but can be seen upon request.

Dave Adler is a London and NY based artist and critic. He is interested in the intersection of arts and economics, which he has written extensively about, most recently for Frieze Magazine. Adler has produced numerous arts documentaries for the BBC and taught documentary filmmaking at a US prison. His prison photography project has been profiled in Aperture Magazine and exhibited at The 3rd Athens Biennale 2011 (curators Xenia Kalpaktsoglou, Poka-Yio and Augustine Zenakos a.k.a. XYZ, and Nicolas Bourriaud). Dave Adler is establishing a national multidisciplinary center for the study of the US prison photography system with the criminologist Dr. Emily Horowitz of St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights.

Very special thanks to Greg Stone and Dr. Emily Horowitz.

Selected Press

“At a time when people are questioning work coming out of the market-driven art world, particularly after the financial crisis, prison photographs are examples of art produced in a different institutional framework altogether. Within this art system, money plays almost no role yet the photographs are imbued with a value often lacking in expensive portraits from the free world.”
David Adler interviewed by Anthony Papa for The Huffington Post

"Overall, I think what you’ll find is that what’s unsettling to people is that the prisoners do not look menacing. When I showed the images to people, they were expecting really menacing, Annie Lebowitz-type photos of someone glaring at the camera with pain in their eyes."
David Adler interviewed by Harry Cheadle for Vice Magazine

"...Geography, or at least the mapping of dead end dreams, was suggested by Adler's archival presentation of photographs of American prisoners posing against the images of glittering skylines, verdant valleys, and Hockney-esque swimming pools they had painted on their cell walls..."
– Tom Morton, "The 3rd Athens Biennale 2011: MONODROME", in Bidoun, Spring 2012, #26

“The Age of Innocence” is made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

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