It was short notice, a public holiday and raining – yet the venue was filled with people who had accepted their invitations to listen to New York City-based photographer Toshi Kazama speak. None of us were disappointed.
For the past 15 years Mr Kazama had been photographing death row inmates, execution chambers, crime scenes and families, using his skills as a professional photographer to explore the death penalty and accompanying issues. He had wanted to explore social problems, and had settled on the death penalty as a topic that encompassed all of the problems he had considered: drugs, violence, crime, death, etc.
Beginning with a 16-year-old death row inmate in Alabama, Mr Kazama began to meet more and more people, photographing more and more inmates. He also started to speak in different countries, presenting his photographs and sharing his experience in the hopes of getting people to think about the death penalty, and what it says about us as a society.
8 years ago, he himself was assaulted and seriously wounded. Doctors had not expected him to survive, but he did. His friends and family had been hurt, angry and furious, but he told his children, “Hate the crime, get angry with the violence, but never hate the person.”
Throughout his presentation Mr Kazama highlighted issues that he had observed in the past 15 years as he delved deeper into the death penalty, and said that meeting and photographing death row inmates had dispelled any pre-conceived notions he had had about what murderers and criminals should look like and be like. “I used to think that they were all monsters, but that first 16-year-old boy was just like any kid in my son’s class.”
His photographs took us all a step back from all the statistics and arguments and talk, and made us face up to the people society has condemned, and the mechanisms put in place for us to systematically kill them: the holding cell with the black screen, the sad table with artificial flowers for last meals, the electric chair with a mark on the seat where the inmates’ tailbones burn as they die, the gurney with the leather straps where lethal injections are administered, the white sheet in the middle of a room of black sand where inmates have to lie face-down to get shot, the secret viewing room for victims’ families to watch the inmate’s family crying as the execution takes place.
“This is reality,” Mr Kazama said. “It’s not like a distant event. It’s happening in your community too.”
Co-founder Kirsten’s thoughts – The most precious thing.
Lianain Films – “All My Preconceived Notions Went Away”
Callan Tham – “You Know, Down to the Second, When You’re Gonna Die”
Justicia Phuang – Our Precious Things
If you attended the event and wrote a blog post on your experience, please share the link with us so we can add it to the list!