This series is a part of documentary photography project which was taken in the women ward of central prison in North Nicosia, Cyprus with the permissions from Ministry of Internal Affairs and Nicosia Central Prison Directorate. The project work lasted about ten months and it is the first documentary photography work on prisons in Cyprus.
The reason why I concentrated on a project which has a high emotional impact and effect was a curiosity towards the lives of these women. In other words, I wanted to create an awareness about the women prisoners’ life in prison and demonstrate their everyday life behind bars. I want the society to meet with the women behind the bars through my photographs and create awareness in the community.
When I visited the prison, I was overcome with conflicting emotions. I was entering a prison for the first time in my life. I was not an inmate but I felt as if I was stepping from freedom towards imprisonment.
During my visits to the prison from September 2014 until June 2015 number of the women prisoners in the ward was around 12 to 19. Female inmates were in prison for crimes such as murder, drugs, theft, fatal traffic accidents, forgery of documents etc.
The project had to focus on the human beings. I had to get to know them through chats and somehow I had to touch their hearts through the cracks of the walls of their lives. Even though some of the women were uncomfortable about my presence and my camera during the initial days, in time they got used to me and I got used to them. I was able to establish good relations with them, and we all had many productive hours. Maybe the fact of the matter is that I shared the same environment with people that I would not otherwise have met in my lifetime. I had lunch with them and drank coffee. Every time I went I was introduced to new stories and new heroes. I found out that listening to human stories and observing their lives in that restricted environment was interesting. I came across women’s tales that were very different from the ones that existed in my own life.
My first impression was that it resembled more of a women’s hall of residence than a prison. It was not dark. Contrary to my expectations it was a light and airy place. I felt that it was a good place regarding the “rights of the convicts”. But despite all the good conditions it was still a place where life was restricted. You walk in the company of the sky that you can see behind high walls with barbed wires, from one wall to the next. This is called “pacing up and down” and as you pace up and down, freedom smiles at you as you look up to the sky from your confined limits.
My work did not prove to be easy. Moreover, I experienced a number of negativities caused by prison red tape and physical conditions of the prison. Despite all the objections and negativities, I was able to take photographs in all parts of the women’s wing.
No matter what the physical conditions of the prison may be, I wanted to draw attention to the phenomenon of women who are imprisoned and deprived of their freedom. I wanted to use the dramatic, effective aspect of black and white photographs naturally without being set up. All photographs are documents that send notes to the outside, from the in side, They allow us a way to see the imprisoned women.
We can say that the common feelings of the photographs is that they “hold a light to the details of life at the women’s prison from a special perspective”. Over the high walls of the prison and its iron railings, they turn into witnesses of the lives of convicted women through the lens of my camera.
The dog in the photographs was a present from the former prison director to an inmate who is sentenced for 25 years. Alfie’s fate was the same as the women of the wing.
I have opened two exhibitions with 57 photos from this project in North and South Nicosia. This series ‘Behind the Bars’ has won awards in Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. Also a single photo from this work has won awards in Serbia and Greece. The series ‘Behind the Bars’ will be exhibited at the 6th Rendez-vous Image Exhibition January 2016 in Strasbourg, France. I have become finalist in the 8th Pollux Awards with three artworks from ‘Behind the Bars’ and has been invited to exhibit in the 4th Biennal of Fine Art and Documentary Photography, Gala Awards in Berlin 2016. [Official Website]