(from 10th anniversary issue of A-I-Z magazine, quoted in http://choppedliver.info/pdf/unconcerned.pdf by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin)
Much of the art photography and photojournalism that concentrate on prisons seem to adhere to a set typology. The images are often black and white and grainy; anguished faces stare out at the spectator and seductive framing gives the images a gritty-beautiful air.
Jean Gaumy 1976 Convict
It is likely that in an encounter with the prisoner he would appear unremarkable yet Gaumy’s framing techniques, the lighting and the lack of colour, not to mention the possibility of it being staged, give the subject a fragile air and render his image beautiful. Gaumy worked closely with prisoners at many prisons in France and many of his photographs seem to be trying to convey a sense of the humanity within these spaces. Yet the stylisation in his images means that as spectators we must be mistrustful of whether he is representing truth or whether his own motivations are causing him to distort the image to satisfy his own ends and persuade the spectator to share his opinions. Any level of artifice within the photograph interrupts the idea of the photographer as invisible and the photograph as evidence.
If we are to accept Bloomstein’s conjecture that artifice undermines the documentary perhaps the most honest kind of images are to be found in amateur photography. In April 2009 a pair of inmates in the French prison Fleury-Mérogis smuggled a camera into the prison and filmed an illegal documentary. The images are crude but uncontrived. Their simplicity appears to testify to their honesty and these images seem to be representing the inner workings of the prison as they are, without the distorting aesthetics that we see with art photography and photojournalism. There is a sense that the spectator is seeing things exactly as they are seen by the person doing the filming and surely this is the definition of documentary. So if amateur photography is the closest representation of reality, does art photography serve any purpose as documentary evidence or should it only be considered in terms of its artistic value?