Pāri Mūriem - PhMuseum

Pāri Mūriem

Jérémie Jung

2018

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.

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  • Before 1991, when Latvia was part of the USSR, approximately 300 inmates were held in this juvenile detention centre located in the small town of Cēsis, 80 km northwest of the capital, Riga. Today, 39 prisoners do their time here, without any change in the area in use. At the request of the administration, I had to scratch out with a knife this part of the wall, though this view is from outside of the prison and does not represent a security risk.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • This building is reserved for the 20 prisoners whose sentences have been handed down. They only occupy one floor. The second, empty, is sometimes used to place an inmate in isolation.
    A separate building houses prisoners in remand detention.

    © E / Jérémie Jung

  • In the dining hall, the prisoners are separated into two groups: those serving their sentences eat in one room, those in remand detention in the other.
    With the permission of a guard who escorted me at all times, I went to the dining hall to photograph it. A group of youth came in and sat down at the tables, each with his own designated spot. They took advantage of my presence to quickly explain to me that their meals were never good. I took two photos and another guard raced to stop me.
    I understand that each guard enforces the rules a bit as he interprets them. The administration will have the last word: it orders me to scratch out the identities of each inmate.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • The cells are occupied by one or two inmates. Another – unoccupied at the time – is reserved for disabled prisoners.
    The 20 prisoners whose sentences had been handed down occupy this floor. This corridor is often a place for entertainment, as the doors are open during the day. Some prisoners meet up to play video games, for example.
    At the request of the administration, I had to alter the film to hide the prisoner because he was not participating in the photography workshop, even though his back was turned and he was blurry.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • I.,16 years old.
    He is curious to know who I am, where I come from and why I am here. He also asks me if it’s exciting for me to come to prison.
    I. thinks that his sentence fits his crime. He must stay there for a few years, and he explains to me that the more his sentence progresses, the more time passes quickly. The first months were the hardest. Behind bars, he found faith and shows me with pride his Orthodox Bible and his collection of diplomas. The more of them he has, the more chances he has of shortening his sentence.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • On the outside, I. asks me to go photograph the area surrounding the city of Sigulda. There is a national park there. He wants to show me that his country is beautiful. I found this house there, whose construction seems to have been put on pause by the cold of winter.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • The prisoners have a small fenced-in courtyard which enables them to cool off when they are given permission to do so.

    © I / Jérémie Jung

  • In 2012, the European Regional Development Fund made it possible to open a sports hall. For the prisoners, sport is the most popular activity. Matches opposing guards and prisoners are frequently organised.
    Here, these three players did not participate in the photography workshop. At the request of the administration, I scratched out their faces, although two of them have their backs turned and are not recognisable.

    © E / Jérémie Jung

  • I had asked each participant of the workshop to take photos of what spoke to them and their daily lives. I was very surprised by the coolness of some of their pictures. Each had innocently conveyed a part of his personality.
    O., 20 years old, took a selfie with his cellmate in front of their cell. These cells never hold more than two people and are equipped with a shower.
    At the request of the administration, I had to scratch out the face of O.’s cellmate, as he had not taken part in the photography workshops.

    © O / Jérémie Jung

  • Soon an unexpected partner intruded into the images that the inmates and I had made: the prison administration. After having to develop the films in the prison's sanitary facilities, each negative was examined by security. Having then understood that some of the images would be censored, I was afraid that I would be asked to cut and discard some of the shots. Before this happened I suggested that I alter the negative by scratching. This kitchen knife with the initials of the prison (CAIN) engraved on it was provided to me and I was ordered to remove "sensitive elements" from the negatives: the identity of prisoners who had not participated in the project, prison staff, surrounding walls...
    At that moment, I thought I was destroying the work done with these ten young people for a month. In some of the photographs, I tried to argue that it was blurred or that the person I had to remove from the photo was from behind and therefore not recognizable. But that didn't change anything. I had to scratch off the undesirable element.
    During the development of the films, I had been struck by the creativity of the young people, their involvement and the accuracy of some of the photos. When I had to alter them, I had the feeling that I was not only denying the identity and singularity of each one, but also neglecting the involvement they had put into their work.
    This violently reminded me of the dehumanization that can occur in prison and the lack of empathy that the administration can have. And finally, these lacerated images bear witness to the prison reality and seem to me to bring a dimension to our work that was not considered.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • When the prisoners do not have organised activities, they spend their time in their cells, the corridor and this common room, where they can watch television or play different games. Some also use the space to carry out artistic endeavours.
    At the request of the administration, I had to scratch out one of the inmates, who had not participated in the photo workshop.

    © I / Jérémie Jung

  • In a common room, A. takes a photo of himself in a mirror. He crafted the flowers from paper with his own two hands before using them to decorate the mirror.

    © A / Jérémie Jung

  • The prisoners have a small fenced-in courtyard which enables them to cool off when they have permission to do so.
    While developing the negatives in one of the sanitary facilities of the prison, I was very surprised to discover the coolness and the creativity of the teenagers. The participants had been instructed to tell their stories and were free to take photos of whatever they wanted or could. Here, I. asked one of his fellow inmates to take a photo of him.

    © I / Jérémie Jung

  • N., 18 years old.
    He is reserved and does not photograph much, only taking 15 or so photos. Maybe he does not feel like showing his environment or maybe he does not find anything there which is worth being shown. He does not tell me.
    Like a lot of his fellow inmates, he is athletic. On the inside, he asks me to take his portrait, perched on a pull-up bar, behind the school building.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • On the outside, N asked me to go in Riga, he sends me to two places: a playground – a childhood memory, he explains to me – and a pitch for street sports.
    I found birds there.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • This building is inhabited by 19 prisoners in remand detention. In 2018, 39 young men were incarcerated in Latvia. The other 20, who had been sentenced, were kept in a separate building.
    All were indicted when they were minors. They can be held in CAIN starting at age 14, and they can stay there until age 25. They are thus protected from the adult prison world, which is presented as being tougher.

    © Jérémie Jung

  • The prisoners move around between the different buildings: a school, a sports hall, a church (pictured), a dining hall and their cells. The multidenominational church is the penitentiary’s oldest structure, and incidentally, many inmates find faith behind bars. Some even get baptised, choosing a fellow inmate as their godfather.
    At the request of the administration, I had to remove a part of the exterior perimeter wall, although it was already blurry.

    © E / Jérémie Jung

  • In response to my question “What do you do during school holidays?”, one inmate said, “Most of the time, we get bored.” Although some try to escape from their daily lives, the prison environment seems to continue to be psychologically brutal.
    I often questioned what impact imprisonment, coupled with the offence committed, must have on the developing personalities of these young men.

    © R / Jérémie Jung

  • After serving a long sentence, some worry about their release. To prepare for it, they are assisted by an adviser for one year.

    © O / Jérémie Jung

  • This is a dummy book looking to be published.

    It has been shortlisted for the KASSEL dummy book award and the UNSEEN Dummy book award 2019.

    The dummy book has been done under the artistic direction of Narrative Studio and Jean Larive


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