Check Out These “Tools of Disobedience” Crafted Under Lock and Key
The nature of human ingenuity is such that anything—but anything—can become a weapon when it lands it the wrong hands. As the old English proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and demand is a powerful force. Under conditions of pressure and threat, tools can be fashioned out of seemingly “normal” objects more often than not as photographer Mélanie Veuillet discovered inside the prisons of Romandy, the French-speaking section of Switzerland.
During 2014, she toured the prisons and photographed the tools that had been confiscated by officers. Set them against a simple white backdrop, the weapons appear somewhere in a netherworld that is at once objects of art, artifacts, and criminal evidence.
Now Edition Patrick Frey introduces Tools of Disobedience, a collection of 185 photographs made of these peculiar and extraordinary weapons and tools. From shivs to ropes, brass knuckles to nunchucks, slingshots to pellet guns, radios to keys, the objects that Veuillet photographed are remarkable studies of needs.
Most of us cannot imagine life on the inside, the constant threat of violence counterbalanced by mind-numbing boredom. Stripped of freedom of movement and the comforts of home, prisoners must rely on their ability to survive the experience. The demons that lurk deep beneath the surface often emerge, driving countless inmates to suicide. They, too, musty fashion tools to meet their needs.
As Didier Fassin, Professor of Social Sciences at the Insitute for Advanced Study in Princeton, writes in the book’s afterword, “Prison is a recent invention, little more than two centuries old. For a long time, it was tempting to believe that it reflected what the German sociologist Norbert Elias called the ‘the civilizing process,’ in other words, a softening of punishment. Offenses would no longer be punished by executions carried out in public, sometimes after prolonged torture; instead, offenses would now be punished by imprisonment of varying length in order to reform the convict and protect society. These complacent justifications have had their time.”
We are coming to learn about the effects of imprisonment on the mind, the way it creates breaks people and creates a permanent criminal class that find it impossible to adjust back to life on the “outside.” Cases like Kalief Browder are making the public aware of the fact that thousands of innocent men, women, and children are imprisoned, many without trial, trapped in a Kafka-esque totalitarian landscape, their human and legal rights denied. With documentary films like Ava DuVernay’s 13TH, we are conscious of the ways in which the U.S. government and corporations profit from legalized slavery under the Thirteenth Amendment.
Tools of Disobedience speaks for those whose voice has been silenced, whose names and identities have been reduced to numbers in a system, vanished from the world. All that remains are the objects they crafted to speak of their needs. As Professor Fassin writes, “The crude tools of disobedience are here to remind the visitor to this imaginary museum of resistance to the carceral condition. These poor objects are objects of the poor. Exhumed from the oblivion to which they were destined thanks to the artist’s work, they surrender their ultimate truth about the contemporary world.”
All Photos: © Mélanie Veuillet, “Tools of Disobedience”, Edition Patrick Frey, 2017
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.