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Pictures from a Drawer
Prison and the Art of Portraiture
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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