Photography is not commonplace in America's jails. However, an article recently published in the Greenfield Recorder reports on photography courses given to inmates in Massachusetts and the reactions of the students.
From the original article posted, it seems that the inmates were mostly making creative composites in Photoshop, which sounds like a decent lesson in using layers to create fine art. It’s reasonable to wonder whether the classes contain any instruction in business aspects of photography, the lack of which is a major deficiency in most liberal arts college programs. Photography classes (as with most professional arts classes) should educate students in technical skills and business skills. In the real world, you could even argue that business skills provide the more crucial foundation of a photographer’s livelihood.
The inmate students are taught on Nikon Cameras and Mac computers. Assuming the students aren't familiar with both Mac and PC operating systems, it might be more realistic to teach them on PCs. According to PrisonPolicy.org, jailed inmates have an average annual income of $19,185 prior to incarceration, 41 percent lower than their non-incarcerated peers. That's hardly a salary one can afford a Mac computer on, let alone a DSLR camera system.
It’s always challenging to weigh correctional costs against social benefits, but this investment in photography eduction for inmates seems to be potentially a worthwhile one. A great follow-through to the program would be to provide released inmates with basic cameras and editing tools. It can already be difficult for ex-cons to find work, let alone afford the equipment needed to start their own business. If inmates were to show good grades in their courses and a genuine commitment to pursuing a photography business, maybe they should be given a provisional chance through loans or a well-regulated program.
Having a creative outlet has the potential to be therapeutic and constructive for people, especially people trying to get their lives straightened out. From the quotes of the students listed in the article, it appears that many of them have found inspiration in a new passion, which of course is a positive for those who’ve had trouble with the law.
Do you believe photography can be a therapeutic asset as well as a professional asset? Do you think such classes can be useful for inmates moving on into the working world? Please share comments and opinions below.
Lead image by Les Haines, used under Creative Commons.