American photographer Robert Gumpert has been documenting the criminal justice system in San Francisco since 1994. We are delighted to bring his matchless archive of convicts, cops and courthouses to HOST gallery, where it will be exhibited for the first time in the UK.
Gumpert’s project began with an idea to photograph a homicide detective, but quickly expanded to cover numerous other aspects of the criminal justice system. After he exhibited the work in San Francisco in 2000, he thought that was the end of it, until he received a call from the sheriff’s office.
California’s oldest jail was about to close, and for Gumpert, whose photographic roots were planted in the social activism of the 70s, this was a piece of history he felt compelled to document.
“‘Old Bruno’ was built in 1934 as an example of progressive incarceration, but it had become a toxic dump of a place where deputies and prisoners where expelled. Over the years the courts had ordered its closure and finally in August of 2006 everyone moved to the adjacent new Bruno. I documented the old jail, its closing and the opening of the new one,” says Gumpert, who then sought and received permission to continue his photographic quest across six county jails.
As his work progressed, so too did his attitude towards his subjects, the majority of whom were incarcerated men (he also photographed police officers and prison guards). From an ‘us and them’ relationship, his modus operandi evolved to one of participation, as Gumpert conducted audio interviews with everyone he photographed, in a kind of reciprocal exchange: a picture for a story.
About Robert Gumpert
Robert Gumpert has been working as a photographer since 1974, when he documented the coal miners’ strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. Since then he has worked on a series of long-term projects, including studies of the US criminal justice system and emergency health care in the United States.
SOAS Radio Interview with Robert (opens in new window)
13 April – Panel discussion on three different projects made in, around and about jails and prisons, with Robert Gumpert, Edmund Clark and Erwin James.