Black is the Day, Black is the Night is a multi-layered photographic project by artist Amy Elkins (American, born 1979) that explores the psychological effects of long-term solitary confinement. Of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, 100,000 of them are kept in isolation, often for years on end. Because her subjects are physically inaccessible and hidden from view (prisons generally do not allow photography inside), Elkins drew on correspondence with several men living on death row or serving life sentences. In addition to seven photographs from the project, the exhibition includes letters and ephemera written by the incarcerated men over the course of many years.
Elkins blended fact and fantasy to create extensively processed portraits and landscapes that evoke her subjects’ unstable senses of identity, fading memories, and the banal realities of everyday life in prison. The selection on view in this exhibition is drawn from a larger body of work that culminated in a book.
Elkins’s photographs are not an overt indictment of the American criminal justice system, yet in asking us to question the impact of a system designed to be out of sight, she implicates us in a decidedly political act. Elkins does not demand that we empathize with her subjects but instead asks us to pause and question our own stances on the use of capital punishment and solitary confinement before passing judgment on these men and dismissing them from our thoughts.