Poignant Photos of the Outside World Requested by Inmates in Solitary Confinement


The number of prisoners in solitary confinement in the US is notoriously slippery, but the currently accepted figure is something in the region of 25,000. Some of them have been in there for decades, and there’s an ongoing debate about whether extended solitary confinement constitutes cruel and usual punishment — or, indeed, torture.

A new project called Photo Requests from Solitary has allowed prisoners held in isolation at the Tamms supermax prison in Illinois to request images from the outside world — the program posts requests on its website for photographers to fulfill, and some of the resultant pictures are going on display at Brooklyn Bridge Park this weekend. The images are poignant and moving, and if nothing else, they serve as a reminder of the casual brutality of the US prison system. Click through to see a selection of pictures and the requests that inspired them (and for a whole lot more art “inspired” by the experience of prison, go here).

Photo credit: Laurie Jo Reynolds and Chris X

“I would like my own picture done with an alternate background from the IDOC picture. I have no pictures of myself to give my friends and family. This would mean a great deal to me… If you can place my picture on another background. Nothing too much please. Something simple like a blue sky with clouds or a sunset in the distance would be fine.”

Photo credit: Lloyd Degrane

“A picture of the stone archway in the Back of the Yards neighborhood located at 40th + Exchange St; between Halsted and Racine st. on the South Side. It’s the last remaining thing from the Union Stockyards… I use[d] to climb up on this structure as a kid.”

Photo credit: Jeanine Oleson

“My mother standing in front of a mansion, or big castle with a bunch of money on the ground. Or if you can’t do that, than substitution is a big mansion or castle with a bunch of money in front of it and a black Hummer parked in front of it.”

Photo credit: Karen Rodriguez

“I would like a photographer to capture the image of a little boy and girl, sitting side by side, on a piano bench, the two of them playing together, with a single bright red rose on the piano keys.”

Photo credit: Claire Pentecost

“It’ll be great to get a picture of the Chicago skyline at night, with all the big buildings (Willis Tower, etc.) and lakefront. Really I would just like pictures of the city, the X-mas tree downtown, Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park the places people come to Chicago to see.”

Photo credit: Stephanie Barber

“A lovesick clown: holding a old fashioned feathered pen: as if writing a letter: from the waist up: in black and white. As close up as possible: as much detail as possible: & the face about 4 inches big.”

Photo credit: Lindsay Blair Brown

“I would like to see the downtown Chicago or the lake of Chicago it will bring me happiness to see a real nice picture of the downtown. Please! A good place to eat or too You know! Nice cars! I been lockup for 17 long year!”

Photo credit: Sun Woo

“I would love a photograph of a woman setting by a lake fishing, with an empty chair next to her, with a cooler of beer. And in the empty chair have a sign with FreeBird on it! And have a Harley Davidson motorcycle in the background!”

Photo credit: John Henley

“I would like a photograph of Madison and Ashland looking West towards the United Center, and if you could, I would like a full frontal view of the Michael Jordan statue in front of the United Center.”

Photo credit: Shannon Lee

“At 66 yrs. of age I try to use a little humor. I want a picture of a trash can with the lid half off + on and 2 eyes peeking out of the half open lid as the trash can is rolling down the hill toward an incinerator with the caption: ‘I seem to be picking up speed I must be headed towards a bright future.'”