“Images from Texas Death Row” to be Exhibited in the Ground Floor Rotunda of the Texas Capitol
Monday, May 18 – Friday May 22
Event: Images from Texas Death Row “The Photography of John Holbrook”
Sponsor: Texas Friends and Allies Against the Death Penalty
Dates: May 18 – May 22
Where: The Texas State Capitol Building in the ‘Ground Floor Rotunda’ (Take elevator down to G)
Reception May 18 at 6 PM in the Texas Capitol Members Lounge – Extension, Room E2.1002 (Take elevator down to E2)
Artist’s Talk May 18 at 7:00 p.m. in the Ground Floor Rotunda
Photographer John Holbrook
These images are of current Texas death row inmates. The photographs were taken in 2008 at the Polunsky and Gatesville units. Ultimately, the message I wish to convey through my art, is simple. The only way we can truly stop suffering is to love and forgive those who have caused that suffering. I have chosen to photograph both those who are clearly guilty of the crimes for which they have been condemned as well as some who have claims of innocence. Guilt or innocence is irrelevant to the point I wish to make with these photographs. My photography is intended to communicate the idea of forgiveness. I want to share this liberating truth that I have learned.
As a private investigator for 17 years, I work capital murder cases. In 1995 I was assigned to a case involving the double homicide of a North Texas teenage couple. The victims were tortured and murdered. I worked on the defense team for one of the defendants. While working the case, I spent hours examining the crime scene evidence, including graphic photographs. Some years later, I started to experience anxiety when I saw anything remotely similar to the injuries done to the victims.
I sought help from a psychologist regarding this anxiety. I was told I likely had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The doctor determined that my photography at that time, pictures of homeless and 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 I could overcome PTSD by loving and forgiving those who had caused it.
Some family members of murder victims choose to honor their loved ones by asking prosecutors not to seek the death penalty. However, in other cases in order to get a death sentence, prosecutors sometimes argue that the victim’s loved ones endorse the death of the accused. It is said that the surviving loved ones, “Need closure”. Through my pictures, I argue that this disables the survivors’ ability to forgive and accept reconciliation with the person in the future. To me, execution is a grave injustice. Execution virtually denies us the ability to forgive and reconcile with the convicted in the future … ultimately denying everyone involved the ability to stop suffering.
I maintain that it takes a work of art to ultimately address the collective consciousness. Art is a wonderful medium to encourage and enhance civic engagement and dialogue. It was Uncle Tom’s Cabin that spoke and turned the tide against slavery in America. I hope that my images will modestly follow in its footsteps. I aspire to help turn the tide against the death penalty.
New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009. New York and New Jersey have also abolished the death penalty in recent years. Last week, the House of Representatives in Connecticut voted to abolish the death penalty. In 2009, there were two bills filed in the Texas House of Representatives to abolish the death penalty.