Photo Requests from Solitary

What would a person in solitary confinement want to see?

People held in supermax prisons and solitary confinement units were invited to request an image of anything at all, real or imagined—and promised that artists on the outside would fulfill their requests. The resulting photographs provide an archive of the hopes, memories, and interests of Americans who live locked in cells for 23 hours a day in extreme isolation and sensory deprivation—conditions that have been widely denounced as torture.

The Photo Requests from Solitary project was initiated in 2009 by Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots coalition of artists, advocates, family members and men formerly incarcerated in Tamms Correctional Center in southern Illinois, which was shuttered in 2013 after years of opposition. Like some 80,000 other people in U.S. prisons, the men in Tamms were locked in small, concrete cells for 23 to 24 hours a day without human contact. Mental breakdowns, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts were common at Tamms, and are an expected consequence of long-term isolation.

Photo requests from the men in Tamms included the sacred mosque in Mecca, comic book heroes locked in epic battle, Egyptian artifacts, a lovesick clown, and a grey and white horse rearing in weather cold enough to see its breath.

In 2013, in collaboration with Jeanine Oleson, Parsons School for Design, Jean Casella, Solitary Watch, and Laurie Jo Reynolds, Tamms Year Ten/Univ. of Illinois-Chicago, the project expanded to California and New York. Photo Requests from Solitary is currently filling requests from these states, and using the project to support local campaigns to stop the use of solitary confinement.

Please contact photorequestsfromsolitary@gmail.com if you are interested in fulfilling a photo!

Recent Press on the project:

-Photo Requests from Prisoners in Solitary ConfinementVice

-Rhett Jones, video interview: “Ending Solitary Confinement Through Viral Art,” ANIMAL, Dec. 30, 2013

-“The One Photo a Prisoner Wants to See,” by Isabel Wilkinson, May 6, 2013, The Daily Beast online

-“Things We Like: Photo requests from inmates in solitary,” by Hamilton Nolan, Sept.17, 2013, gawker.com

-“What prisoners in solitary want to see,” by Prachi Gupta, Sept. 25, 2013, Salon.com

-Louise Boyle, “My childhood home, my mom with a mansion… and J-Lo’s derriere: The strangely touching requests for pictures from supermax prison’s ‘worst of the worst’ inmates stuck in solitary for the rest of their lives,” Sep 13, 2013, The Daily Mail

MOM, MONEY AND MANSION—Robert T.
Robert, a man with a serious mental illness, sent Tamms Year Ten a photo of his mother, who had died the previous year. Because he had no family and no visitors, he was hopeless and desolate. He asked for an image of “my mother standing in front of a mansion, or Big Castle, with a bunch of money on the ground. OR if you can’t do that, THEN a substitution is a big mansion or castle with a bunch of money in front of it and a black hummer parked in front of it. I truly appreciate this a lot… Now I know somebody out there in the world cares about us in here.” Photo by Jeanine Oleson, 2013.