Harsh realities of incarceration explored
The David Filderman Gallery, located on the ninth floor of the Hofstra University Axinn Library, is currently shining a spotlight on the epidemic of an inhumane prison system in a new exhibition “Hidden in Sight: Photographing Incarceration.” At the reception for the exhibit on Sept. 13, the Hofstra University Museum also unveiled its new log and new name Hofstra University Museum of Art.
Liena Gurevich, associate professor of sociology and director of criminology at Hofstra University, led the remarks with part of her essay. “Most of the people incarcerated are people of color, and that has to do with our law enforcement practices and how institutional racism has infiltrated all the organizations and institutions of criminal justice,” she said. “We don’t like talking about racism. We also don’t like talking about people who have committed crimes. We can’t forget that they are human beings and that many of the people incarcerated are innocent, or they have made a mistake and they are fully reformable. In this society, we don’t even try.”
More than two million people are incarcerated in the United States, the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world. The percentage of women and people of color that make up part of these two million is staggering. Three artists have been picked to represent the life of prisoners: Danny Lyon, Jessica Earnshaw and Isadora Kosofsky. “They are activists, artists. They are photojournalists, and Danny Lyon we can think of in this exhibition as the grandfather of documentary photography. These two more contemporary artists, Jessica Earnshaw and Isadora Kosofsky, are following in the groundwork that he and people of his generation started by taking time with their subject matter, making relationships and having a mutual respect between subject and photographer,” said Kristen Rudy, the collections manager and exhibition curator.
Earnshaw photographed four prisoners in Maine: Albert, 82; Robert, 70; Norma, 76; and Steven, 63. Norma is seen as a grandmother by the younger, more traumatized women. She was incarcerated after being accused of hiring a hitman to kill her husband. There are many stories like hers, which is one reason why Earnshaw chose to focus on elderly prisoners. On the other hand, Kosofsky focused on children and their struggles growing up with their parents in jail. These photographs, which span more than 50 years, show the reality of life behind bars for inmates and their families.
Mayor Don Ryan of Hempstead and 13th District New York State Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine were also in the audience. When asked how else we can put a spotlight on this issue, Mayor Ryan said, “... we could treat individuals who have a health problem as a health issue and not a criminal issue so we can get individuals into the mainstream and be productive members of society. I think right now, too often we treat them in the wrong light and it creates situations which are uncomfortable for them, their families and actually the entire community.”
Photo © Danny Lyon, New York & Magnum Photos, New York