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The twenty-seven inmates I photographed act as a metaphor for our criminal justice system.
The Final Exposure project actually started for me at about age 15 when I argued the issues of the death penalty with my father. Six years of my life have been devoted to documenting the unseen, unheard stories of an American subculture – people on death row. I wanted to see if art could make a difference. I realized before I began that we don’t have to travel half way around the world to find some unique phenomenon or recently discovered civilization to pique our jaded curiosity. The problem of our government-sanctioned murder lives with us.
My crew and I endured bone-chilling snowstorms, cheap motels, greasy meals and having our bodies frisked in order to bring this story to light. We fraternized with some of the best legal minds in the country, and with as many of the most depraved. We explored the darkest side of the human condition even though it was our objective to humanize the people that the federal government and the states execute. We made sure we understood who was being killed in order to start a real debate about capital punishment. Many of the men/women are stoic when marching to their demise. But even though we admire the stamina that it takes to endure this ordeal in the super-macho environment, these are not heroic voyages these men are taking. And we must never be seduced into thinking otherwise.
These photographs evoke the prison writing workshops I did with Helen Elaine Lee and others through PEN New England’s Prison Writing Program. The workshops and the anthologies we produced revealed the paradoxes Lou’s pictures and statement attest to.
The pictures in black and white – so powerful, conveying the starkness of contrast unencumbered by color. Death row inmates – humans rightly or wrongly convicted, to be hated or feared, cessation of life their penalty. The pictures affected me deeply.
So much pain … it reaches farther than we easily perceive. Imagine how every face portrayed here must haunt those jurors who condemned them to death.
Haunting portraits… What loneliness…