Multistory recently exhibited David Goldblatt’s Ex-Offenders at the Scene of Crime at two UK prisons: HMP Manchester and HMP Birmingham. The exhibition explores crime through photographs and life stories of ex-offenders.
David met with people who have committed crime, or been accused of it, and punished. It was important to him that he met them when they were on parole or free, not when they were in prison. He photographed them not in a re-enactment of their crime, but in stillness at the scene of crime. He also recorded whatever they wished to tell him of their life to include with their photograph.
We worked closely with David and each prison to design an exhibition accessible for prisoners and staff and that was suitable to the environment. The exhibition is made up of black and white photographs and life stories in the words of the ex—offenders. Mounted on white foam board, the exhibition comes with an accompanying leaflet with more information and questions such as ‘has the exhibition made you think about your own story?’; ‘what photographs, if any, are important to you?’.
I, in fear, humiliation, helplessness and anger at hold-ups threatening force and knives and guns, have asked: ‘Who is doing this to us? Who are you? Are you monsters? Are you ordinary people – if there are such? How did you come to this? What is your life? Could you be my children? Could I be you?’ David Goldblatt
Multistory developed education resources with HMP Manchester, and delivered a workshop and talk with David Goldblatt, which culminated in the prisoners becoming exhibition tour guides. At the exhibition preview, prisoners, staff and Multistory guests saw the work together for the first time. The exhibition was displayed exclusively for staff and prisoners at HMP Manchester in the Multi-Faith room for two weeks in total and at the time of writing is still on display on K-wing of HMP Birmingham.
Andrew Benain, currently in HMP Birmingham, said, “We are truly privileged to have David exhibit his work here. As human beings we need to talk to each other more, and understand each other. As individuals most of us are only concerned with our own issues. We should understand each other so we can build bridges.”
The Governor of HMP Manchester said, “This exhibition shows that there are real people behind crime – but if a man wants to change, we will help him,” he says.
On 22 May, David talked about the project at an open event at West Bromwich Town Hall and was interviewed by the National Prison Radio – broadcast to over 100 UK prisons. David is not a social worker or a journalist; he seeks to make photographs and tell life stories that might deepen our understanding of people and their circumstances – to see people who have committed crimes not as the sudden forces and threats that many have experienced, nor as names in news reports, but as individuals.
The project culminates in Ex-offenders at Scene of Crime, a new book published by Steidl at the end of 2017.