What People in Solitary Confinement Want to See

A collection of images from the participatory art project Photo Requests From Solitary.

Photo Requests From Solitary
September 7, 2018
Eastern State Penitentiary, the birthplace of solitary confinement, where an installation of Photo Requests from Solitary is currently on view. Photo: Nagel Photography via Shutterstock.

Photo Requests From Solitary (PRFS) is a participatory project that invites men and women held in long-term solitary confinement in US prisons to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined, and then finds a volunteer to make the image. The astonishing range of requests, taken together, provide an archive of the hopes, memories, and interests of people who live in extreme isolation.

At least 80,000 people are held in solitary in the United States, most placed there not by a judge or jury, but by prison staff. Some will remain for months, years, or even decades in conditions that have been shown to cause deep and lasting psychological and physiological harm.

Many of the photo requests collected by PRFS have been fulfilled by artists and photographers, and you can view these images on the project’s website. For the first time, the project is crowdsourcing the requested images—inviting all viewers to become participating artists. The first three requests featured in this post, specifically, are recent and are currently unfulfilled. If you would like to contribute a photo to fill the requests published here or any others, please visit the project’s website, search for a request, and upload your photo directly via the “Submit a Photo” button.

The project is currently on view through December 2018 at the birthplace of solitary confinement, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Closed as a prison in 1971, Eastern State is now a historic site that interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform and hosts several stunning artist installations.

You can donate to this project by donating to Solitary Watch here.

Request #178: I grew up in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, 93 Lewis Ave, #12F. I would look out my bedroom window and dream about the world from my high perch, or at night I would wish upon stars. Getting to see the view from there or even the roof again would be incredible. I did send the current residents a letter but never got a response. An easier option would be a photo of cherry blossoms. They remind me of the impermanence of life as well as the beauty in it.

Specific Instructions: With the cherry blossoms, it would be awesome if there was a pond, creek or river behind them. If you’re able to take one from the building, it should be towards the front of it.

Request #143: MOTION! I’ve been in solitary for 23 years & 3 days today. It’s like living in a still-life painting; that’s not living, it’s existing; being “in place.” So little “moves” here. I’d like to see things moving. Perhaps traffic at night, lights shining & the trails from lights whizzing past. Or water flowing from a stream, waterfall etc. that shows motion. Or snow while it is falling? Anything in MOTION!

Specific Instructions: If it’s lights in traffic, I’d like a color photo. If it’s the water or snow I’d like black-n-white (if that even works to show motion)

Request #174: A huge ship in the ocean with lifesavers being tossed from the ship into the ocean that has people in it looking like they’re about to drown but is being saved. On the side of the ship I would love the name MAJOR CHANGE

Specific Instructions: Please make it as real as you can & thank you so much. I have 20 years in the hold & I’m only 44

Photo: Laurie Jo Reynolds

Request #39: I would like my own picture done with an alternate backround from the picture. I have no pictures of myself to give my friends and family. This would mean a great deal to me. If this is not able to be done then I’ll leave the picture for you to decide.

Specific Instructions: If you can place my picture on another backround. Nothing too much please. Something simple like a blue sky with clouds or a sunset in the distance would be fine.

Photo: Cathy Lee

Request #125: A face-shot of a woman with a smile that shines as bright as the sun. Not a model type but an everyday ordinary woman who, perhaps, enjoys every moment of life. Who is not bias or judgmental towards anyone but full of love & compassion for everyone & everything.

Specific Instructions: The photograph should capture the essence of love for humanity and the woman should be looking into the camera, not away.

Photo: Lynne Chan

Request #43: At 66 yrs. of age I try to use a little humor: I want a picture of a trash can with the lid half off + on a 2 eyes peeking out of the half open lid as the trash can is rolling down the hill toward an incinerator with the caption: “I seem to be picking up speed I must be headed towards a bright future.”

Specific Instructions: My federal number is: [redacted]. I was in Florence CO. so if you could get a picture of me in the Feds and in the state Max joints you could caption both: “From Max to Max and no end in sight.”

Photo Requests from Solitary is a collaboration between people in solitary confinement in state prisons and volunteer artists on the outside. The project is organized by Laurie Jo Reynolds, Jean Casella, and Jeanine Oleson, and sponsored by Solitary Watch. The PRFS installation was designed and fabricated by Jennie Shanker and the website was designed by Platform.