* My Profile My Galleries My Networks

How to Morally and Effectively Source Subjects for Emotionally-Sensitive Project?

Hello to all,

I am in the planning stages of my first long-term photo series. It will be a series on persons who have/are served/serving time in prison. My goal is to show that rehabilitation is possible, none are beyond redemption, and ex-cons can become positive contributors to their communities.. As I “begin to begin”, so to speak, I’m wondering how I can source my subjects in a way that makes all parties feel valued and unexploited. Does anyone have experience with this sort of thing? I won’t require any last names (could this pose problems down the road?), and I suppose I’d accept aliases, though I’d want to note that it IS an alias being used. I’m sure that not many people will be willing to admit that they served time, much less be photographed for it. I have to figure out how to attract the people that are willing to share their stories. Currently, my plan is to put up flyers around my campus for the first images in the series, expanding off-campus once I get things moving. Can the sensitivity needed be conveyed in a flyer? I’m trying to be as sensitive as possible with this – I believe in the message. Thanks so much.

P.S – I noticed a notice at the bottom of the main page that LS is invite-only. I registered in February of 2012 but wasn’t invited. Is this a new policy that I was grandfathered into?

by Phil Garber at 2013-01-23 22:00:24 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Most people feel uncomfortable when being photographed. Less alone people who went though a lot – prison time, crime, most likely all sorts of abuse. There will be a lot of trauma involved, hostility and uncertainty for sure. I would say that you’ll need to have a lot of patience and thick skin – you may hear stories that will give you nightmares. Two things I have learned when doing a street photography. Do not shoot straight when you come in. Give people time to get used to photographer, they will relax and share more. Also try so called environment portraits rather than close ups. Show people in their environment, allow them to hide their faces, to be behind objects, photograph them in a place (i.e. room/bed/ corner) where they feel secured. Ask them what they like, what they do, how is their day, draw a rapport from those small conversations with them. That will give you ideas for photos. Ask them if they prefer to have their names mentioned, initials, nicknames. It all depends how they see themselves, how they heal, how much they trust a photographer. On a side note, if you feel like you are getting too troubled by what you see or hear, take a break. Have a chat with someone else, don’t bottle things up.

Flyers are a good idea. You may try an ad in the local newspaper. You may go to the local jail and see the director and ask him to offer assistance. Local social day centre is another good pick. You may want to offer a phone conversation first or email to discuss the details. Or a meeting on a neutral ground (middle of the day in a busy cafeteria or a public park). This will also offer your safety – you never know who you will meet or what they did. You may not bring camera for the initial meeting, just meet up and talk to them about the project.

You will have to think of some safety for yourself. It may sound paranoid but if you plan to meet people who served a jail time you may meet some tough characters. You may want to ask yourself what kind of reformed people you want to cover? Somebody who did time for a murder? Brutal assault? Men or women? You may not be risking much but you may be putting yourself or your family at risk. Never give your home address, do not tell where you live, never go alone to somebody’s place one on one. Bring a friend (lighting assistant, crew member, even if they will just stand there). If you go and meet them alone, always tell people where you will be and keep them updated how long the session will last or where it will take place.

I don’t know maybe you prefer to work by yourself but perhaps there is somebody in your area who would work with you on this, even older photographer. You mentioned you are starting out. Why not hit the local newspaper, pick their senior photog and see if they would kind of mentor you? Or a reporter who would write a piece about it (hey you could even get published!). It may have disadvantages but it may come handy, esp. safety wise.

Apologies for a longish and chaotish post. Hope I managed to give you some ideas.


by Malicia Dabrowicz | 24 Jan 2013 21:01 (ed. Jan 24 2013) | St Julians, Malta | | Report spam→
You might find this, from the NY Times Lens Blog relevant:

by Barry Milyovsky | 26 Jan 2013 17:01 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
I would look for associations already working with the people you want to photograph.
Don’t make things overly complicated for yourself.
Talk to people, explain what you want to do, be sincere. Go and have conversations without your camera first.
My experience: some will say yes, some will say no and the worst thing to do is try to work with those you have to try hard to convince. In is in, out is out, on the fence is a pain.

by DPC | 27 Jan 2013 18:01 | Paris, France | | Report spam→
@malicia well written thoughts

by Max Kesberg | 29 Jan 2013 17:01 | Heidelberg, Germany | | Report spam→
It would be a good idea to approach some NGOs that work with people who were released from prison. Try to find organizations dealing with prisoner re-entry in your area. Also half way houses would be helpful. You would be surprised how many people will be ok with being photographed. You need to explain what you are doing very well, and show that you really care. It might sound like a cliche but it really matters. Do a good research on the subject, so when you approach people, you know what you are talking about. Personally I think flyers is a bad idea. It is sketchy, both from the subjects point of view, and would raise some security concerns for you. However, if you contact your subjects via an organization they trust, It will be easier for them to trust you. Also people who are involved in some sort of re=entry program will more likely better subjects for you / easier to work with. You can make an arrangement with the NGO where you let them use your photos, or do a fundraiser show for them with the final work.

The NGO would also help you to have a perspective on the subject.. The more you are involved, the better you will understand the issue and make better photos..
Also look fir work done on the same subject before, There are a bunch of photo projects, and tons of books..

I want to say again, a flyer “looking for ex-cons for a photo project” sound like a very bad idea!

by yusuf sayman | 30 Jan 2013 15:01 | antakya, Turkey | | Report spam→
Edit – I’m sorry for the lack of paragraphs. The system’s being weird.

Thank you all for your responses – I wish this forum had a reply or quote feature, but it doesn’t I’ll just reply generally.

The consensus that flyers are a bad idea and that contacting organizations is the way to go seems wise. Yusuf, I think you’re correct. No nice way to word a flyer for something like this. I’ll look up some local organizations, and maybe local parole officers. Thank you also for your concerns about my safety. I’ll admit, it wasn’t something I considered. With this in mind, I stumbled onto a very interesting angle – white collar criminals. Regarded poorly by society for sure, but I’ll be less likely to get into a dangerous situation photographing them. At the least it seems like a safer way to start my project until I gain a footing. Could I have some feedback on this? Thank you Barry for the Lens link! That was fascinating. Perhaps the precedent will make wardens more amiable to my work. Again, thank you all. Your words of advice were very helpful. My plan moving forward is (after getting the technicals [guidelines, camera system, etc] of my project down with my professor) is to go through the New Jersey Dept. of Corrections to try and gain access to the Fort Dix Correctional Institution, and correspond with some inmates there. I’m sure I’ll be back for more advice!

by Phil Garber | 31 Jan 2013 04:01 (ed. Jan 31 2013) | | Report spam→

Get notified when someone replies to this thread:
Feed-icon-10x10 via RSS
Icon_email via email
You can unsubscribe later.

More about sponsorship→


Phil Garber, Student Phil Garber
[location unknown]
Malicia Dabrowicz, art promoter/photographer Malicia Dabrowicz
art promoter/photographer
St Julians , Malta ( MLA )
Barry Milyovsky, totally unprofessional Barry Milyovsky
totally unprofessional
(emperor of ice cream )
New York , United States
DPC, Photographer DPC
Paris , France
Max Kesberg, photographer Max Kesberg
Heidelberg , Germany
yusuf sayman, photographer yusuf sayman
Antakya , Turkey


Top↑ | RSS/XML | Privacy Statement | Terms of Use | support@lightstalkers.org / ©2004-2015 November Eleven