Jan 30, 2007

Morrie Camhi

i normally swing by the Literacy Council book store every other week or so, looking to see if anyone in the greater Fairbanks area has donated any photography books. so far my trips have been fruitless.

today, however, i uncovered a first edition copy of The Prison Experience by Morrie Camhi. i'm ashamed to say that i wasn't familiar with his work until this afternoon, and was unexpectedly, but greatfully, blindsided.

i've purchased several fascinating monographs this past year, but this book struck me in a way that i wasn't prepared for.

the photos, all of prisoners in the California system, were taken in the 80's in Vacaville California. i have family in Vacaville, and spent time there around the same time during my first trip out west with my Grandma when I was in junior high. i don't remember much from that trip, but oddly, i do remember the view of the prison from a distance.

Camhi's obvious affinity for the prisoners is evident in every photo. it's an unsettling calm, a sort of openness that i didn't feel comfortable with at first. his ability to connect- eye to eye- is remarkable.

each prisoner photo is accompanied with the prisoner's own words- an answer to the same question- "what do you want people to know about the prison experience". most answers are articulate, thoughtful, and surprising. not once, however, does the text overshadow the physical image of the author. he depicts each subject in a human way, in inhuman surroundings.

Camhi himself opens the book with the following:

"Most of my photography time isn't with a camera but with a cup of coffee, learning about the people i will photograph. since my photography is a way of talking, there's no reason to point the camera until there is something to say."

Morrie Camhi died in 1999

1 comment:

pete said...

Ben. You lucky devil. Great book and very relevant to any understanding of American social history.


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