Critics’ Picks

Keith Calhoun, Who's that man on that horse, I don't know his name, but they call him Boss, 1980, ink-jet print, 27 1/8 x 40".

Los Angeles

Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick

Art + Practice
3401 W. 43rd Pl
September 22 - January 5

Located about an hour outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana, near the banks of the Mississippi River, is the former site of the Angola plantation, named after the place where many of the enslaved Africans who worked and died there purportedly came from. Now it is a prison, and its consolidation with other nearby plantations has swelled its size beyond the square mileage of Manhattan. It is a place of sport—boasting a nine-hole golf course and a stadium for the annual prison rodeos—and a place of surveillance, where police officers patrol on horseback to maintain control over the approximately six thousand inmates who manufacture, farm, and ranch for as little as four cents per hour.

Training their eyes and camera lenses on the inmates of Angola, wife-and-husband team Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun have spent nearly four decades documenting the penitentiary. In photographs such as Two to a six-by-eight-foot cell at Angola Prison and Who’s that man on that horse, I don’t know his name, but they call him Boss, both 1980, one finds a visual reminder of the indignities of imprisoned life. The former work depicts two inmates sitting on their bedrolls on the cell floor. They're relaxing, but it looks unbearably hot. It likely was; central air and heating wasn’t installed in Angola cell blocks until the 1990s. The latter shows a mounted officer surveying a line of inmate farmers stretching to the perimeter of an expansive field. He wears a pith helmet—de rigueur for nineteenth-century European colonists in Southeast Asia and Africa. It’s a small, symbolic thing, this hat, but one that collapses temporal and geographic distance, giving visual weight to the grim and honest title of McCormick and Calhoun’s necessary exhibition: “Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex.”