Paul Schiek has constructed an interesting photobook based on found “mug shots”, an interesting selection of vernacular photographs collected by Mike Brodie at an abandoned Georgia prison. These identification head shots have isolated from their context as prisoner information, thus in a similar vein to Chris Crites “Mug Shots”, the edits results in opening and expanding the potential narrative.
Even for those who have not experienced incarnation, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that prisons are mean and hostile environment and those inside are constantly fighting for basic survival. The portrait of the man with the lingering black eye is a testimonial to the difficult conditions. Thus when facing the camera, does the mask drop to reveal the person in front of the camera or is it essential to maintain a guarded presence, as though to let one’s guard down even momentarily is to show weakness? As the photographer is anonymous, it may be that the photographer is also an inmate as many of the operational chores within prisons are performed by the inmates to keep operating cost down. Or possibly the person on the other side of the camera is a feared guard? We don’t know but it is intriguing to consider.
The one gatefold includes a man who has a sad and soulful look as though he might be one of those who might have been abused by the others in the prison. Befitting Schiek has flanked this portrait with two other male portraits, men that have a hardened and unflinching gaze. The resulting gatefold is a sad narrative as to the possible conditions in these hellish and forbidding places for the damned.
Vince Aletti writes in the book’s introduction “Their anonymity invites speculation.. a fantasy to fill in the blanks. They’re the men pulp fiction was written for and about; the meatheads, the fall guys, the sidekicks, the bruisers, the rogues, the heartbreakers, the cuckolds. Schiek says he selected and sequenced the portraits in a way of evoking what he calls “the American male stench”….sharp and pungent.
The resulting found photographs exhibit much abuse and wear as the result of repeated band handling, metaphoric to the lives of the men who stood in front of the lens. These are not photographs that have been framed and cherished. They reflect a used commodity during at time in which all parties would just as soon wish had never existed and resulting in memories that are best described as bad nightmares.
As a book object, this is a stiff cover with perfect bound binding and includes one gatefold. Regretfully also similar to the perfect binding of Crites “Mug Shots” in which the limited readability of the book’s interior contents is vexing. The introductory essay is by Vince Aletti and the Georgia prison photographs were found by Mike Brodie during his travels.