20 September 2017

The Transient Suspension of Lives From Inside and Out

20 September 2017 - Written by Lucia De Stefani

Sibling photographers Roxana and Pablo Allison chronicled the moments before, during, and after his imprisonment, conceiving a subtle reflection on the themes of freedom, custody, and separation.

© Roxana and Pablo Allison, from the series, Operation Jurassic

It snowed the day she visited.

Entering a penitentiary for the first time, Roxana wanted to hug him and reassure him, but jail regulations prohibited contact. Her brother, almost 2 years younger, said he was fine - just tired. “I couldn't really embrace him, and everything had to be very distant, not very personal,” she recalls.

After two years on bail, Pablo was imprisoned for “conspiracy to commit criminal damage,” sentenced in one of the UK’s largest investigations on graffiti.

They knew it was coming, but didn’t know when. Nor had they foreseen its length: 19 months of custody, five and a half of which he served in facilities, six under house arrest, and six under light supervision.

The police called it “Operation Jurassic,” an evocative and puzzling designation that the Allisons used to name their project.

© Roxana and Pablo Allison, from the series, Operation Jurassic

A collaboration spanning four years, Operation Jurassic breaks from chronology, providing an outlet for constrained feelings in search of a broader understanding. With composure, at times a docile resignation that endures the passage of time, it evinces an earnest motivation to process the personal angst and strain of separation.

One afternoon, deep in thought about Pablo, Roxana took a self-portrait, slumped across her bed, the fatigue of her concerns palpable. Pablo recurred to self-portrait too, flattened against the sea and sky, pondering the emptiness but endless possibilities of the infinite space, the uncertain and hopeful outcome.

Integrated with legal documents detailing the conviction, the project shares a sense of deferment, questioning present and future: the flowers' frozen stems effuse silence while yellow buds suggest growth; a glance in a cell awakens discomfort, as much as Pablo's staring into space while laying on in his bed, back home. Concealed by blinds in the living room, his figure is fragmented.

© Roxana and Pablo Allison, from the series, Operation Jurassic

There were odd coincidences too: during his college years, Pablo had photographed the same facility in which he was later detained. But mostly Operation Jurassic reflects upon the unnatural condition of disrupted freedom behind bars, forced detachment and a sense of uncharted suspension. The detention had an impact on both siblings. To transform the confinement into a long "artistic residence," Pablo kept drawing, yet he withheld insights of his detention. His diaries recount his days, but Roxana read only parts of them, out of a sisterly concern not to intrude. Aware of the reality of jails in Mexico, their homeland, Roxana feared the violence Pablo could encounter inside. (For the first period, he was jailed at a category B prison where detainees are held for all sorts of offenses.)

She visited Pablo a few times in five months. Once released, they met at home, they embraced again.

© Roxana and Pablo Allison, from the series, Operation Jurassic

Born in Manchester, Roxana and Pablo grew up in Mexico, before returning to England. Pablo earned his degree in Documentary Photography from London College of Communication and University of Wales. Roxana studied Fine Art at National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Photography brought them together. Lacking a very “brotherly and sisterly relationship,” they gradually formed a mutual understanding around photography and eventually graffiti, which Pablo mastered. Moments of friction persisted, but with a closeness.

The unforeseen difficult and personal experience, both wounding and formative, is in full display in Operation Jurassic. “Photography helped me to keep myself together, continuing with a focus on what we wanted to say, whatever it was,” Roxana recalls. “[This] could become a story that other people could reflect upon and see themselves in.” Our fears and our needs. Or wrongdoing and our vulnerabilities.


Roxana Allison is a photographer based in the U.K. In her work, she explores themes of immigration, memory, belonging and cultural dislocation.

Pablo Allison is a photographer based in the U.K. Through his practice he is interested in exploring ideas around control, reclusion, displacement, freedom, entrapment and migration.

Lucia De Stefani is a multimedia reporter focusing on photography, illustration, culture, and everything teens. She lives between New York and Italy. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by

Lucia De Stefani

Reading time

5 minutes

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