Pulaski State Prison Portraits

In juni 2013 kreeg Jan Banning toestemming om drie dagen lang te fotograferen in de vrouwengevangenis Pulaski State Prison. ‘Telkens als een van de dames de studio binnenkwam, stelde ik me voor, schudde haar de hand, keek haar in de ogen en herhaalde haar naam. Dan nodigde ik haar uit om voor de camera plaats te nemen. Na afloop van elke portretsessie namen we handenschuddend afscheid. Verschillende vrouwen barstten daarbij in tranen uit: ze waren zulke basale menselijke gestes finaal ontwend.’

Behalve naar hun naam mocht Jan Banning van het Department of Corrections vragen naar leeftijd, datum van arrestatie, en lengte van de straf. Velen hadden vijf, tien of twintig jaar. Een forse groep had levenslang, al dan niet met de mogelijkheid van parole (voorwaardelijke invrijheidstelling). Het misdrijf zelf was verboden gespreksstof. Daarover kwam hij pas achteraf via internet te weten.


Following a second marriage and more abuse, she and her young daughter Amber, born in 1988, sought refuge in the state of Georgia where she got an apartment in a social housing project, a small amount of welfare and some work. And eventually a new relationship, with David. It seemed like some stability was finally starting to enter her life. But, two and a half years after Amber’s death, Christina was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and cruelty to children. She is still incarcerated today, more than thirty years later. Photographer/artist Jan Banning met Christina Boyer when, in 2013, he photographed some eighty female inmates of Pulaski State Prison in Georgia. He started searching the internet for information on their crimes and backgrounds. What he found out about Christina immediately raised concerns about her conviction. Banning managed to gradually piece together a complete dossier on her case; during this detective work he uncovered more and more indications of monumental errors in the investigation. He and Christina embarked upon an intensive correspondence, culminating in a close collaboration entitled ‘The Verdict’ and resulting in this case study: a kaleidoscopic whole made up of different perspectives on the murder case, built up from a range of photographic and text-based approaches. ‘Artivist’ Jan Banning hopes that the book and exhibition dealing with the case can contribute to Christina Boyer’s release. The project has a greater scope than this, however, as it also presents us with insights into the American criminal justice system. It also raises questions of subjectivity and objectivity, of truth and lies, and of how a verdict can be distilled from a confused and confusing mass of data.