Monumental collection of photographs by Alyse Emdur of prison inmates representing themselves in front of visiting room backdrops. Such backdrops, often painted by inmates, are used within the prisons as portrait studios. As inmates and their visitors pose for photos in front of these idealized landscapes they pretend, for a brief moment, that they are someplace else. The photographs are given to these visitors as gifts to take home and remember the faces of their loved ones while they are incarcerated.
Prison Landscapes explores this little known and largely physically inaccessible genre of painting and portraiture seen only by inmates, visitors, and prison employees. Created specifically for escape and self-representation, the idealized paintings of tropical beaches, fantastical waterfalls, mountain vistas, and cityscapes invite sitters to perform fantasies of freedom.
Prison Landscapes offers viewers a rare opportunity to see Americas incarcerated population, not through the usual lens of criminality, but through the eyes of inmates loved ones. The collection was inspired by a photograph I found of myself at age five posing in front of a tropical beach scene while visiting my brother in prison. Since discovering this first portrait in my own family album in 2005, I have invited hundreds of prisoners to send me photographs for inclusion in this collection.