Milcho Pipin: Locked Up

Nov 14, 2014
Photographer Spotlight

For a recent personal project, Milcho Pipin not only spent six months preparing, he also broke a 40-year media shutout to gain access. The project took place at The Central Penitentiary of the State of Parana in Brazil— temporary home to 1,480 inmates and victim to overcrowding problems and precarious infrastructural conditions.

With Locked Up, Milcho captures the expressions of male and female inmates, letting the viewer into the their world. Check out photos from the project and the interview below.

Exterior of Central Penitentiary of the State of Parana, photograph by Milcho Pipin

Describe the Locked Up project.

The autonomous project Locked Up is mainly about capturing expressions of male and female inmates. The Central Penitentiary of the State of Paraná (Brazil) holds approximately 1,480 inmates in the boundaries of Curitiba, its Capital. Despite frequent overcrowding problems and precarious infrastructural condition, this penitentiary is by no means the worst in Brazil. To be able to get inside it took us around six months to gather all the signed authorization forms from the Government sectors of Brazil. Luckily, we got all the permission necessary, because the penitentiary had a 40-year media shut-out until then. Locked Up is a collaboration with Prof. Dr. Maurício Stegemann Dieter, a criminology specialist in Brazil.

Through this project, hopefully, people will be able to visualize, feel and understand that we are all at the risk of committing a crime, purposely or not, at any moment of our lives, and of being convicted and facing a sentence. That’s why we should appreciate and take care of our freedom, because it’s just one of those big things we usually don’t appreciate until we lose it.

Photograph by Milcho Pipin of a man sitting on a window sill with bars

How does this project fit into your photographic style? 

Any social project could fit into my photographic style. Once the inspirational concept and excitement is born, I’m ready to develop it. I could say I got involved in this project because of my father. He was a police inspector of foreign crime/border control in Macedonia for 30 years. He went through a lot of cases. His sense of comprehensibility to all social classes inspired me to photograph in prison. The involvement with the idea of photographing prison life came up as well from the days when I used to live in Bitola (Macedonia). I grew up in a little complicated neighborhood where some guys were rebels and ended up getting in jail. They were ok guys, but the economic and social situation was unstable and shoved them into an abyss. Some are back, and some still in black.

Man in prison with a drawing, photograph by Milcho Pipin

Man looking out a barred window, photograph by Milcho Pipin

Why do you create personal work as a photographer? 

All experiences in personal work are necessary and vital to me, it’s something that characterizes the photographer’s visual abilities. Both types of work, personal and commissioned, are well connected and important because the results always should climb to the level where passion, dedication, persistence and productivity are united to create the power of a “visual voice.”

What were your biggest challenges with this project? 

The whole project was very challenging. Having interaction with the inmates, listening to their stories and being surrounded by razor wire was really indescribable and it seemed unreal. Capturing all their entwined moments of sadness, desperation, confusion, frustration, crisis and anger made this even more challenging to me.

Woman breast-feeding in prison, photograph by Milcho Pipin

Woman sitting on a counter, photograph by Milcho Pipin

Photograph by Milcho Pipin of stalls outside

Pregnant woman in prison, Photograph by Milcho Pipin  Female prisoners with their newborn children, photograph by Milcho Pipin

Classroom within the prison, photograph by Milcho Pipin

What has the reaction to the images been so far? 

Most people don’t have any idea of how prison life is like here in Brazil. People are surprised by the project and anxiously waiting to see all the photos. I must say the reaction to the images is positive, especially for those who observe the photos and are able to imagine themselves in the prisoners place, catching the underlying messages. Comments I usually get are: Very shocking; Fantastic; Super Sad; Powerful; Impressive; Educating; Amazing; Unreal; Scary; Dramatic…

Any future plans for this project?

Yes. Exhibitions are coming up in Brazil and abroad. Dates and locations will be up on my site as soon as they are confirmed. Publishing a book is part of the plan as well, we’ll have more details in the near future.

For more of Milcho’s work, check out his website.