BLACK IS THE DAY, BLACK IS THE NIGHT

Black is the Day, Black is the Night is a conceptual exploration into the many facets of human identity using notions of time, accumulation, memory and distance through personal correspondence with men serving life and death row sentences in some of the most maximum security prisons in the U.S., all of which had served between thirteen and twenty-six years at point of contact.  The men I wrote with spent an average of twenty-two and a half hours a day in solitary cells roughly six-by-nine feet; not only facing their own mortality, but doing so in total isolation.  I wondered how that would impact one’s notion of reality, of self-identity or of their memories outside such an environment?  Did they embrace the mind of a dreamer, the mind of a thinker or succumb to their bleak environment and allow mental, physical and emotional collapse?  Did their violent impulses land them in an infinite state of vulnerability?

Between 2009 and 2014 we would write and share stories regarding our very different day-to-day lives. I constructed images using formulas specific to each of their described memories, age and years incarcerated. Through these formulas, their portraits became more unrecognizable and their memories became more muddled, regurgitated and fictional with the endless passing years of their sentences.  Stripped of personal context and placed in solitary cells, their sense of identity, memory and time couldn’t help but mutate.  Additional tangible objects such as drawings, letters and envelopes are interspersed amongst the constructed landscapes and pixelated portraits, along with objects sought out or recreated out of descriptions given.

Of the seven men I originally wrote with: one was executed in 2009 and one was executed in 2012, both of which maintained their innocence throughout their sentences.  Three eventually opted to move on from the project.  One was released in 2010 at the age of thirty, after spending fifteen years in prison.  One was released in 2015 from a life sentence that had been given to him at the age of sixteen.  He had served twenty-two years in an adult super max prison, seventeen of which were spent in solitary confinement. 

  

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"As viewers, we are invited to puzzle over an assortment of clues, including reenactments, exhibits submitted for our considerations, partial evidence, and statements both leading and misleading. The work is elegiac and provocative, asking the viewer to engage above and beyond a simple, cursory viewing of these images." - Leslie A. Martin, Aperture Foundation

"Photographer Amy Elkins offers an unflinching contemplation of capital punishment and identity in a culture of mass incarceration." - Mass Appeal

"Elkins ponders the psychological impact incarceration has on inmates, using blurry and pixelated photos to imagine how life on the inside shapes and distorts an inmates’ perception of reality and awareness." WIRED Magazine

"Rather than a documentary angle, Elkins has chosen artifacts and scenes that reveal both the preponderance of time on death row (enough time to become a poet, learn calligraphy, read voraciously) and it’s corrosive qualities as it ineffably moves these prisoners toward the end. It’s a tough project, but one that reveals Elkins’ profound sensitivity to the shades of gray in this potentially black-and-white issue." - Arts and Culture, TX