Amy Elkins is a visual artist primarily working in photography whose work explores the multifaceted nature of masculine identity as well as the psychological and sociological impacts of incarceration. Her approach is series-based, steeped in research and oscillates between formal, conceptual and documentary.
Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, an estimated 100,000 of them are kept in solitary confinement, often for years on end. Black is the Day, Black is the Night, a project spanning from 2009-2016, explores how that type of long-term isolation and incarceration can affect an individual's psychology, sense of self, and perception of reality. Through personal correspondence with men serving life and death sentences, I created images that attempt to showcase the unexpectedly vulnerable aspects of my pen pals' incarcerated lives. Using appropriated material, I created composite landscapes of memories shared in letters, overlaying them to account for the number of years each had spent in prison as well as pixelated portraits using an image loss ratio of years behind bars to years alive. I constructed objects with instruction from my pen pals like jump ropes made of bedsheets and paint sets made of dissolved candy and tap water. I sent these images to them. This went on for years. Of the seven men I originally wrote with: one man was released in 2010 at the age of thirty after spending 15 years in prison. Three men eventually opted to move on from the project. One man was executed in 2009 after spending 12 years on death row, another executed in 2012 after spending over 15 years on death row, both of which maintained their innocence throughout their sentences. And most recently, one of the men was released early from a life without parole sentence that had been given to him at the age of 16. Leading up to his release, he had served twenty-two years in an adult super max prison, seventeen of which were spent in solitary confinement.