The jury of this fourth edition has awarded Belgian photojournalist Sébastien Van Malleghem, for his long term work : “Prisons”.
This work stems from a self-financed reporting on prisons that started back in 2011, during which I visited no less than ten prisons. This follows a several-year-long study of the Belgian police force and its actions in the field.
Prisons aims at opening our eyes on inmates; casting light on the failures of an obsolete judicial and penal system which remains to this day inscribed in the country that taught me the ideals of justice and humanity.
Why do we turn a blind eye on those broken lives? On those whose lives are ruined?
These images show the cracks and, in this light, reveal the toll taken by a societal model bringing out tension and aggressiveness, amplifying failure, excess and insanity, faith and passion, poverty. They expose how difficult it is to handle what steps out of line, in a time when this line is more and more defined by the touched-up colors of standardization, of the web and reality TV. Always further from life, from our life: locked up in the idyllic, yet confined, space of our TV and computer screens.
Still, what is questioned here is not the need to put away and keep an eye on criminals. My pictures mean to condemn the archaic and opaque fence built around those men and women on the side, this wall eroding their humanity, under the pretence of crime, or insanity.
This reporting means to show the misery resulting from being deprived of freedom and human relations, from being confined in cells worthy of gothic novels or horror movies, from failure too. Failing a real escape only to escape in drugs and unsound relationships. These baleful, distraught faces, victim and mirror of passions born in our urban theaters, are our dark side. Frightening. Reassuring also, in the emptiness left by an exile enabling oblivion, ignorance and self-satisfaction.
Because the principle of reality does not obey oblivion nor denial. Behind the closed doors of prisons, it imposes itself through cries of hatred, rage or despair. Cries that mingle with the steel doors slamming on overcrowded cells. It gives birth to children in filthy cages, within enclosures topped with barbed wire. It fans violence, favors psychological abuse, power abuse, smuggling, corruption and gives way, probably more acutely than on the outside, to the power of money.
In prison, the principles of deprivation and punishment are emphasized: no contact with family members, no moral or affective support, no courtyard, extreme confinement in six-square-meter “holes” reeking of faeces, impregnating blind walls…
To contain this growing violence, the explosion of these tensions, the State hires: the assurance of a steady job for an average wage…
Prison officer: the assurance of a tiresome and disregarded job, sometimes dangerous and often too far away from home; the assurance of a monthly salary, for sure, but certainly too low to avoid corruption.
Teachers: if crime runs in your veins, what hope is there for rehabilitation once you have paid your debt to society?
Psychologists: the assurance of feeling powerless in front of a pathogenic system, a rotting administration, defiant patients, mentally retarded or insane. The observation made by a psychologist working in a social protection establishment (prison for those who have been judged mentally incompetent) is edifying: “Here, it’s the worst, you can’t go any lower in the social structure, for many it’s the end of the road”. Of course, there are always drugs available, the possibility to rent game consoles; addiction and irresponsibility in lieu of penitentiary assistants.
To reach these human beings, eight months of research were needed, eight months of requests addressed to a pretty timid administration, yet willing to spread images witnessing reality instead of ministers’ views and speeches. That reality is sordid; it affects the notion of “human being”, not through the question of crime itself, but that of the response given by society and by the judicial system, and the way punishment is carried out.
Sébastien Van Malleghem
Sébastien Van Malleghem
Is a freelance photographer born in Belgium in 1986. He studied photography in Brussels from 2006 to 2009.
His long-term projects focus on the idea of Justice in contemporary Europe.
For four years he followed the daily job of police officers and their interaction with the public. He is currently documenting Belgian prisons.
In 2008 Sébastien did a one-month internship with photographer Tomas Van Houtryve (VII) in Cuba. He worked as his personal assistant in 2010 and has been selected for the Eddie Adams Workshop in the USA.
Sébastien went in Libya in 2012 to work on the ruins of the power after the death of Kaddafi. Covered the daily life of the people living in the streets of Berlin during 5 month in 2013.
He is still documenting the Belgian prisons since 2011.
His work has been published online on TIME, The New York Time Lens Blog and in newspapers and magazines Le Soir (be), Le Monde,Le Vif l’express , La Croix, Le Temps), De Standaard, Polka Magazine, Photographe , De Morgen, etc.
Exhibited in Greece, Canada, Belgium, France, Holland, Georgia, Norway, Argentina, Germany.
His first monograph book “POLICE” was published in January 2013 by Yellow Now Edition.
Distinctions & Awards
• Award: second place pour « Prisons », Portfolio Days, National Center of Audiovisual, Luxembourg, February 2014.
• Honorable Mention for « Prisons », prix XXI / France info Young Reporter
• National Award, for the video « Police » festival 5 / 5, Short Documentary competition, Belgium, October 2013.
• Third Prize at the European Month of Photography folio review, Berlin, Germany, November 2012
• Artist Residency at AirBerlinAlexanderPlatz, Berlin, Germany, October – November 2012
• Artist Residency at Halsnoy Kloster, Norway, August 2012
• National Award « Jeune Artiste Plasticien » for POLICE Collection Rtbf/Canvas Collectie, Belgium, May 2012