Friday, January 23, 2009

DALLAS — John Holbrook, a former crime scene photographer, takes portraits of the men and women on death row in Texas. Holbrook’s project began as a way to address his own trauma over seeing horrific crime scene images at work.

The message of Holbrook’s work is ultimately about forgiveness and how it can empower victims to move past traumatic events.

In the featured story, News 8 photojournalist, Doug Burgess, along with reporter David Schechter, take you inside Texas’ Death Row for a rare glimpse at the people behind the headlines.

Holbrook will lecture and exhibit his work at Southern Methodist University on Thursday, January 29th at 7 p.m. at the McCord Auditorium located at 306 Dallas Hall.

Artist’s Statement

 I have been an Investigator licensed with the state of Texas (private Investigator) for 16 years.  I have worked capital murder cases as a court appointed investigator in North Texas.  

One of those cases involved the double homicide of North, Texas teenagers Carrie Crews and Jesus Garza. Carrie Crews was raped, tortured and murdered.  The two perpetrators were James Lee Clark and James Brown.  I was part of the defense for these two defendants. 

While working that case, I spent hours examining the crime scene evidence including the photographs. The images were very graphic.  Some years later, I started to experience ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.  Whenever he saw anything remotely similar to the injuries done to Carrie Crews (crime scene photographs), I experienced extreme anxiety. 


I saw a psychologist regarding the PTSD.  The Doctor determined that my current photography at that time (pictures of social outcasts shown in a spiritual light) was a subconscious attempt to correct the ‘Bad Pictures’ I saw while working the capital murder case .


Ultimately, I learned that that only way I could overcome his PTSD was to learn how to Love and Forgive those who had caused it; James Lee Clark.

This is ultimately what I am attempting to communicate with these photographs; ‘The only way we can truly stop suffering is to love and forgive those who have caused that suffering’.  

Essentially, my work is more intended to communicate to  all of  the victim’s (loved ones) more than to communicate facts about  the condemned.  I want to teach the victims this liberating truth that I have learned.

As most death penalty abolitionists know, a tool often used by the Texas prosecutor to get the death penalty is the argument that the victim’s (loved ones) endorse the death of the accused.  It is said that the victims, “Need closure”.   With my pictures, I argue that this act severely handicaps the victim’s ability to love and forgive the accused in the future.  To add an element of responsibility or more accurately, the element of guilt with the accused execution, unjustly involves the victims.   It is a grave injustice done to the victims to execute the accused because it virtually denies the victims the ability to love and forgive them in the future, hence; ultimately denying the victims the right to stop suffering.

I am constantly being asked, “You have photographs of both the guilty and most likely innocent on death row, why do you have both, and what is it you are you trying to say”?     I have and always will make great efforts to communicate the following to the viewer and answer this question as follows; “I have deliberately chosen to photograph both the very obviously guilty of their crimes and those who are very obviously innocent of their crimes.  This difference is irrelevant to the point I am making, so I will not communicate these differences to you.  If you feel compelled to discover these differences yourself, it’s easily done”.

I maintain that, it takes a work of art to ultimately address the collective consciousness  that is America.  It was the American book entitled, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ that spoke to this collective consciousness and turned the tide against slavery in America.    I hope that my images will modestly follow in these footsteps and finally address that entity that will finally help turn the tide against the death penalty.

For more information about these pictures, please visit my web site:


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