Thursday, 16 September 2010

Enough Rope?

When I first started photography I’d go to an evening class and for one of the first briefs we were required to: Make a portrait of a stranger in uniform. I visited a prison (but I wasn’t a prison visitor; I went to a prison, not, to prison) and said asked if I could use a prison warder to help me re-enact a hanging-vision I kept having: ‘could I borrow a prison warder to help me bring back hanging?’

We found the spot, in a spinney quite close to the parameter wall. There was still an old rope swing hanging from the tree. I took some of the pictures on an old 5x4 plate camera. ‘You look like the hanging judge', the prison warder said, as I pulled the dark cloth over my head.
When I was young we lived near an Open Prison. You could see it across the fields, where I played. Strange to think now, that I dreamed of meeting an escaped prisoner – a bank robber or member of the Baader-Meinhof gang (but in the unlikely event, it would have been a petty-fraudster – a corrupt businessman or some bent solicitor). Nearby there were some specially built houses - a redbrick terrace -, where the prison-waders lived. 
Occasionally, whilst playing in the woods, I’d encounter a prison warder walking home after a shift, or for lunch. There was one I’d see regularly, hanging from a tree. He told me it was for his sciatica. ‘It’s not only the prisoners who do a long-stretch, it’s not only them inside who have to be straightened-out’, he’d quip. It was such a funny thing, to see this prison-warder, in his uniform – keys and all - hanging from a tree (beside a rope-swing). From a distance - and if I hadn’t have known he was doing it for his health - it looked like he’d hung himself.
And it must be made clear: I am not and never have been, in favour of ‘bringing back hanging’. Except, that is, for myself.  

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