Light Stalking

Ten Photography Books You Cannot Read In Texas Prisons

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.