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6 August 2011

Workshops in the penitential of Arles, Imprisonment seen from the inside

These photographs are an excellent illustration of the resources people can reveal in situations of severe stress. This is a call for our attention from men deprived of their freedom, men who have a message for us, with educator-photographers Marco Ambrosi and Michel Gasarian acting as intermediaries. Working in black and white and colour respectively, they offered two different approaches aimed at giving the participants the chance to express themselves by taking photographs and then reworking them with image-processing software. This is why, in addition to an exhibition in the penitentiary in Arles, it seemed a good idea to incorporate the results into the Rencontres. These photographs are the outcome of a project undertaken with prison inmates in the prison in Arles. The project was part of a broader educational programme suggested by the prison administration and organised by the community association PREFACE Léo Lagrange, a partner of the GAÏA group.


Apart from the fact of being a photographer, what led me to take on this project was its humanist side. My personal contribution to social change involves photography and I dare to consider myself an ‘art sharing agent’. Well before I knew that these images would be shown at the Rencontres, I challenged the participants with a question: ‘What do you want to say to the outside world?’ Then I established a framework for thinking the question through: ‘Supposing you were invited to show your photos in a gallery and they asked you to sum up in ten photos your feelings and thoughts and what you want to recount of your very different existence?’ Once they had overcome their mistrust, discussion got under way and ideas emerged that began to find expression to in the form of images. We turned our technical limitations into positive resources: the fact of being unable to print in colour gave us the title for the series A Life in Black and White. We did not have the right to include recognisable people in our photos, but I was convinced that the body, that ultimately private territory for each human being, must not be denied: and so the body became a ‘field’ to be written both on and about. We sought out titles for each image, wrote them out by hand—the body again—and put the two together. To round things off, one of the participants summarised all the ideas and discussions in the text that accompanies the exhibition.

Marco Ambrosi

Prints by the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie d’Arles.

Exhibition venue: couvent Saint-Césaire, Rencontres d’Arles 2011.