Through photographic and written collaboration, I aspire to portray two specific settings: spaces that one cannot physically leave and spaces that one cannot physically access. After having carefully read hundreds of online profiles of prisoners looking for pen pals,
I have started to correspond with a group of inmates serving life sentences in American prisons. In my introduction letter, I asked them if they were interested in collaborating with me via mail correspondence to create a series of images together through specific questions: the descriptions of the spaces in which they live and those they are longing for and dreaming about.
The book Wall+Paper
is a collection of these exchanges on paper. By weaving together curated fragments of the letters received and the images sent, multiple voices emerge to form micro-conversations between all participants. Drawing a poetical statement and/or a map of these ambiguous institutional spaces, this project is not an attempt to ‘break’ the thick wall of the prison nor to depict the disturbing American mass incarceration statistics, it is rather an attempt to trigger curiosity from all sides, to activate spaces that are often invisible or overlooked, and to explore themes of displacement and memory. A number of the photographs I sent to my collaborators were selected from a personal archive of images taken in various locations and time periods–often taken as diaristic note-to-self to remember the strangeness of a site or a situation. Dug out of their hibernation or latent state in hidden numerous digital folders and sub-folders, they are given a metaphorical second life here in echo to my collaborators’ written contributions.
The project was initiated during a three-month residency at Visual Studies Workshop
(Rochester, NY) in the fall of 2014 and I was awarded a Project Grant to Visual Artists from the Canada Council for the Arts
in 2015 to continue developing the project. The book Wall+Paper
is being published and distributed by Publication Studio Hudson
(NY). All the profits from selling these books will be sent to the collaborators and/or donated to organizations working on prisoner rights and/or reinvested in organizing events connected to the project.