The Absurdity of the American Judicial System

In a series of still-life photographs, Jennifer Lauren Martin denounces the dangerous absurdity of the American judicial system.

© Jennifer Lauren Martin, from the series Rap Sheet

A rap sheet, which gives Jennifer Lauren Martin’s series its name, is a criminal record. Her photos are inspired by those, often absurd, she went through while working at a law firm. While a science experiment gone wrong at a school would make for comical adventure, it meant for a 16 year-old Florida high-school student to be arrested and charged with Third-Degree Felony for possessing or discharging weapons on school property. She would have been denied passing her exam if it hadn’t been for the public outcry that her case generated.

© Jennifer Lauren Martin, from the series Rap Sheet

“The way people are charged is completely out of proportion, which brings humor to the series, but focusing on this particular situation is utterly critical”, Martin explains. The criminal convictions she selected cover a wide range of non-sense, ages, time and state, from a Georgian woman arrested and held in jail for one month after cops mistook sauce from a can of SpaghettiOs on a spoon for methamphetamine, to an 89 year-old woman who was arrested for not giving neighborhood children their football back after it landed repeatedly in her yard.

“I wanted to make the point that it’s a national and pervasive problem”, she continues. The ten cases she has chosen to focus on echo two US policies responsible for the generalization of unjust criminal charges, namely the zero tolerance policy in the American school systems and the ‘broken window’ policy. “It starts with something that sounds stupid but that ultimately has a large implication on the rest of someone’s life”, she points.

© Jennifer Lauren Martin, from the series Rap Sheet

The aesthetical apparatus translates this ambiguity. It consists of a packshot-like photograph of the evidences of the crime, based on a police officer’s report describing what has happened that led to the arrest, and the crime itself. “At the time when I conceived the series aesthetically I was using NYPD documents as references, and studying how evidences were documented from 1910 through the 1970’s. But I didn’t want it to be so literal and decided in a second phase to use a black background in order to give the evidences the status of an object of significance”, she goes on. Against all narrative rules, her still-life photos encompass the entire scenario while being staged from A to Z, as if by a visual twist those well-lit daily objects turned into unsettling evidences of the American broken judicial system.

Read more about Jennifer's series on her PHmuseum profile.

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