Portrait of a Cell

This is  a series I made called “Portrait of a Cell; The Eye of God” at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

cell doors

Cell doors

I was inspired by the light in Eastern State and the importance of the thin beam of light that fell into each cell. This light was often the only source of sunlight a prisoner was able to experience in one day. Sunlight is so important in my own life and the way most of us interact with sunlight is free choice and I started to think about what it would be like to have sunlight delegated or rationed out to me.  Often the prisoners, in the early days, would be allowed a short time outside but would wear a mask so as not to interact or communicate with other prisoners. Those who spent time in isolation did not have any access to light or communication to others sometimes for up to two weeks.

For myself as a photographer, light affects my work and they way I see the world. Light played a role throughout Eastern State Penitentiary and was an important way in which I observed and viewed the penitentiary. I was most taken with the way that light was designed into the penitentiary and the strict programing of the daily life of a prisoner.

John Haviland, the architect of Eastern State, called the window in the ceiling of each cell “The Eye of God” and designed the penitentiary as  a space for solitude, penitence and reflection on behavior. Observing these penitentiary cells made me reflect on how spaces we live in can affect our well-being and mental health. I found the cells jarring images of solitude and isolation and not hope and redemption as originally planned by Haviland.

July 2014

Tessa Downs Phototgraphy All Rights Reserved.

Cell 1

esp Cell  tessadowns.com

cell33

cell6

cell3

cell1

cell 7

bathroom

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