New Orleans natives Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick have photographed the Louisiana State Penitentiary for over thirty years. Also known as “Angola Prison” and “The Farm,” the prison was founded on land from several former cotton and sugarcane plantations.
Calhoun and McCormick’s searing photographic series “Slavery: The Prison Industrial Complex” documents a continuum between past and present. The images focus on the lives of men incarcerated at Angola, the vast majority of whom are African American, as they continue to work the fields once tended by people enslaved. They provide a glimpse into the penal history that continues to hide in plain sight. The series reveals the aftermath of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery with an important and infamous caveat: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
McCormick and Calhoun have also documented the Angola Prison Rodeo, which triumphantly claims to be the longest running prison rodeo in the United States. The bi-yearly rodeo brings thousands of visitors to watch the people imprisoned at Angola ride angry bulls, act as rodeo clowns, and perform bareback horse riding. The individuals who participate in the rodeo wear black-and-white striped shirts reminiscent of nineteenth-century prison uniforms. Within the context of Calhoun and McCormick’s larger exploration of labor conditions at Angola Prison, these photographs critique how individuals are made to labor and create a spectacle of their incarceration.
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick are documentary photographers and collaborators, both born in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Their images have been featured in Aperture, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the book Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present, among other important publications. Their work has been exhibited at important international art exhibitions including the Venice Biennale and Prospect New Orleans and at venues including Art & Practice in Los Angeles, CA; the Brooklyn Museum in New York City; the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee; the New Orleans Museum of Art; New York University; the Philadelphia African American Museum in Pennsylvania; and the Smithsonian Institution.