201 Poplar

In Memphis, the criminal court and county jail are housed in the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, known locally by it's address; 201 Poplar.

I'm interested in examining the physical space that makes up the criminal justice system, where people's bodies pass through or are held during their contact with the system. The rooms of 201 Poplar can be elegant, banal, menacing.

Each day after waiting in long lines to pass through metal detectors, throngs of people descend escalators into a literal pit surrounded by courtrooms below. When unoccupied, the space could be an abandoned set piece from a dystopian science fiction movie.

A witness room where people wait before taking the stand seems a complete afterthought with mismatched and damaged furniture haphazardly pushed against the wall. However, someone thoughtfully placed a children's toy on the table, and the room itself is bathed in beautiful light from wall-to-wall windows.

Panoramic views of the city likely go unnoticed by those in the waiting area outside the courtrooms on higher floors.

The same space that exists to hold incarcerated people is also the just the "office" for those working in the system.

Images abound, I've taken many myself, of accused killers on the stand, distraught relatives outside the courtroom, demonstrators demanding justice, attorneys reassuring clients, police standing guard. Photographs of the empty spaces where these events occur invite the viewer to consider the machinations behind the system, the surreal nature of it. The idea of these spaces is worth exploration.

I am working to get assistance from representatives of the Public Defender's office. 201 Poplar is closed to the public on federal holidays. These are the best opportunities to photograph inside the courthouse. Access to the jail has proven much more difficult, but I continue to work to gain access.