“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 13-26 years at point of contact.

“I have asked myself if I have rather become so used to the company of my solitude that I no longer feel the passing of years and instead am grateful to have life pass with my every moment of existence as if the years were simply minutes.”

On average these men spend 22-1/2 hours a day in solitary cells roughly 6’x9’; not only facing their own mortality, but doing so in total isolation. I often wondered how that would impact one’s notion of reality, of self-identity or even of their own memories outside of 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? I began writing several men to look into these complex ideas and ask first hand the impacts of such severe isolation.

Out of our letters a collaboration unfolded. I constructed images using formulas specific to each of their stories, 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 sentence. Stripped of personal context and placed in solitary cells, their sense of identity, memory and time couldn’t help but mutate. I sent these images to them, they would critique them. This went on for years. Of the seven men I originally wrote, I remain in touch with one who has been in solitary confinement since 1995 for a crime committed at 16. One was released in 2010 at the age of 30 (after 15 years in prison), three eventually opted out, one was executed in 2009, another executed in March of 2012.

This project was presented at Slideluck LA.

Amy Elkins is a photographer based in Greater Los Angeles. Her photography practice focuses onto the nuances of gender identity and the male psyche. In her more recent work, Elkins investigates additional aspects of male identity, gender stereotypes and modes of athleticism. In a semi-departure from her traditional portraiture, Elkins has simultaneously worked on long term project, Black is the Day, Black is the Night, which explores masculinity, vulnerability and identity through correspondence with men serving life and death row sentences in some of the most maximum security prisons in the US.

Multimedia Tips

a. What program was used to create the multimedia?

The multimedia was completely created by the platform Slideluck uses. I simply uploaded the imagery and audio. It was a slideshow built with iPhoto.

b. How and why did you choose that sound/music?

I chose this audio piece because in physical gallery exhibitions it is the audio piece presented with the works.  Felt it would potentially work very well and have a strong impact as an audio track for SlideLuck events with large audiences.

c. Tell us about the editing process when you think of a multimedia.

I uploaded my work the same way I sequence and edit for any other presentation of the work.  This body of work in particular is meant to be multiple components and be seen or presented in many ways.

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Amy Elkins | Black is the Day, Black is the Night