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Geographies of Detention

Artist Sandow Birk has always been intrigued by 19th century traditional landscape paintings depicting an idyllic California with plush green fields.

But over the last few decades, the landscape of an untainted, virgin Western America has significantly changed to make room for more prison facilities.

After conducting research, Birk noticed a reoccurring theme of optimism prevalent in the works of early 1800s California landscape painters.

"What was really striking to these works from the past were they were all so optimistic about California. This idea that you could come from the East on your horseback and arrive in California and strike it rich," said Birk.

Fascinated by the sudden increase of prison populations and newly-built prisons throughout the state, Birk sought to capture California's landscape changes by painting prisons.

To document the ironic changes and geographic shifts in the past few decades, Birk drove out to correctional facilities and prisons, capturing the landscapes through a series of dramatic illustrations. He also traced back the history of old landscape paintings with what previously existed before prisons inundated the scene.

Featuring Interviews With:

  • Sandow Birk, artist

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