Friday, February 24th


Nigel Poor: The San Quentin Project

Black and white photograph of two men squatting down with their tennis rackets in front of them, wearing t-shirts and shorts. The background is a light blue square. The title at the top is "The San Quentin Project".


In 2012 photographer Nigel Poor gained access to an unexplored archive of historic negatives taken at and housed inside San Quentin State Prison. The archive is an exhaustive document of prison life. The thousands of 4×5” negatives were taken between 1960-1987. Many of the images are quite difficult; they were not taken with an artist’s eye or with the intention of creating a visual experience that is generous or transformative. These images were taken by correctional officers whose job was in part, to provide visual proof of an event that took place. They are direct, blatant images that rely on the assumption that photography speaks the truth, that it has an unquestionable veracity.

She began by curating the archive, putting images into categories, to print and examine, trying to create a visual story about life inside:

I soon realized that in order to do something meaningful and transformative the project needed to be a collaboration with people inside the prison. I got permission to bring images into the prison and work with a group of men to dissect and “map” the images. The archive images became canvases for the men to interact with. Each image was treated, in a sense, like a crime scene to be studied, written on and mapped in order to reveal its undisclosed story. The negatives were originally taken to document specific places and events. They were not meant to evoke emotions but through our intervention they become objects that inspire, house memory and personal experience and create a visual dialogue with a mostly invisible population. The mapped and unmapped archive images are seen together. The unmapped images give the viewer access to the complicated world inside prison. The mapped images create a new body of work that explores how images can be viewed and interpreted through unique and specific experience.

About Nigel Poor

Black and white photograph of photographer Nigel Poor standing in front of a cement background with long brown hair blowing in the wind, wearing black glasses and a printed jacket.

Nigel Poor. Photo by Nancy Revis.

Nigel Poor is a visual artist whose work explores the various ways people make a mark and leave behind evidence of their existence. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and can be found in various museum collections including the SFMOMA, the M.H. deYoung Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. She is also a professor of photography at California State University, Sacramento. In 2011, Nigel got involved with San Quentin State Prison as a volunteer teacher for Mount Tamalpais College (formerly the Prison University Project). She is the co-creator and co-host of the Pulitzer Prize nominated prison-based podcast Ear Hustle and the co-author of This Is Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life (Crown Publishing).


The Reva and David Logan Foundation


The Reva and David Logan Gallery of Documentary Photography at Berkeley Journalism

Get directions to The Reva and David Logan Gallery of Documentary Photography at Berkeley Journalism


Space is limited. RSVP online or by emailing Lia Swindle at journalism-events@berkeley.edu.


This is a FREE event.
Tax-deductible donations from the J-School community help make this possible.

No tickets required


Lia Swindle