Documenting the history of Canada’s oldest prison — that’s what Geoffrey James has done

CKWS Newswatch
27 November 2014

The photographer got inside Kingston Penitentiary during its final months of operation.
There’s only a couple of weeks left to see some of his work. Newswatch’s Mike Postovit has more on the exhibition that’s currently running at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University.

Kingston Penitentiary — a limestone city landmark with a country-wide — if not world wide reputation. For nearly 180 years it housed some of Canada’s most notorious criminals.
But now the doors are closed — and most will never know what’s behind these imposing walls.  Artist Geoffrey James — an award winning photographer was one of the exceptions.

“When the closure of the prison was announced in 2012 he immediately thought he would like to get in there and document space while it was still in operation to capture not just the architecture and the familiar aspects of a prison but to see how it’s being experienced today at that moment — sort of a historic turning point”.

Out of that work — James has produced a book and of course this — the related exhibition.
The all access look at the pen features mostly black and white photos — in fact 2-full galleries of them. Whether it’s the seldom seen segregation cells or the exercise yard, the exhibition not only captures the physical setting, but also the routines and relationships inside the facility.

“A protest image if there ever was one — an aggressive image, we have a huge range of religious sentiment, of faith of hope of advice being given — it runs a real span of emotion — in that sense of time I think that really come across with that”.

With-in the enclosure of the walls there are different spaces and one of those spaces is designated as aboriginal ground so it’s a space for the ceremonies that we see documented here as that’s another aspect of the spacial language of the incarceration here in Kingston.”

Allen says the exhibition inside Kingston Penitentiary and similarly titled book are important records of Canada’s oldest prison and a huge part of Kingston’s history and one the university was very involved in. “It’s just a really fantastic mesh with our mandate as an art gallery to both work with a contemporary viewpoint but also to capture the place in a very specific way.

It was a tremendous opportunity especially now when there’s so much discussion about the future of that facility.

Mike Postovit, CKWS Newswatch, Kingston
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