“Photo Requests from Solitary” to Debut in the Cellblocks of Eastern State Penitentiary
March 27, 2018
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is pleased to announce that artist collective Photo Requests from Solitary will create a new installation for the historic site’s 2018 season. This interactive exhibit will debut Friday, May 4, 2018 and will run through November 30.
Photo Requests from Solitary (PRFS) invites men and women held in long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined, and then finds an artist to make that image. The astonishing range of requests includes “the freestanding columns at the Great Temple of Amun, Karnak,” “a blue rose, cut with all its leaves remaining, held in a crystal/clear vase or a hand and if possible, the Perseids meteor shower as a background,” “a gray and white ‘Warmblood’ horse rearing in weather cold enough to see its breath,” and “myself with a blue sky.” Taken together, these requests provide an archive of the hopes, memories, and interests of some of the 80,000 people who currently live in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails, surrounded by drab walls.
At Eastern State, the installation will be housed in two adjoining cells. In one cell, a projector will display a rotating sequence of images of requests and the resulting photographs, selected from the 120 taken for men and women in solitary in California, Illinois, and New York. In the adjacent cell, visitors can see a range of new requests received from individuals in solitary in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and will be invited, with a small takeaway card, to fulfill these requests and upload them to the project’s website. A touchscreen computer will allow visitors to view a selection of new photos created through this crowdsourcing initiative, encouraging them to think about their own relationship to people in solitary as citizens, artists, and potential collaborators.
All artist installations are included with admission to the historic site. Standard daytime programs, including “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, guided Hands-On History tours, and history exhibits, are also included with admission. Tickets are available online at www.EasternState.org, or at the door subject to availability.
About Photo Requests from Solitary (PRFS):
Photo Requests from Solitary was started in 2009 by Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots coalition advocating for the closure of Tamms Correctional Center, a notorious supermax prison in Illinois. In 2013, the year Tamms was finally shuttered, PRFS became a project of Solitary Watch, a nonprofit watchdog group that raises awareness about the widespread use of solitary confinement. PRFS has been co-directed by artist and advocate Laurie Jo Reynolds (Tamms Year Ten), artist and educator Jeanine Oleson (Parsons School of Design), and journalist Jean Casella (Solitary Watch), who together have expanded the scope of the project to include incarcerated people in California and New York, where they have worked in partnership with local advocates. In bringing the project to Pennsylvania and New Jersey through the Eastern State Penitentiary installation, PRFS will partner with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) on public education and advocacy around the use of solitary confinement and the growing movement for more humane, safe, and effective alternatives.
About Artist Installations at Eastern State:
Since its art program began in 1995, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has welcomed more than 100 artists to install site-specific works throughout its cellblocks. In 2018 there will be 13 artist installations on view during all public hours, including new installations by Rachel Livedalen, Provisional Island, and Photo Requests from Solitary. Artists are chosen for their ability to address Eastern State’s primary themes—including perspectives on the contemporary American criminal justice system and the penitentiary’s fascinating past—with a memorable, thought-provoking approach. All work is created specifically for this National Historic Landmark.
About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The penitentiary is open seven days a week, year round. When purchasing online, admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and children ages 7-12. When purchasing at the door, admission is $16, $14, and $12, respectively. (Not recommended for children under the age of seven.) Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Hands-On History interactive experiences; history exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations. For more information and schedules, the public should call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.EasternState.org.
Artist installations are made possible in part by revenue from Eastern State’s Halloween fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls.
Eastern State also receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.