Photo Exhibit Into Womens’ Final Year in Prison
By Emily Zoda
Brooklyn native Hinda Schuman exhibited her photo essay “A World In Between” in 1P last month. Her photo essay, framed neatly along the wall of the College of Staten Island’s Art Gallery, told the story of women in a halfway home getting through their last year of incarceration.
As a former photojournalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, her job was always to document the reporter’s story. She was to capture photos from every which way possible, expressing emotion from all angles of the story. Her storytelling through her journalism work combined with her ordinary photo techniques created an essay of ordinary life.
“Being a journalist taught me to see in both long-and short-term documentary stories,” said Schuman in her essay. “I learned to navigate innumerable circumstances – families in grief, Presidents campaigning, winners of the lottery, and those being evicted from their homes.”
After being laid off, she volunteered at the program “New Directions for Women” (NDFW) in Philadelphia for four years, where some female inmates had the chance to spend their last year of incarceration in a less restricted environment to grow mentally before returning to society. Unfortunately, NDFW came to a close in April of 2014.
Schuman bore witness to serious AA meetings, playful workout classes, and even Mother’s Days for the inmates. Jamie: Mother’s Day (2009) expresses the joy of being reunited with their children at the program’s picnic.
“Most mothers were desperate to return to their children’s lives,” wrote Schuman. “Some had small children, some had teenagers, and some had grown children. I kept taking photographs and trying to be there for the milestones and the ordinary.”
A stand out photo of Schuman’s, Taima on the Smoking Porch (2011), is a portrait of a woman outside smoking a cigarette, bearing an indisposed tattoo and a hardened expression. It shows a woman taking a moment from her hectic years spent in prison to find sanctuary away from the life she had lived.
The showcase definitely gave an ordinary vibe by the disarray of blurs in some photos and how some people were cut off in the frame. These imprisoned women were given a chance at something ordinary, and these photographs displayed that justly.
Schuman slows down the shutter speed for some photos to create motion and life. One photo showed a lot of unnecessary background in Jackie Going to Work before Dawn (2009). Although not perfect, this showcase wasn’t meant to be glamorized, but only a testament to these women’s in between lives of being truly free.
Walking through the gallery with these photographs make for an intimate visit as if the audience is walking through each room of that building, watching how events unfold with each woman and their disagreements and constant cigarette smoking. It was an emotional ride for the patron and the subject alike. Dinner Disagreement (2009) was an incredibly tense shot, and the way the vantage point is set up is like the viewer is sitting across from an argument that’s just about ready to explode.
Their world, in the last year of their incarceration, was to better themselves with new ideas and become in touch with society and their everyday lives. Schuman’s empathetic storytelling of her volunteer work doesn’t give off the stereotypes perpetuated by show’s in mainstream culture such as “Orange Is the New Black.” Her journalistic approach to photographing subjects is to let it just happen, not force it.