It was an audacious plan – to find people with criminal convictions who would be prepared to return to the scene of their crimes and be photographed. But the plan was not just to take pictures, but discover who the people were behind the crimes. What was their story? That’s what photographer David Goldblatt wanted to know.
Internationally acclaimed Goldblatt, famed particularly for his portrayal of South Africa during the apartheid era, decided after he became a victim of violent crime that he wanted to know, “Who were the people that do this? I want to see people who have committed crimes not as sudden forces and threats that many of us have experienced, not as names in news reports, but as individuals” he explains. Initially Goldblatt’s plan was to focus on people who had been involved in crime in South Africa. The project was broadened when he was invited by the West Bromwich community arts initiative Multistory to include subjects from the Black Country, which expanded into the whole of the UK.
“For many the visit to the scene of the crime has been cathartic, for all it’s been an opportunity to tell their story without being judged. But I wanted to know, could I be you? With loving and generous parents, a middle class home and good education, it has not been difficult to be law abiding. But without these, I have learnt, I could very, very easily have slipped through the cracks.”
Emma Chetcuti, director of Multistory said she and her team were thrilled and proud to work with David and the prisons on the project. “All of our work is about telling the story,” she says. “We are honoured to have been welcomed so warmly into the prisons. Everyone has a life story, including people in prison, and we believe it is important their story is told.”
Andrew Benain, currently in HMP Birmingham, says, “We are truly privileged to have David exhibit his work here. As human beings we need to talk to each other more, and understand each other. As individuals most of us are only concerned with our own issues. We should understand each other so we can build bridges.”
The governor of HMP Manchester was upbeat about the exhibition in his prison. “This exhibition shows that there are real people behind crime – but if a man wants to change, we will help him,” he says.