Women Artists

Jane Evelyn Atwood's new book 'Too much time: women in prison' reviewed

“People often ask how I could pursue such a ‘sad’ subject for so long”

Atwood pictures women prisoners from the US through Western and Eastern Europe, Israel and the former USSR. Her photographs, together with first-hand accounts by inmates, result from nine years photographing inmates at forty different women’s prisons in nine countries. “People often ask how I could pursue such a ‘sad’ subject for so long,” she writes in her preface. “Curiosity was the initial spur. Surprise, shock and bewilderment gradually took over. Rage propelled me along the road.” And with good reason: “I learned that in the United States the female prison population has grown 10.2% annually since 1985 (compared with 6.1% for the male); that almost 80% of incarcerated women have children; that sentences for women are generally longer than those for men—for the same crimes; and that 89% of women are in for non-violent crimes.” A consistently degrading culture emerges from these stark, black and white photographs, further articulated by personal accounts and descriptions of conditions at each prison. Atwood’s pictures document the harsh realities, usually hidden from the outside world, such as segregation at a women’s correctional facility in South Carolina, or female chain gangs working eight-hour shifts on the highways of Arizona at temperatures of 110° F. She records appalling prison practices and words and pictures make her overall conclusion inevitable, if unacceptable: “The strategy used in women’s prisons now is one of humiliation rather than rehabilitation.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Jane Evelyn Atwood, Too much time: women in prison (Phaidon Press, London, 2000), 194 pp, 145 b/w ills, £29.95, $49.95 (hb) ISBN 0714839736'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 105 July 2000