Photo Requests From Solitary
What Would Someone in Solitary Confinement Want to See?
You can view all of the hundreds of requests and photos received to date, on our website photorequestsfromsolitary.org. If you are interested in filling a request, please use the “Open” filter to view all unfulfilled requests, choose a request, and upload your photos.
You can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at @Photos2Solitary to stay updated.
Photo Requests from Solitary (PRFS) is a project that invited men and women held in long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined, and then found an artist to make the image. The astonishing range of requests received includes “the freestanding columns at the Great Temple of Amun, Karnak,” “A blue rose, cut with all its leaves remaining, held in a crystal/clear vase or a hand and if possible, the Perseids meteor shower as a background,” “a gray and white ‘Warmblood’ horse rearing in weather cold enough to see its breath,” and “Myself with a blue sky.” Taken together, these requests provide an archive of the hopes, memories, and interests of people who live in extreme isolation, surrounded by gray walls.
PRFS offers a new way for people to think about solitary confinement and the people who endure it. Viewers are able to see not what incarcerated people see, but what they envision—the vivid and varied images that all minds produce, independently of senses and circumstances. Capturing these images as photographs, which can then be sent back to the people who conceived them, completes an artistic collaboration that acknowledges the shared creativity and humanity of individuals on both sides of the prison walls.
While serving as a form of direct support to people in isolation, PRFS has also helped to bring the growing debate over the U.S.’s use of solitary confinement to a broad audience. It seeks to engage viewers in what has long been an important—but largely hidden—domestic human rights issue in order to catalyze advocacy and change.
The Photo Requests from Solitary project was initiated in 2009 by Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots coalition of artists, advocates, family members and men formerly incarcerated in Tamms Correctional Center in southern Illinois, which was shuttered in 2013 after years of opposition. In 2013, the project became a collaboration between artist and advocate Laurie Jo Reynolds (Tamms Year Ten, University of Illinois), artist and educator Jeanine Oleson (Rutgers University), and journalist Jean Casella (Solitary Watch), hosted by Solitary Watch. The project that year expanded to California and New York, where it continued to fill requests and using the project to support local campaigns to limit the use of solitary confinement.
In New York, the project partnered with the #HALTSolitary campaign. A group of photos taken for men and women in New York’s state prisons was featured, for the first time, in an exhibit at the Legislative Office Building in Albany in May 2017. In September 2017, the same exhibit had a two-week run at Photoville in Brooklyn (Press Release), and toured to sites around the state. From April to July 2019, the Brooklyn Public Library hosted the first Photo Requests from Solitary exhibition to feature requests and photos from all five states where PRFS has worked.
In 2018, Photo Requests from Solitary was awarded an artist installation grant by Eastern State Penitentiary, the nearly 190-year-old prison in Philadelphia that was the birthplace of solitary confinement and is now an historic site and exhibition space. In May 2018, a new Photo Requests from Solitary exhibit opened in two adjoining cells at Eastern State, featuring a selection of existing requests and photos, plus new requests from New Jersey and Pennsylvania state prisons, as well as the project’s first dedicated website. In its first venture into crowd-sourcing, Photo Requests from Solitary invited visitors to fulfill requests, encouraging them to think about their own relationship to people in solitary, as citizens, artists, and potential collaborators. The Eastern State installation can still be viewed today.
While we continue to fulfill remaining open requests and use the project for education and advocacy, Photo Requests from Solitary is not accepting new requests or taking on new states.
To learn more about the project or to take a photograph for someone in solitary confinement, visit photorequestsfromsolitary.org.
For media and other inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views They Cannot See, Annabelle Williams, American Prospect, December 12, 2020
Photo Requests from Solitary, Alexis Lambrou, NYU Art+Education Certification, November 30, 2020
Beyond These Bars: Photo Requests from Solitary, O! The Oprah Magazine, March 2020
Sending Photos to Solitary Confinement So Prisoners ‘Don’t Lose Their Humanity,’ ITV News, February 12, 2020
Photo Requests from Solitary Confinement, BBC News, December 30, 2019
Is There Such a Thing as an Activist Photographer? Colin Pantall, Witness, August 28, 2019
What Do People in Solitary Confinement Want to See? Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker, July 8, 2019
Artists and Prisoners Imagine Life Beyond Solitary Confinement, Britt Stigler, All Arts, June, 21, 2019
Visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary Can Create Art for Prisoners in Solitary Confinement, Sinead Cummings, Philly Voice, April 16, 2018
Congregants Push for Prison System Reform with Solitary Confinement Art Exhibit, Amelia Camurati, The Island Now, January 16, 2018
Photos for Prisoners in Solitary Confinement on Exhibit, David M. Schwartz, Newsday, January 15, 2018
What People Locked Up for 23 Hours a Day Yearn to See, Victoria Law, Gothamist, September 15, 2017
These Images Capture the Dream Life of Prisoners in Solitary Confinement, Hanna Kozlowska, Quartz, September 15, 2017
Photo Requests from Solitary (interview with Jeanine Oleson), Mia Lewis, Hammer Museum News, November 30, 2016
“Photo Requests from Solitary,” chapter in Public Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, MIT Press, November 25, 2016
Photography for Solitary Prisoners, Rachel Otwell, NPR Illinois, October 19, 2015
Photo Requests from Prisoners in Solitary Confinement, Vice, October 8, 2015
Photographs Connect Inmates in Solitary Confinement to Outside World, Megan Fincher, National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2014
Ending Solitary Confinement Through Viral Art, Rhett Jones, Animal New York, December 30, 2013
Supermax Prisoners In Solitary Were Given One Photo Request – This Is What They Asked For, Justine Sharrock, Buzzfeed, November 18, 2013
My Childhood Home, My Mom with a Mansion… and J-Lo’s Derriere, Louise Boyle, The Daily Mail, September 19, 2013
Photo Requests from Inmates in Solitary, Hamilton Nolan, Gawker, September 17, 2013
Photo Requests from Solitary, Al Jazeera, September 30, 2013
Prisoners in Solitary Confinement Requested Photos Of The Outside World — And Here They Are, Priscilla Frank, Huffington Post, September 20, 2013
Banner photo: Manhattan Skyline, by Frank Jump for David (New York)