“Dead Men Don't Look Like Me”: Paul Schiek's Arresting Images

At Stephen Wirtz Gallery, prison mug shots from the 1950s offer a striking counterpoint to the tense portrait of a closed-eyed Ross Mirkarimi. Unidentified Georgia inmates stare straight into the camera, some looking quizzical, some perplexed, defiant, or even smug. Oakland photographer Paul Schiek obtained the original images from a friend, who found them at an abandoned Georgia prison. Schiek narrowed down the stash to 20 men who looked a bit like him — white, darkish hair, between 25 and 40 years old — and then cropped the mug shots and re-photographed them. Detached from prison numbers and other marks identifying them as “inmates,” the photos could be audition shots for a Humphrey Bogart film. The thin line between failure and success, between one economic class and another, is in the eyes of these select men. Despite the exhibit's title, Schiek is loosely identifying with these criminals, letting them stand as proxies for anyone who believes they could never relate to the incarcerated.

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