Inmate Laborers, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, 2002
This photograph was made on the first of three visits to Angola in 2002 and 2003. An officer was assigned to drive me around the 18,000 acre grounds of the penitentiary. Most of the land is farmed, with inmates and draft horses providing the labor. Facilities at Angola include a cemetery, a radio station, a chapel, a draft horse breeding barn, two commissaries, and housing for 250 employees. Angola's 5,000 inmates are housed in a variety of units ranging from minimum security dormitories to maximum security Camp J, where inmates are on lockdown 23 hours per day. The death row unit has a lethal injection chamber. 83 percent of the inmates at Angola are serving life sentences.
As we drove along, I spotted a crew of inmates marching single file to the fields flanked by guards mounted on horseback. I asked the officer to drive ahead of them so that I could set up my 5x7 camera and tripod in time to photograph the inmates as they passed me. I jumped out of the van, calculating the exposure in my head as I ran through the tilled field, leaping over rows of crops. The crew was moving along at a fast clip, so I had less than a minute to set up the heavy view camera, focus and frame my picture, close the shutter, insert the film holder, and pull the dark slide. Using two trees as landmarks, I composed the picture so that I would know exactly when the crew was in my frame. I had only a single exposure of 1/250 second at f/16 to get it right. A month later, I developed a near-perfect negative.
– Joel Pickford
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