San Quentin prisoners reframe photos to share their stories

Prisoners have annotated images through the decades some brutal, some charming in an exhibition in Berkeley, California

” Was he pushed or did he jump ?” is scrawled in the margins of a black-and-white photograph of four dark figures surrounding the chalk outline of a body. In the image, there are patches of stained asphalt encircled by inky black pen marks.


Four dark figures surround the chalk outline of a body in a 1964 image.

Left: An on-duty guard and incarcerated human meet the photographer’s lens head-on- creating an unnerving sense of tension in an otherwise clinical photo.

Right: Another photo in the same series.’ The hand holding the cuff seems uncommonly loose, yet control can be seen ,’ writes Kevin Tindall, who was formerly incarcerated.

Mesro Coles-El, another of Poor’s students, selected this photo of a man in Native American costume- adding his own questions about the event, cultural tradition, and intended audience for the ritual.

Right: This image from 1966 captures the fall-out from a fight in one of San Quentin’s school buildings.

Left: A 1975 image titled Fish Caught at Ranch.’ The black-and-white film can’t conceal the colourings of the mind ,’ writes Tindall.

‘In this era, staying fit was key to survival behind these walls/ if not, you’ll become a victim ,’ writes Harold Meeks, who is currently incarcerated, about this image from 1975.

Top: One of Poor’s students, Ruben Ramirez, reimagines this man’s body as a castle and the outstretched arms holding him up as two buttresses.

Bottom: Shadeed Wallace-Stepter, who has since been released from San Quentin, observes that it’s difficult to discern which human is incarcerated because none of them are in uniform. The photo was found in an envelope marked’ Mother’s Day 1976 ‘.

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