Prison Images

by Harun Farocki



A film composed of images from prisons. Quotes from fiction films and documentaries as well as footage from surveillance cameras. A look at the new control technologies, at personal identification devices, electronic ankle bracelets, electronic tracking devices.

The cinema has always been attracted to prisons. Today's prisons are full of video surveillance cameras. These images are unedited and monotonous; as neither time nor space is compressed, they are particularly well-suited to conveying the state of inactivity into which prisoners are placed as a punitive measure. The surveillance cameras show the norm and reckon with deviations from it. Clips from films by Genet and Bresson. Here the prison appears as a site of sexual infraction, a site where human beings must create themselves as people and as workers.

In Un Chant d'amour by Jean Genet, the guard looks in on inmates in their cells and sees them masturbating. The inmates are aware that they are being watched and thus become performers in a peep show. The protagonist in Bresson's Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé turns the objects of imprisonment into the tools of his escape. These topoi appear in many prison films. In newer prisons, in contrast, contemporary video surveillance technology aims at demystification.

(Text by Harun Farocki)


Harun Farocki was a German filmmaker, critic, theorist and curator.



01


"They pass by the guards in a double row. After following, it is perceived if they obey or resist. These images are from a movie or a series of images from the 1920s in Germany. Archived with the title 'on the sidelines of the road'".

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

02

 
"The parade of the prisoners suggests a procession, a military parade, a triumphal march. The camera through which they pass assumed the place of God, the king and the chief of the army”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.


03


"In this film by Jean Genet the guard observes the cells, and observes the prisoners' sexual lives. Although they behave as if they were alone, the prisoners are aware that he is watching them. As women in the peep-shows. Prison is a place of prohibitions, secrets and transgressions. Of the desired and imagined”. 

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

04


"The prisoners in cell 131 resist to be observed. They cover the metal door of their cell with a mattress. The guards can’t allow it. Video cameras multiply the perspective of control. His cold eye must illustrate the prison, demystify it”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

05


"This film clearly adopts the point of view of a prisoner, and not clearly the point of view of the guards. He has to reinvent techniques. He has to turn the spoon into a lever, handle, hammer or screwdriver. This remember the history of tools: this is also an anthropological project”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

06


"After accepting the lowest budget, the soil begins to prepared, and the works begin. The euphoric music of the future sounds, as if a dam were built. But it's the production of concrete slabs to build the Marion Prison, in the state of Illinois”.

"Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

07


"The new Marion prison looks like a nuclear power plant, an airport, and also a factory. It is located outside the city, like a shopping center. The old prisons are located within the city, in full view of everyone. The building itself is a warning of punishment. New prisons are located in no man's land”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

08


"I should consult thousands of scenes in all the world's archives where prisoners were released. This man goes empty-handed in the direction of the flag. If we had all the scenes in which a prisoner is released, we could compose an image of liberation."

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

09


"Prison technology. A biometric device to control access. Identification of iris. Surveillance cameras”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

10


"We know the surveillance cameras of the supermarkets. There, they first had the function of preventing theft, and then of analyzing the consumption of the customers. In this simulation, the small squares symbolize the customers who are in the corridors of a supermarket. It is about knowing which road the clients choose. The greater the distance, the greater the contact with the products, and the higher the chances of a spontaneous purchase".

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

11


"These points represent the prisoners, they have an electronic emitter in the ankle. You can select a prisoner and know his identity. The identity".

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

12


"Thousands of movies represent this: under surveillance, love has to find a particular expression. It is said that love is an improbability. But an improbability we take into account. Thousands of cameras monitor visits in prison: one day, any expression imaginable will be recorded on the tapes. Here, man and woman can only touch their hands. This couple broke the rules: the prisoner will be expelled from the room”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

13


"The exercise of power and violence must be constantly trained. Today, power and violence seem almost always impersonal. Like baking bread or killing cattle, the exercise of face-to-face power is no longer usual”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

14


"This is the courtyard of the Corcoran Prison, a concrete wedge, without any vegetation. Behind the window, the armed guards, and above, the camera. The visual axis and the axis of shot coincide”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.

15


"With this technology any room can become a prison. This can eliminate the prison. The fixed place where to be marginal. Since there were several newspaper articles, in prisons in California the prisoners are no longer shot when they fight. Now the agitators are shot with water mixed with tear gas, from devices directed from the cameras that point at them”.

Prison Images © Harun Farocki, 2000. Text taken from the film. Image courtesy of Harun Farocki Institut.