Cēsis, Cēsu Rajons, Latvia
Pāri mūriem are the Latvian words for Over the walls. This series is a glimpse into the everyday life of ten young men incarcerated in the juvenile detention centre of Latvia. Behind walls, they let us feel through their own eyes what it is like to wait for a sentence to expire. Together, we are switching from their claustrophobic boredom to their wish for freedom, sneaking in and out the prison walls. However, this virtual escape attempt could not be left unnoticed to the prison system...
They are ten, they are between 16 and 21 years old and live at the Cēsis Juvenile Detention Center (CAIN) in Latvia. We worked together in January and February 2018, I spoke about photography in weekend workshops and gave to each of them a simple analog camera and two films, they photographed their daily life, focusing on content, not technical skill. I did the same and at the same time, I took portraits of them in locations within the prison they chose themselves. Then I asked them to name a place dear to them outside the prison walls, and travelled through Latvia to photograph landscapes that the young men couldn’t visit themselves.
Through the images, we learned about each other. Some were eager to share, some less. I did not want to know why they were incarcerated. My idea was to bring them a kind of freedom through the camera’s viewfinder; not to remind them once more of the crime committed. It seemed a heavy burden to carry at an age when you should be building your future.
When we have begun the project, I expected it to be a collaboration between the detainees and myself. However, I soon realized there was a third partner involved – the prison itself. Perhaps naively, I had not expected to face censorship, but any closed institution enforces its own rules. New ones appeared as the project progressed. I had to develop each film within the center’s walls. The images created by the participants were scrutinized closely by the security staff – I was ordered to alter them and remove the identities of other detainees, as well as details of the environment and the prison's staff. The tool provided to alter the photographs was a knife, in which CAIN was engraved. At this moment, our work seemed irreversibly destroyed. However, the alteration of the photographs – a physical imprint of the prison's environment – acted as a symbolic embodiment of the violence and control of incarceration. The three versions of one closed environment ultimately produce a more complete picture.