Reflect: Convicts’ Letters To Their Younger Selves

 
Robert, age 67. In for: Murder. Time in: 27 years. Time left: 9 years. Photograph/Trent Bell

Robert, age 67. In for: Murder. Time in: 27 years. Time left: 9 years. Photograph/Trent Bell

Trent Bell’s portraits of inmates from a prison in USA paint a picture of regret and hope as they talk to their younger selves in intimate letters.

This story was originally published in July 2014.

Trent Bell is a commercial photographer based in USA, with a Masters degree in Architecture. His work has been published in several publications like ‘Condé Nast Traveler’, ‘Design New England’ and ‘The New York Times’.

Trent Bell
is a commercial
photographer based
in USA, with a
Masters degree in
Architecture. His work
has been published in
several publications
like ‘Condé Nast
Traveler’, ‘Design New
England’ and ‘The New
York Times’.

Early in 2013, I was shocked by the news that a friend, an educated professional, a husband and a father of four children had been sentenced to 36 years in prison. I found myself haunted not only by my friend’s bad decisions and loss of freedom, but also by moments in my own life when things could have easily taken a bad turn. Sometimes, my son would smile at me and the finality of my friend’s situation would rush into my head and I would hear a cold thin voice say the proverbial saying “…there, but for the grace of God, go I…”

With all these thoughts and emotions, I pictured convicts very differently in my head. I soon conceived a photo project that would merge large-scale portraits of inmates in the Maine, USA prison system with handwritten letters the convicts composed, as though writing to their younger selves.

Our bad choices can contain untold loss, remorse and regret but the positive value of these bad choices might be immeasurable if we can face them, admit to them, learn from them and find the strength to share.

‘REFLECT: Convicts’ Letters to Their Younger Selves’ is an artistic documentation of choices, consequences, and reflection. The project also has video documentation by Joe Carter and additional prison guard portraits by Corey Desrochers. To view the rest of the portraits, and for more information, visit www.trentbell.com

When Photographing a Sensitive Social Project:

  • When you make your subject do anything for your project, it needs to be beneficial to both them and you. It is crucial for you to show them how your project will help make a change.
  • You need to be respectfully persistent when you want to shoot a project like this. You also need to have a good portfolio to prove you are capable of doing what you are proposing.

—As told to Natasha Desai

Tags: april 2014, Convicts Letters, photoessay, social photography, Trent Bell