Some years ago I approached Sir Stephen Tumim, the then Chief Inspectorate of Prisons, about a personal art project I wanted to undertake with lifers in the early stages of their sentence. Stephen was a great believer in reform and art as a source of expression and rehabilitation. Following much discussion and red tape I was finally granted access to Wormwood Scrubs Prison ‘D Wing’. The only high securtity prison in London.
Over the course of one year I conducted Art classes for 10 lifers. Every Monday I would spend the day with them. Although many challenging times lay ahead it also became an incredibly rewarding, educational and life changing experience for all.
The men were understandably apprehensive at first, very distrustful and wary. But over time, as reassurance was built, ‘trust’ developed. Walls broke down, chinks in armour emerged and masks began to peel away. An enlightening series of art projects soon began forming.
The men were asked to create their own mugshot. A mugshot that they felt was more reflective of themselves. I first took their 'mugshots' in the classic front on and side profile pose and then gave them an enlarged B&W print out. All I asked was that they include their number in order to keep with the protocol of a mugshot.
Behind The Mask
Breaking down the mask was always going to be my biggest challenge. But to help them become more aware was the other challenge. How they responded to me, how they responded when surrounded by inmates nearby… All painted very different people. I asked them to think about this and create a mask that reflected who they thought they were or perhaps who they wanted to be. I then photographed them within the prison facilities, wearing their new ‘identities’.