Pete Brooks is an independent writer and curator, mainly focusing on prisons, and he uses photography as a key way to talk, inform and debate the issues revolving around prisons. Coventry University were lucky enough to have him not only come in but to also give a workshop. I went to both the talk and the first workshop of the day.
Prior to this, I researched a little into who Brooks is, and one of the best things on his website is “I am not a photographer”. He seemed to be a person who gets straight to the point. He deals mainly with American prisons because they are so big and you can see the issues more obviously in such a tight packed and inhumane place. He has also worked for Wired magazine, Vantage and Reading the pictures, all of which I am huge fans of. He has a huge portfolio of some many exhibitions and debates he’s curated, all the talks he’s given and his reports and essays, which have caught the attention of many people.
When I actually met Brooks, he was completely different to the person portrayed from my research. He was this Lancaster teddy bear who the more and more he talk, the more goodness came out of him and you could really tell that he had good intentions for providing a better life for prisoners. He had a presentation, which he went through that explained the facts that showed how disgusting the prison system is. I was surprised by how much capitalism the world has, we all know its there but the statistics really emphasis this. He also introduced us to new photographs; these were all completely new to me. And there was a couple that really stood out. I was amazed by the range of topic that were explored that weren’t your typical prison photography, like one who had worked with prisoners and asked them if they could have one photograph what would it be, then he went on to take this image and give it back to the prisoner. Brooks exposed us to a range of these photographers from the 80’s to the present day, black and white portraits to controversial colours. He’s definitely broadened my photographic knowledge. After the talk, he then told us that this is his last year working, studying and giving knowledge to people on prisons, this made me excited, as I want to know what other topics he is going to explore and uncover.
After the talk, some of us then booked into to take part of a workshop. These weren’t many, so it was really good as we were able to take part in conversations about anything to him. He really made it sound like a bad version of Orange is the New Black, and it really emphasise how we should be taking images for a reason and for change. The workshop was splitting off into threes and getting put with an artist, of which we had no knowledge. Ours was a female photographer who created these beautiful, almost like daguerreotype images, which the inmates could give to a loved one. These prisoners could be shown however they wanted, one was in a bunny costume, one was a cowboy and then there were more abstract portraits. The other two teams had a female photographer who took landscape images of how the prisons look in an everyday town, whether or not they stood out or in fact, as many did, look normal. Then there was a photographer who the last group got, who got close to a mother and son whom the mother was addicted to cocaine and her images showed the cycle of the prison system. We came together as a big group along with Pete to discuss the images in more depth and really pull them apart. I had such an interesting experience, and it’s really opened my eyes to a completely new political and purposeful type of photography. I’m so glad I went to both and it’s really helped my current work have a meaning of feminism, and I’m beginning to have a confidence with making my concept stronger. Pete also gave us the ‘Cruel and Unusual’ magazine, which he told us to save because one day it should be worth a couple of pennies! But it’s a really detailed magazine all about photography and has some great topics so I’m thankful that I can receive this limited edition magazine!
Check out Brook’s here:
Or keep in touch with his twitter, which he is active in: