A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job). Check it out sometime!
Sandow Birk is an artist specializing in 19th Century landscapes, particularly of his native California. For a recent exhibition, however, Birk has turned his attention from bucolic vineyards and peaceful coastlines to a somewhat unexpected subject – the landscapes of the state’s prisons.
Geographies of Detention, currently taking place at the California Museum of Photography, looks at prison spaces, both from the outside and within, and examines what those spaces say about our attitudes and perceptions of the criminal justice system.
For Birk, the dramatic growth of the prison system in California reveals a stark reality that stands in contradiction to the idealistic depictions of the state common among earlier artists.
“What was really striking to me about these works from the past was that they were all so optimistic about California,” Birk says. “… It was the whole idea that California was this American paradise.”
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