Prison Obscura

Curated by Pete Brook

Prison Obscura Opens to a Packed House @ Evergreen Gallery!

Remann Hall, Tacoma

Remann Hall, Tacoma

A pinhole punctures one side of the box-shaped camera obscura or “dark chamber,” allowing a small ray of light to slip into the darkened interior.  Projecting an upside-down, left-to-right reversed image of the outside world on the opposite wall, the box might allegorize sight itself, shadowing the play of inverted light shared between pupil and retina.  “The image in the camera obscura looks so real and yet there is clearly something fundamentally wrong with it,” writes critic Gen Doy. “Using a mirror can make things look right, but that merely changes things on the level of sight, not comprehension. For that you need to stand outside of the darkened box.” 1


Prison Obscura considers this fundamental distortion that characterizes vision and viewing, how we see and don’t see the people we incarcerate, the people we put in boxes. Guiding the viewer through the visual culture of America’s prisons, the exhibit traces the contours of that box, to attempt to make sense of the dominant narratives and stereotypes that somehow justify a U.S. system now locking up people at an unprecedented rate. What do we know of our prisons? Do photographs help us know? Are the images of prisons we see reliable? Are they even useful? How do images relate to the political, social, and economic realities that exist within our prison industrial complex? Do prisons, as closed sites, present any challenges to the claims photography makes as a medium of communication?  – Pete Brook



Prison Obscura Essay and Bibliography – Haverford College

Gut-wrenching photo evidence from Brown vs. Plata in ‘Prison Obscura’– LA Times

This Is What Art Made by Prisoners Looks Like -Vice

America’s Prison Problem -ACLU


cfgPrison Obscura is a traveling exhibition curated by Pete Brook and made possible with the support of the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, Haverford, PA.