You go to prison only once. The first time. After that, there is no prison. There is no freedom either. Everything is the same.
A. Stasiuk, The Walls of Hebron, 1992
Kamil shared his project with me ages ago but ‘life happened’ and I was unable to publish it until now. Nevertheless, every cloud has a silver lining 😉 It’s a great moment to share Input/Output with you right now as the project will be exhibited as part of DEBUTS 2016 at the FOTOFESTIWAL in Lodz, Poland. The show opens on 9th June and closes on 6th July. If you’re planning to visit the festival or will be in Lodz for another reason, make sure you check out this year’s DEBUTS and Sleszynski’s work.
Input/Output is a series of black-and-white photographs shot on 4×5 film. Majority of images are portraits of prisoners, however, there also are landscape images showing the prison from the outside as well as images of cut-out, hand-written notes by the prisoners.
The idea for the project was born a long time ago. Sleszynski grew up in the neighbourhood of a prison and always wondered who’s inside, why, and what it’s like to be there. This unusual fascination stayed with him until much later, when in 2014 he met a local journalist who used to work with prisoners and cast them in performances. Input/Output might not have been produced if it wasn’t for that important encounter. The photographer worked on the project for several months between 2014 and 2015. He photographed his subjects using a large format camera, which – coincidentally – helped him get the prisoners interested in participating in the project in the first place.
I’m not afraid of anything, maybe only
That I will come back to prison
everything that might be the worst
Getting people to trust me again and starting everything from scratch
lack of acceptance by the society
The combination of portraits, landscapes, and pictures of notes help us piece together the stories of these people. However, it is only our imagination playing up – these images can’t tell us much, can they? We don’t know why these men are in prison in the first place; we can try to read certain characteristics or qualities from their faces but we get nowhere, just like with any other portrait of a person we don’t know.
It is fascinating to see how the prisoners pose for the camera. Some look straight into the camera, and thus into the photographer’s – and our – eyes, while others look away. Some seem very tense and serious but others smile and seem very relaxed. If it wasn’t for the barred windows in the background and our awareness of the context, one would never guess these men are convicts…
On a final note, it is important to remember that photography has a somewhat symbolic meaning in the context of prison and criminology in general. As Sleszynski pointed out in an interview with Pete Brook for Prison Photography, normally, prisoners get photographed twice – first, upon their entry and, secondly, when they leave, having served their sentence. Having a photograph taken marks the beginning and the end of that life-changing period. Being photographed during their stay or participating in an arts project is rather uncommon. One would just hope that such a project would somehow help them get back to a ‘normal life’ once they’re out…