Ten Photography Books You Cannot Read In Texas Prisons

By Jason Row / December 16, 2017

So, you have a bit of time on your hands. Six to ten years maybe, all spent in the welcoming bosom of the Texas penal system. As a photographer, you will probably not get much chance to do some shooting. Landscapes and street photography are definitely out. You might be able to do a little bit of macro in your cell but the chances are that any camera will be considered contraband. So if a photographer cannot shoot, what does he or she do?

Read is one good option. Imagine the amount of photographic knowledge you could garner whiling the hours away in your cell. Well not in Texas it would seem. Texas, like many states, has a banned book list totaling about 10,000. What’s surprising is that whilst books by Adolf Hitler and the Klu Klux Klan leader do not make the list, a surprising number of photography books do. Let's have a look at some of those high subversive books.

Complete Guide To Photography: John Hedgecoe

One of the best guides to learning photography, this book was first published in 1995. It features step by step color guides in many aspects of photography. Whilst these might not be particularly practical in prison, they are hardly subversive or likely to bring down the system.

A History Of Photography. From 1839 To The Present: Taschen

Taschen are one of the most famous names in photography books. Their publications adorn many a coffee table but not, it would seem in Texas prisons. This might be because prisoners are not allowed coffee tables in their cells, but it does seem a little disingenuous to ban a book on history.

History is bunk. Especially in Texas prisons. A History Of Photography. From 1839 To The Present by Taschen

National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Bob Caputo

It does not come more educational than National Geographic. Not however if you wish to learn about photography from them. Regarded as the masters of nature and environmental photography they are deemed too risky for inmates to read about. Whilst getting out in the field will probably only be as part of a chain gang, the authorities do not want you getting any ideas.

Don't dream of exotic locations. National Geographic Filed Guide by Robert Caputo.

The Photographer's Mind: Michael Freeman

Micheal Freeman is one of the most successful authors in photography. He, however, made a big mistake in the naming of this book. Obviously, the word “Mind” in the title suggests free and clear thinking and that’s a dangerous thing in prison. Had he named it slightly differently, he could have made a lot of money from Texan inmates.

Maybe the word mind is controversial. The Photographer's Mind by Michael Freeman

Photographs 1934-1975: W. Eugene Smith

One of the greatest photojournalists of all time is persona non grata in the Texas penal system. In his fifty years as a photographer, Smith covered wars, poverty, and social change. He was also a renown pacifist which in some circles is another name for a damn commie. Perhaps that's why his book is banned in Texas prisons.

Travel And Nature Photography: Rick Sammon

Another well-known author to make the list is Rick Sammon. This famous author reveals the techniques that he and other professionals use to shoot landscapes, portraits, and nature. Perhaps his beautiful landscapes are deemed too dangerous to the mind of a long-term inmate who may plan to escape to one.

100 Photographs That Changed The World: Life Magazine

Some of the greatest photographs ever shot are far too subversive for Texas. Maybe the authorities consider images of war, death, and destruction as potentially inspirational to prisoners. On release, they might plot world domination with the knowledge they garnered from this dangerous book.

Photographs For The Farm Security Administration 1935-1938: Walker Evans

Don’t let this benign title deceive you, Walker Evans’ work is obviously much more of a threat to civilisation than his Farm Security Administration colleague Dorothea Lange. His images of ppoverty-strickenfarm workers during the depression are an obvious challenge to authority, hence his book's ban.

A highly subversive portrait by Walker Evans. Public Domain.

John Gutmann: The Photographer At Work

The Texas penal system lists the author of this book as John Gutmann. It is however a book about Gutmann’s work by Sally Stein. Gutmann was a Jew that had fled the Nazis and focused his work on oppressed minorities in the US such as African Americans and the gay communities. Obviously far to much of a leftie for hardened criminals to read about, according to Texas.

Aperture Masters of Photography: Edward Weston

One of the greats of photography and one of the great books about photography. Edward Weston was a hugely talented and diverse photographer shooting everything from landscapes to nudes. Perhaps his nudes were deemed a little to risqué for the eyes of incarcerated?

Reading through the list of banned photography books it is possible, at a stretch, to apply some reasoning to the decisions. General photography books may well have sections on boudoir or erotic photography that could be deemed pornographic. Photojournalism by its very nature deals with images of the most depraved aspects of society. However when you consider that these books are banned yet Mein Kampf is allowed it all becomes a little odd. As photographers, you might want to consider avoiding the Texas penal system if you wish to further your knowledge.


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About the author

Jason Row

Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. His images have been licensed to companies such as Cunard, Ethiad and Virgin Atlantic as well as multiple newspapers and magazines. As well as shooting stills he is now creating travel stock video in 4K. He maintains a travel stock photography site at Jason Row Photography You can also catch up with him on Facebook at Facebook/TheOdessaFiles

  • Howard Cihak says:

    Once again, evidence that Texas represents the nadir of American intelligence.

  • Seb Fornpost says:

    As photographers, you might want to consider avoiding Texas if you wish to further your knowledge.

  • Flikker Op says:

    Pure Clickbait. Why worry about 10 photography books that INMATES in the Texas prison system can not get their hands on when there are far more serious issues in this world? Why not look into the rights of the people (victims) that were deprived by these INMATES (like life, ability to walk, talk, etc.)?

    • Er… cos we’re a photography blog… and we’re interested in talking about…. photography?

    • Daemonius says:

      There are always some more serious issues in this world. Which is why most ppl avoid dealing with them and prefer some light reading for fun on the internetz. Such as this article.

      Apart that, just cause you ended in the Texas prison doesnt mean you actually 100% deserve that. Chances are that you do. Chances also are someone made some mistake and you didnt have enough money to get a decent lawyer. Illusion that all ppl in prison are actually guilty is just illusion. Its same as expecting that everyone NOT in prison is not guilty.

      Prison in theory should be about making ppl better than they were before. Eg. to fix them (and ofc punish them).

      I seriously cant imagine why taking up hobby as photographer or even trying to becoming professional one (instead of for example drug dealer) would be a bad thing.

      And last, it shows that USA is full of ridiculous laws and bans and what not without having even tiny bit of common sense in them. No wonder outer world views Americans as kinda stupid bunch.

    • Brigham says:

      Not everyone in prison is guilty of what they were convicted of doing.
      Every year we find mistakes were made as by prosecutors, police and “the system” who rush to trials rather than finding the truth before prosecuting.

    • Dana Kincaid says:

      Ah yes, the fascist sprachs… Why worry about some dam inmates and what they can read? Well, because whatever your little friends can do to inmates, they WANT to do to us.

      Got it, Flikker?

  • So is there anything being done to correct this? For those familiar with massive government bureaucracies things often happen without reason by hidden agenda. To report and not address the issue to authorities would be the same as the government employ who argues that it is not in my job description. I just went through my Nation Geographic field guide that is now a few years old and could not find any problems. As well Rick Salmon who I have met and listen to speak seems to be a man of generous spirit. I can’t imagine what the problems are with his landscape book and will not speculate. Lived in Texas for 7 years and think well of the state as well as Connecticut and New York.

  • Once upon a time the Russia used to be known as the Gulag Archipelago. Whenever I read about the U.S. prison system it gives me some strange thoughts about the so-called leader of the Free World …

    • Dana Kincaid says:

      “Once upon a time the Russia used to be known as the Gulag Archipelago. ”

      I wonder if Texas prisons has banned Solzhenitsyn? I would not doubt it.

  • James Gardner says:

    Ahhh, theres the payoff. Bash our leader.

  • Edward K. Jellytoes says:

    Obviously few of my fellow photographers and commentaries herein know much about medieval penology…or the affect of learning no prisoners.

  • j allen says:

    Is this actually an “article”? There doesn’t even seem to have been an effort made for the Texas prison system to respond (if this really is about the Texas prison system). Nor even any cited sources. Are these state prisons? Privately-owned prisons managed by out-of-state companies? Is there any evidence that other states don’t have similarly arbitrary lists? Indeed, is there any evidence that this list is a deliberate, thinking product at all, vs. just an accidental accumulation of mere suggestions, etc? Separately, the notion that Texas, the third largest state in the country (by population) and home to several presidents and other iconic statesmen, many of them distinctly progressive (even California can’t claim that), where Rice University and NASA are based, a state that’s easily the most highly productive state in terms of arts and letters, is a bastion of stupidity — at least in a way that other states aren’t — is itself nothing but utterly stupid.

  • Ian says:

    I own over half of these books and other than bullet on the cover of A History Of Photography. From 1839 To The Present, it’s a perplexing list. I wonder if there is any documentation of the justification behind removing these titles, and the many other non-photo books, of course.

  • Dana Kincaid says:

    James Gardner – December 17, 2017
    Ahhh, theres the payoff. Bash our leader.

    Trump isn’t a leader. He’s a bloated golf-playing traitorous kuve. I’m sorry to have to say that, but as I see it, it’s a truth.

    🙁

  • Ralf Hanke says:

    I don’t know any of these books… has this moronic ban something to do with views of certain parts of the human body? Nipplegate comes to my (german) mind.

  • John says:

    You just wrote a snarky article without offering any real info. The Texas system has a set of criteria about what’s allowed in books in prisons and what’s not. Had you looked into that, you could have offered real info about why some books are forbidden. For example, any book with nudity or firearms is a no-no, which clearly explains why the first book didn’t make the cut. It also explains Freeman’s place on the list.

  • Giovanni says:

    “A History of Photography” by Taschen has a rather inspiring cover for all kinds of shooters.

  • Mark says:

    Very common mistake – It’s Ku Klux not Klu Klux. As if anyone cared…

  • Napoleon says:

    Well, I am shocked that they can even read in Texas.


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