Photographing Prison Inmates and Their Words of Wisdom

One of the cool things about this video is how it encapsulates the creative process. Commercial photographer Trent Bell was motivated by his personal experiences to produce a series of large-scale portraits of prison inmates, against a backdrop of handwritten letters they wrote to their younger selves. The REFLECT project video walks us through shoot day, post-production, showing, and veiwer reactions. Watch the video and if you find yourself wanting to learn more from Trent, hit up his blog. You can also stalk him on his Facebook page or via his Twitter account.

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©Trent Bell

“In early 2013, commercial photographer Trent Bell was shocked by the news that a friend - an educated professional, a husband, and a father of four children - had been sentenced to thirty-six years in prison. Over the proceeding months, Bell found himself haunted by not only his friend’s bad decisions and loss of freedom, but also moments in his own life when things could have easily taken a bad turn. “There were times when my son would look up and smile at me,” recalls Bell, “and the finality of my friend’s situation would rush into my head and I would hear a cold thin voice say: ‘…there, but for the grace of God, go I…’” Bell, who is known for his architectural photography in publications such as the Conde Nast Traveler, Design New England, and The New York Times, soon conceived of a photo project that would merge large-scale portraits of inmates in the Maine prison system with handwritten letters the convicts composed as though writing to their younger selves. “Our bad choices can contain untold loss, remorse, and regret,” says Bell, “but the positive value of these bad choices might be immeasurable if we can face them, admit to them, learn from them and find the strength to share.” “REFLECT: Convicts’ Letters to Their Younger Selves” is an artistic documentation of choices, consequences, and reflection. Bell’s portraits—along with video documentation by Joe Carter and additional prison guard portraits by Corey Desrochers. for more information visit:” -trentbellphotography-
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©Trent Bell

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Mike Levad's picture

What a powerful project. Thanks for sharing this!

WOW. incredible!

Stephen Vosloo's picture

So well done! love the motivation behind the project.

Paul Stonehouse's picture

Stunning portraits, with true well done.

Amazing project, the only thing I don't like is that half the subjects are not looking at the camera making those pictures less powerful...and breaking the project's unity...

Strangely, it had the opposite effect for me! To me, I read it that those subject didn't feel comfortable making direct eye contact and that said more to me about them and the crimes they committed.

David Vaughn's picture

Damn, this gave me chills. This is what I come to Fstoppers for: great photographs accompanied by compelling context/stories.


Great idea, superb execution. I like how the post production added to the images rather than overtaking the images.