Poetic Visuality. An Essay on the Carceral Experience | Dietrich | Visual Ethnography
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Poetic Visuality. An Essay on the Carceral Experience

Martha-Cecilia Dietrich


This photo essay is the result of a research project conducted in collaboration with TIP (Theatre in Prison and Probation) over a period of two months as part of a weekly drama workshop inside HMP Styal - one of fourteen women's prisons in the UK. Based on applied theatre methods and the participatory use of photography, the aim was to create a dialogue with eight women inmates by evoking and exploring the experience of imprisonment. Capacities were limited due to spatial restrictions and prison regulations, but the spoken word fell short to describe the extraordinary experience of ordinary people in prison. With the participants involvement, we arrived at a methodology that at its core considered photography as a form of dialogic engagement. Facilitating the use of a camera and contributing to the creative process of crafting images that elicit a sense of ‘imprisonment as experience’ inspired us to think about ‘poetic visuality’ as a form of ethnographic inquiry and expression. Participatory photography, as particular mode of producing knowledge, reveals the relationship between form and meaning, experience and expression, however incomplete these articulations may be. It is precisely this incompleteness that leaves space for author and audience to imagine the carceral experience, not as reproduction, but as authored evocation. By expanding our ethnographic tools beyond the written word, does however not absolve the ethnographer from the ethically and epistemologically problematic legacies of the discipline, nor from the power regimes that underpin such technological practices (Takaragawa et.al. 2019). The potential for rethinking the prison experience lies in recognising and exploring positionalities and relationships between persons as well as their technological appropriations.


prison; experience-led ethnography; participatory methods; photography; poetry

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12835/ve2018.1-0132


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ISSN Print 2499-9288
ISSN Online 2281-1605
Publisher Edizioni Museo Pasqualino
Patronage University of Basilicata, Italy
Web Salvo Leo

Periodico registrato presso il Tribunale di Palermo con numero di registrazione 1/2023