Pictures from a Drawer
Prison and the Art of Portraiture
By Bruce Jackson
Temple University Press, Paperback, 9781592139491, 204pp.
Publication Date: March 2009
List Price: $35.95*
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"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