Open Access Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
© 2020 Alexi J Butts
“Can art change the world?”
In his global art practice, French artist JR transforms overlooked communities into valued canvases. With an approach rooted in collaboration, JR’s large-scale public photographic installations integrate the built environment into a visual experience of human life.
In October, 2019, JR and his team entered the maximum security prison in Tehachapi, California to embark on a new collaborative project: “Tehachapi.” This paper explores the impact of “Tehachapi” as it extends beyond the physical photograph wheat-pasted on the floor of the prison’s courtyard to touch on issues of humanity, power and accessibility. Created as a collage of individual portraits, the presence of the project at the prison transcends the physical space in the memories of all those who participated. In addition, the lasting impact is not confined by the prison walls – “Tehachapi” has been digitized as a multi-sensory experience through a free app to share the stories of the project’s participants: former and currently incarcerated men, survivors of violent crimes as well as prison staff.
My analysis employs theoretical and historical lenses to understand the parallel effects of prison architecture and that of the camera lens on human subjects. Divided into two chapters, this paper examines how the collaborative process of creating “Tehachapi,” as well as the physical manifestation of the photograph, creates a shifted perception of the carceral space.
Butts, Alexi, "Changing Perceptions of the Carceral Space through Photography: The Tehachapi Project by JR" (2020). Scripps Senior Theses. 1780.