When I started this work, I was interested in the mysterious culture of a prison community. One of the most interesting aspects of the work is being able to see the visible change, or lack of change, that becomes obvious when viewing portraits of the same prisoner made years apart. I find those images exciting. I would like to claim that with this work I am picking a fight with gang violence, or the decisions made concerning race in our prison system, or any of the large number of problems resulting from putting people in prison. My real interest is more selfish. What is it like to be an inmate in Parchman Penitentiary? What happens to an individual there? How does it happen? How do the prisoners feel about their circumstances? I hope others can use the work I do for more lofty purposes. I feel ok providing them with information.
The photographs in my book are of inmates shown in as many aspects of their daily life as I could manage. Those images are juxtaposed against their stories, written in their own hand. I spent a lot of time listening to the stories these men told me about their life, both in prison and before they landed there. The stories were often moving and powerful. I made a promise that their words would never be altered, edited, or taken out of context. That is the reason you will see photographs of their handwriting in the book, just the way they presented it to me.
I think the idea of making a photography book is the ultimate goal of most documentary or fine art photographers. After all, I was introduced to my photography heroes through the books they made. When considering how to do my own book, I considered that I made my most successful images when I assigned myself a project. Over the years I have assigned myself several. The assignments are usually based on what is going on in my life, and what I am curious enough about that I will stay interested for a long time. The photographs I made at Parchman represented the first body of work I had made that I believed was strong enough to convince a publisher to spend their money to produce a book. The book is called Parchman, and was published by University Press of Mississippi in October 2016.