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Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture Paperback – March 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In a stimulating introductory essay accompanying this collection of extraordinary photographic portraits, Jackson (The Story Is True) recalls visiting in 1975 Arkansas's Cummins state prison farm, where an inmate invited him to fill his pockets with about 200 discarded prisoner identification photographs, likely dating from 1915 to 1940.... Shrewdly, Jackson balances their remarkable refurbishment with a strong sense of provenance (retaining staple holes and creases, for example), while eschewing any attempt to connect each haunting image with a particular crime or narrative. Given unprecedented and (from the perspective of their original purpose) utterly unintended scope, the human dimensions of these images grant each an irreversible dignity for the first time, while simultaneously taking on the essential characteristic Jackson names: they become 'mirrors' of ourselves." —Publishers Weekly


"I'm intrigued by the portraits of these prisoners. These pictures all speak to me of another time not only because of the way the people are dressed, but also because of the direct simplicity and innocence of the images. Today, when so many photographs are altered and manipulated, the honesty and reality of these images make them stand out as powerful and true portraiture for all time."
Mary Ellen Mark

Book Description

A remarkable collection of prison “portraiture” photos

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press (March 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592139493
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592139491
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.6 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,282,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Richard Sanders on February 18, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm a professional fine art photographer (Dick Sanders) who specializes in street portraits of strangers, and I was interested in this book because they are, essentially, portraits of strangers. Almost all of them are extraordinary. Much can be learned about successful portraiture from them.
Over the years, I've developed a method of working with strangers, and what's most important, in the one to five minutes my subjects will give me on the street, is that I get them to be natural and passive, and specifically not present a posed face. This is the only way to get a transcendant portrait that can stand for broader humanity and become timeless. The great portrait painter David Hockney said, "The best portraits suggest a longer period of time." That's accurate. If the portrait is a reaction to the moment, it won't tell a larger story of life or allow us to see ourselves in it.
Pictures From A Drawer are portraits of prisoners, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s. They are photos for the prison's files. The prisoners are passive, resigned to their current fate, and they have nothing but time. They have little reason to pose because they have not commissioned the sittings. Yes, they may still make this face or that face, and we see these efforts in the faces of a few, but for the most part they have yielded to the photographer. The photographer controls which faces are recorded because he or she chooses when to trip the shutter. In my own work, I am well aware that I choose this moment, while also guiding my sitters into what I want to see, or more accurately -- feel. This is key: Great portraiture is not a collaboration between photographer and sitter, but an interpretation by the photographer. It's about what the photographer wants to say about life.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book in our local library (new books shelf): These are mostly single mugshots (almost all from the front). They may have been done by other inmates and they go back at least to the 1930's U.S.. What I find attractive in this book is the diversity of the shots from such earlier times; I realize that Walker Evans and others have captured the faces of suffering throughout the ages in the U.S. But the black faces were missing; this is a book that treats everybody equally and it is about a third white, a third black, and a third woman. Further, the people standing before the camera were looking into a different destiny than a sharecropper, a rural doctor, etc. i.e., there is an innocence (even in the face of a convict) that one may not have before a professional photographer.

If you also practice drawing portraits; this is truly a beautiful book.
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