Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lori Waselchuk

Lori Waselchuk by Philadelphia Photographer Colin Lenton

Felton Love, left, is one of Timothy Minor's "family members" in prison. Hospice patients are allowed to place six names on a visitation list. Love spends ten hours a day with Minor.

Felton Love, left, is one of Timothy Minor's "family members" in prison. Hospice patients are allowed to place six names on a visitation list. Love spends ten hours a day with Minor.

Hospice volunter George Brown places his hand lightly on Jimmie Burnett's chest for comfort and reassurance.

Felton Love, right, watches Timothy Minor closely in the hospital courtyard at Angola Prison. Love has volunteered to care for Minor, who is dying from a brain tumor. Minor has lost much of his muscle control. To enable Minor to sit up in his wheelchair, Love has wrapped him with bedsheets.

Hospice volunteer, Randolph Matthieu, far right, shows Paul Krolowitz, Carlo DeSalvo, Joseph Greco how to reduce swelling in their friend Richard Liggett. Liggett is a hospice patient diagnosed with lung and liver cancers.

In 'lock down" for disruptive behavior, hospice patient Terry Kendrick, 46, receives a visit from volunteer Warren Joseph.

Calvin Dumas, left, helps turn George Alexander in his bed. Alexander is a hospice patient dying of brain and lung cancers. Dumas and Alexander have been very close friends for the 30-plus years they have been incarcerated at Angola.

Mary Bloomer, a prison security guard, watches from the levee as prisoners form Field Line 15 from Wolf Dormitory at Camp C at Angola, Louisiana's maximum security prison.

Hospice volunteer Nolan James, left, and hospice patient, Kenny Mingo, right, lift Albert "Tut" Soublet from his wheelchair so he can go through a security checkpoint. Soublet is a palliative care hospice patient and he continues to live in the main prison.

Nola Fontenot, center, plays the omnichord and sings church songs for Jimmie Burnett as he sleeps. Fontenot, a retired prison chaplain, visits patients in the prison hospital ward once a week. Corrections officer Cadet King looks on.

Jimmie Burnett, left, laughs with his mother, Buerat Coleman, who is visiting him in his hospice room. Coleman, 75, has to travel five hours from Shreveport, LA to visit her son and the journey is difficult for her. But their visits lift Burnett's spirits.

Charnese Zanders, 12, visits her father, Van Morris, through a small window in the locked door of his hospital room. Zanders was reunited with her father through the Angola Prison hospice program. Morris, who is diagnosed with colon cancer, remains in lockdown because of a history of disruptive actions. Regardless, Angola Warden Burl Cain encourages his staff to facilitate family visitation.

Relatives of prisoner George Alexander sit in the front row at the memorial service held in honor of Alexander, who died at the age of 56. The Angola Prison Hospice program is responsible for planning memorial services for its patients in a chapel built especially for the hospice program.

Rosa Mary White, the aunt of prisoner George Alexander, sits next to Alexander's coffin during his burial ceremony at the Angola State Penitentiary cemetery.

Lloyd Bone, a prisoner at Louisiana's State Penitentiary, rides atop a horse driven hearse carrying the body of fellow prisoner George Alexander, who died at the age of 56. The hearse was hand built by prison carpenters.


Special thanks to Lori Waselchuk for allowing me to reproduce her photographs, here, on my blog.  Without her kind cooperation and generosity this blog entry would not have been possible.  No further use of these photographs is allowed without her permission.  She can be contacted at:

Also, I want to thank Colin Lenton, the Philadelphia Photographer, for allowing me to use his portrait of Lori Waselchuk, here, on my blog.


Lori Waselchuk Artist's Statement:  Grace Before Dying:

A life sentence in Louisiana means life. More than 85% of the 5,100 inmates imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola are expected to die there. Until the hospice program was created in 1998, most prisoners died alone. Their bodies were buried in shabby boxes in numbered graves at Point Lookout, the prison cemetery. Angola inmates have long feared dying in prison. But a certified and nationally recognized hospice program, initiated by Warden Burl Cain, has changed that.

Now, when a terminally ill inmate is too sick to live among the general prison population, he is transferred to the hospice ward. Here, inmate volunteers work closely with hospital and security staff to care for the patient. The volunteers, most of whom are serving life sentences themselves, try to keep him as comfortable as possible. Then, during the last days of the patient’s life, the hospice staff begins a 24-hour vigil. The volunteers go to great lengths to ensure that their fellow inmate does not die alone.

Hospice volunteers plan a memorial service and burial. The casket, made by prisoners, is taken from the prison to the cemetery in a beautiful handcrafted hearse, also made by prisoners. The hearse is drawn by two giant Percherons and is followed by a procession of friends and, sometimes, family members who sing and walk behind the hearse.

The hospice volunteers’ efforts to create a tone of reverence for the dying and the dead have touched the entire prison population. Prison officials say that the program has helped to transform one of the most violent prisons in the South into one of the least violent maximum-security institutions in the United States.

The hospice volunteers must go through a difficult process to bury their own regrets and fears, and unearth their capacity to love. "Grace Before Dying" looks at how, through hospice, inmates assert and affirm their humanity in an environment designed to isolate and punish. It reflects how grace offers hope that our lives need not be defined by our worst acts.


Lori Waselchuk Biography:

Lori Waselchuk is a documentary photographer whose photographs have appeared in magazines and newspapers worldwide, including Newsweek, LIFE, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. She has produced photographs for several international aid organizations including CARE, the UN World Food Program, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the Vaccine Fund. Her work is exhibited internationally and is part of many collections including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Portland Museum of Art and the South African National Gallery.

Waselchuk’s first monograph, "Grace Before Dying" (Umbrage Editions, 2011), is a photographic documentary about a hospice program in the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP), where both the caregivers and the patients are serving long-term prison sentences. Waselchuk created two traveling exhibitions that have been shown at over 70 venues (including four prisons) in the United States since 2009.

Her current work, "Them That Do", is an ongoing portrait series and multimedia project about the Philadelphia block captains -- individuals who act as semi-official liaisons between residents and city government and who volunteer to build community and solve local problems.

Waselchuk is a recipient of the 2014 Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award, the 2012 Pew Fellowship for the Arts, the Aaron Siskind Foundation’s 2009 Individual Photographer Fellowship, a 2008 Distribution Grant from the Documentary Photography Project of the Open Society Institute, the 2007 PhotoNOLA Review Prize, and the 2004 Southern African Gender and Media Award for Photojournalism. Waselchuk was also a nominee for the 2009 Santa Fe Prize for Photography, a finalist in the 2008 Aperture West Book Prize, and a finalist in the 2006 and 2008 Critical Mass Review.


I want to thank Amie Potsic, Executive Director of the Main Line Art Center in Haverford, PA for introducing me to the work of Donald E. Camp, Lydia Panas, and Lori Waselchuk. They were recently featured in the "Humankind" exhibit at the center. Over the next three month I plan to feature their work, here, on my "Masters of Photography" blog.



(Main Line Art Center, February 20 through March 20, 2014
Featuring the work of Donald E. Camp, Lydia Panas and Lori Waselchuk
Curated by Amie Potsic

Curator's Statement:

Humankind presents works that uniquely address the human condition through qualities and genres inherent to the photographic tradition: social responsibility, portraiture, and the photo essay. This exhibition celebrates in depth projects that creatively engage the world of contemporary photography while deepening connections to the history of the photographic medium.

Each artist approaches their subject matter – the human face, family, and hospice -- with respect and curiosity as they harness photography’s innate talent for storytelling, confrontation, and communication.

With his forceful, yet intimate images of the human face, Donald E. Camp’s work encourages audiences to explore the dignity and nobility that can be found in each of us. Camp’s inventive photographic prints seek to contrast broadly held stereotypes and acknowledge the struggle against ignorance and intolerance as a universal one. Lydia Panas invites the viewer to look beyond the family relationships depicted in her photographs and to explore the deeper, universal questions of how we feel. Her photographs portray families of all forms in verdant landscapes while also giving subtle clues to that which lies beneath the surface in all of us. Lori Waselchuk’s photographs powerfully illuminate the ways in which our humanity percolates through the dark and light moments of our lives. Exemplified by the prison hospice program she documented, her work is emotional, interactive, and storytelling, and strives to nurture empathy in the viewer, despite our diversity.

By engaging in long-term, in-depth photographic series that give voice to the personal and universal, these artists powerfully remind us of what it means to be human, compassionate, and connected.

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