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Trip to Kaunas Correctional Facility

March 5, 2014

On 28th October 2013 we went to the facility to outline our ambitious plans. We’re very happy to report that they were welcomed with enthusiasm and open arms.

We photographed 39 young inmates, all of whom bravely volunteered to be part of this life changing process. 90 % of them had never been photographed before. So all ready the purpose of the project, to change lives, is already having an effect.

These photographs will be taken to New York to JR’S studio to be turned into A0 size posters, as seen recently at Somerset House in London, as in Paris and New York respectively.

We will return to Lithuania in April 2014 to paste these posters ‘inside’ on the facility’s barren walls. They will act as an inspiration highlighting the fact that these young men and boys need art in their lives. This being the simple ethos we are trying to impact upon our Central European cousins.Photographic Sessions inside Kaunas Correctional.Facility.

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Photographic Sessions inside Kaunas Correctional.Facility.

October 2013

The Prison Gymnasium Photographic Session.

No pommel horse, no kettle bells, parallel or high bars. None of the power-lifting paraphernalia used to man-up. Walking tall in a place without carpets requires a 24hr regime of self-control, a vigilance against the ‘seepage’ of the ‘the self. He steers the ‘Will’, removing the memory of ‘the outside’, the crime committed.
‘Killing Time’ is learnt. No trophies line the shelves for unexpected feats of self-transformation, no certificates doled-out. I look-on as 39 young men take a stab at ‘Selfdom’, boys who have rarely been thanked by an adult, drop their self-sabotaging poses of defiance, disgruntlement. 39 young men dressed in the urban codified sportswear that’s become a theme for social delinquency in the public imagination. Unpaid advocates of Nike and Adidas file-in, take-up their positions, perch along wooden bench’s.

There’s sure to be a horizontal hierarchy in front of me but I couldn’t possibly identify it. They wait their turn to be tortured by ‘the lens. I asked myself “which one tortured by lighter-fuel? Who torched the bus shelter, who ‘answered back’ once too often. Who nicked the boxes of ‘Red Bull’ from the Mafia-run pole-dancing club? Which one’s entirely innocent of a crime?

Donatas Stankevici sets-up his makes-shift studio, lights, umbrellas etc, the stuff of the photographer – Lights – Action. I am nervous, jittery. Our first ‘subject’ lurches on his heels, looks back at his group, askance at the Prison Officers who keep a low presence on our request. He matches the mockery aimed at him with a stylised shrug. I shake his hand whilst asking him to remove his laminated Security ID badge. A dismantling of his persona begins, reminding me that whilst the Pope acquires authority by robing-up, by draping himself in holy vestments the ID badge drains power, self-worth, leaving no option than to adopt a ‘surly indifference. I saw with my own eyes as ‘surly indifference’ become something else. Not once but 39 times. This was Selfdom without the curious pathological narcissism of ‘the selfie. Every photographer flirts a bit with his subject (the boys last photograph would have been the Police mugshot (so there’d be no monkey business there) Donatas was no exception – cajoling, teasing, doing-a-Bailey, talking, shooting, talking again, allowing the boy to handle the camera, to state his preferred image, allowing him to choose his own image, maybe a first for the boys. A pelvic half-twist, an unbuttoned informality, flex of the finger, the unbutton repeated 39 times – almost competitive – Each boy becoming MORE adept at shape-shifting, more ‘free’. Each boy slouched towards a kind of liberation. Simple. All portraits are proof of vulnerability, mutability etc.

Theses boys made choices on this day, there own choices, these 39 uniquely so.

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