In 2005, artist Alyse Emdur unearthed a photograph of herself posing in front of a tropical beach scene while visiting her older brother in prison. Since discovering this first portrait in her own family album, she invited hundreds of prisoners to send her photographs for inclusion in this collection entitled Prison Landscapes (Four Corners Books, ISBN 978-0956192868, $35), presenting over 100 photographs of prison inmates representing themselves in front of visiting room backdrops. Such backdrops, often painted by talented inmates, are used within the prisons as portrait studios. As inmates and their visitors pose for photos in front of these idealized landscapes they pretend, for a brief moment, that they are someplace else.
Created specifically for escape and self-representation, the paintings of tropical beaches, waterfalls, mountain vistas and cityscapes invite sitters to engage in fantasies of freedom. Prison Landscapes offers viewers a rare opportunity to see America’s incarcerated population, not through the usual lens of criminality, but through the eyes of inmates’ loved ones. The book includes correspondence with prisoners and an interview with prison artist Darrell Van Mastrigt. ❚