Prison Nation
February 07 - March 08, 2018
  • Deborah Luster, Layla “Roach” Roberts (Inquisitor), from the series Passion Play, 2012–13
    Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
  • © Lucas Foglia
  • © Stephen Tourlentes
  • Sable Elyse Smith, from the book Landscapes & Playgrounds (San Francisco: Sming Sming Books, 2017) © and courtesy the artist
  • Photographer unknown, Prison Rock Band, June 26, 1975; Courtesy Nigel Poor, San Quentin Archive and Haines Gallery, San Francisco
  • Emily Kinni, Untitled, Huntsville, Texas, 2017 © the artist
  • Joseph Rodriguez, At Walden House FOTEP (Female Offender Treatment Employment Program), a young mother holds her son. El Monte, California, 2008; © the artist


Click here to see the full list of Prison Nation programming

Cleveland Public Library, Ohio
October 2018 – January 21, 2019

Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach, Florida
February 5 – March 2, 2019

Albin O. Kuhn Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
August 27 – December 17, 2020

Davis Museum, Wellesley College, Massachusetts
February 4 ‐ June 6, 2021

Most prisons and jails across the United States do not allow prisoners to have access to cameras. At a moment when 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the US, 3.8 million people are on probation, and 870,000 former prisoners are on parole, how can images tell the story of mass incarceration when the imprisoned don’t have control over their own representation? How can photographs visualize a reality that disproportionately affects people of color, and, for many, remains outside of view?

This exhibition coincides with the publication of “Prison Nation,” Aperture magazine’s spring issue organized with the scholar Nicole R. Fleetwood, an expert on art’s relation to incarceration. Addressing the unique role photography plays in creating a visual record of a national crisis, this exhibition and issue are accompanied by a series of six public programs—featuring speakers such as Nigel Poor, Aliya Hana Hussain, Keith Calhoun, Chandra McCormich, Jamel Shabazz, Deborah Luster, Bruce Jackson, Shani Jamila, Jesse Krimes, Sable Elyse Smith, Joseph Rodriguez, and more—all to take place at Aperture Foundation’s gallery.

Incarceration impacts all of us. “Americans, even those who have never been to a prison or had a relative in prison, need to realize that we are all implicated in a form of governance that uses prison as a solution to many social, economic, and political problems,” Fleetwood notes. Empathy and political awareness are essential to creating systemic change—and through Aperture magazine, and the accompanying exhibition and public programming, “Prison Nation” may provoke us to see parts of ourselves in the lives of those on the inside.

Exhibited Artists

Lucas Foglia / Bruce Jackson / Emily Kinni / Jesse Krimes / Jack Lueders-Booth / Deborah Luster / Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun / Zora Murff / Nigel Poor / Joseph Rodriguez / Jamel Shabazz / Sable Elyse Smith / Stephen Tourlentes

Aperture  magazine’s “Prison Nation” issue and the related exhibition and programs are funded, in part, with generous lead support from the Ford Foundation, as well as funding from the Reba Judith Sandler Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Grace Jones Richardson Trust, and the Board of Trustees and Members of Aperture Foundation. Additional public funds are from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.