Cellblock with Skylight
From the portfolio Eastern State Penitentiary
James Fee, American, 1949 - 2006
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Fascinated by American history, photographer James Fee has often sought out the most monumental survivors of social change, including retired ocean liners, abandoned factories, the infamous prison on Alcatraz Island, and Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary. The focus of interest and controversy since its opening in 1829, the penitentiary fell into disrepair after closing in 1971, but has since been stabilized and was opened to public tours beginning in 1994. Made the following year, Fee's views of its storeroom, machine shop, and infirmary record some of the left-behind objects that hint at life inside the prison. The artist made his negatives using the nineteenth-century wet-plate photographic process and employed other techniques to diffuse the detail of his subjects. The resulting hazy, imperfect quality suggests the passage of time and, by offering only indistinct glimpses of the penitentiary, reminds us of the many untold stories within its walls.