See Beyond Walls
They are Ainārs, Dāvis, Dzmitry, Emīls, Ilja, Ivo, Ivo, Nils, Oskars and Rainers. They are between 16 and 21 years old and live at the Cēsis Juvenile Detention Center (CAIN) in Latvia. We worked together in January and February 2018, I spoke about photography in weekend workshops and gave to each of them a simple analog camera and two films, they photographed their daily life, focusing on content, not technical skill. I did the same and at the same time, I took portraits of them in locations within the prison they chose themselves. Then I asked them to name a place dear to them outside the prison walls, and travelled through Latvia to photograph landscapes that the young men couldn’t visit themselves.
Through the images, we learnt about each other. Some were eager to share, some less. I did not want to know why they were incarcerated. My idea was to bring them a kind of freedom through the camera’s viewfinder; not to remind them once more of the crime committed. It seemed a heavy burden to carry at an age when you should be building your future.
When we begun the project, I expected it to be a collaboration between the detainees and myself. However, I soon realized there was a third partner involved – the prison itself. Perhaps naively, I had not expected to face censorship, but any closed institution enforces its own rules. New ones appeared as the project progressed. I had to develop each film within the center’s walls. The images created by the participants were scrutinized closely by the security staff – I was ordered to alter them and remove the identities of other detainees, as well as details of the environment and staff. The tool provided to alter the photographs was a knife, in which CAIN was engraved. At this moment, our work seemed irreversibly destroyed. However, the alteration of the photographs – a physical imprint of the prison environment – acted as a symbolic embodiment of the violence and control of incarceration. The three visions of one closed environment ultimately produce a more complete picture.