A photographic correspondence with prisoners detained worldwide. 

This project invites prisoners to respond to a series of photographs that are sent to them. The project is using photographs representing touch, sight, taste, smell, sounds, time and space to explore the feelings and perceptions that people have about different senses whilst they are incarcerated. 

Each month, the photographer Bertrand Gaudillère creates an image or chooses one from his archives. We send it to two people detained in Japan. Others taking part in the project are in Argentina, in the United States of America, in France, in Switzerland, in Guatemala, in Ukraine, in Colombia, in Lebanon, in Italy, and in Belgium.


Time 1/12

Bertrand writes to the participants:

This photo, to initiate the correspondence, to say or rather, to show who I am... Immobile before this window, stuck as if time had stopped itself at the image of the clock without hands to which I turn my back, I cast my gaze towards the exterior light. I have the luxury of looking outside, of watching life run its course through the ups and downs of a year that ends, I have the luxury of running or stopping, of playing with the hours, of occupying them, of losing them, or of simply watching them fly by...

Author: CH, 25 years old, female. 

His back to a handless clock, as if to ignore the unignorable, but one cannot disregard time. The attempt is futile, even juvenile. I am contemptuous.
Thickening to the backs of my fingers, all I can see is a pantomime, an over-orchestrated portrait. Sympathetic solidarity oozes from him like uncultured syrup; too rich!
As yet untampered by proper knowledge, there is a lack of true comprehension to words and frame. His design? To elicit a response from myself and others. Imagining my strife and pain through the words of case studies or clients, he is unschooled in the dismal entrapment of walls. He photographs himself before me. It is then all I see, a representation of stagnation, intransience, decay. They are the last great enemy, ensnaring and cruel. To paint upon them, to plaster their smooth frozen surfaces with brightest nostalgia is definitive madness.
A face may change, but its nature shall remain beneath. Thousands before me have stared these, my cage’s faces, and thousands shall do so after me; gazing blindly as hours blur todays, blend to weeks and are then lost inside months and years, just as all else (desires, feelings, memories, hopes, identity…) will be lost. 

Author: HV, 60 years old, female.

Time has little meaning, incarcerated, incapacitated in a cell that makes you claustrophobic. It can get lonely, but not for me. From the beginning of time, I’ve been determined to survive, lost time cannot be recovered, time with loved ones are lost forever. The strict time schedule forced on us day in and day out, doesn’t make one gain time. I like to think I’ve used the years wisely, improved myself, always looking forward to the future. New horizons await me through this solitary confinement. I can always use my ability for using time, whether the hands are there or not, time is in myself. I can use them as I wish.

Touch 2/12

Bertrand writes to the participants:

They are dancers, and my mission is to take photographs of their performance…I follow their movements, up until the moment when their bodies freeze. Motionless, their bodies touch. It is not an embrace. The bodies outlined on the ground make it look like they are lifeless, but then we can see a hand reaching for another, this rush of life...It is said that the sense of touch is vital for the survival of mankind, as well as that of animals…

Author: CH, 25 years old, female. 

Staring at his latest photograph I am reminded of one fact; I have forgotten what it is like to be touched. Falling rain never deigns to alight upon me. I cannot reach through metal mesh, I cannot experience it. I see the dancers frozen in their outreach, the press of flesh on flesh and though somehow in-intimate, I am envious. I long to be held.

What is it like to be wrapped in the arms of another? Or to hold a hand, entwine a pinky, bump a shoulder? Once, a description of such easy interaction would have been simple, even unnecessary.

Now I could not tell you what the texture of skin is like upon a body other than my own.

Lost. Lonely. Longing. These are my words. This is what is evoked by an image of dancers from in their performance. Seemingly all of the Human Element has gone from my life. Without it I feel as the shadows must. I am but only a copy of another of like kind. I do not live in a world of physical interaction and stimuli as you do. And now, for this, I fade.

Author: HV, 60 years old, female.

Touching of the hands as you pass
Each other, acknowledging you’re not alone,
Gives one a glimmer of hope, we so
Badly need, but are not allowed to hear.

Such loneliness, surrounded by many,
Yet touched by none.

Deprived of affection, I stretch out my
Hand to you today, please hug me,
I’m slowly dying without human contact…

Sight 3/12

Bertrand writes to the participants:

He would like to get on the train, but the police are doing checks on the boarding platform. He is an illegal immigrant on French territory. He is afraid of being arrested, so he stands with a smile looking at the train that could take him to a better future, or maybe he is just gazing at the horizon, seeing only the beauty of the sky that lights up this winter afternoon, in Calais, in northern France…

Author: HV, 60 years old, female.

Never out of sight

Images appear in my mind’s eye
When I used to ride the train
To the last station, because I
Could, the train builds-up speed,
My excitement broadens, hope keeps
Me going through the long

It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden
The train, watching the scenery fly
Past; cows in pasture, horses and
Sheep grazing, such simple memories
Of time gone by

Never to be taken for granted or
Ever forgotten, these simple images
I see, mean so much to me.

Author: CH, 25 years old, female. 

Seen through thick glass, the evening sky is a pale lavender and pearl field that stretches above the twinkle and glimmer of electric lights that glow in neat rows like stars, shining onto a train roof that glows.

He, the traveller seeking transit, stands before the porthole that lays this view to bare. It is made all the more lustrous by the two-toned walls of grey that frame it. A bright flash of colour against the bleakness, it is set like a jewel, a feast for the eye.

No doubt what this man has seen, where he has been and the uncertainty in which his future is cast have all taken their toll upon him and yet he pauses to absorb the view.

Perhaps for this moment taken to admire something lovely he is less afraid, less despairing, less alone within the chambers of his heart, for all men have worked the change of a sunset sky.

I know this quietened peace as well, for locked as I am behind the cream-and-grey cell walls and the stark sheen of metal bars, I have watched a duckling pause to play a while with a dandelion as it’s mother and siblings padded off in single file below the ridged plastic sheets that obscure my vision of the world four feet beyond my window. The playful sweetness of that duckling enchanted me. For a while, until it ran off in a honking panic in a flurry of feathers, I forgot and all was well. Too often we take the simple pleasure of sight for granted. This should never be so. Now I long to see a sunset or the glitter of light upon water. That would be a fine thing.

Hearing 4/12

Bertrand writes to the participants:

It's closing time at the fish market at Essaouira (Morocco). Seagulls are flying about, waiting to dive into the scraps left behind…the sound of the sea, the call of the birds, conversations between men in a language that I do not understand…a soundtrack of a place that I am only passing through…I listen, I hear.

Author: HV, 60 years old, female.

The seagulls remind me of where
I used to live.
The crashing of the waves upon
The shore, a long time ago,
But if I listen, it all comes
Back to me.

The noisy cries of the seagulls
Fighting for scraps of food,
Closing my eyes and just listening.
Some things you never forget.

Author: CH, 25 years old, female. 

There are – have always been – the criers of the sea for where seagulls are, so will it be. Their incessant squawk is forever locked within the recesses of my mind. It is a catalyst that once heard releases a torrent of images and sounds. I am accosted, suddenly and without warning, by the rush and roar of waves waging fruitless war against the shore, by the crisp rustle of sand tossed by the wind and the pop, slurp and splat of sunscreen applied beneath the suns’ relentless beaming.

These aural memories, once unleashed, somehow manage to turn the rusted squeak of a door hinge into a seabird’s call and the rattle of keys to the trip and tumble of pebbles dislodged by feet eager to reach the tide pools.

Just by recalling the sound of seagulls, inspired by an image from a place half a world away, I am somehow freed, left to roam an oceanic mindscape made of recollections. That is the true power of sand, to forever entwine a moment, feeling, place or person to a noise which once heard again, unleashes that which otherwise would be lost. Within the hollows of my mind I hear the seagulls crying to the sea and I remember.

5/12 Smell

Bertrand writes to the participants:

A man walks in his canola field. He continues to the middle of a yellow sea which fills the air with a fragrance. I breathe slowly. It's a familiar smell, a scent of summer that reminds me of those long vacation days in the countryside at my grandparent’s house...
It's a little piece of my childhood that instantly comes back to me...

Author: HV, 60 years old, female.

Memories of Childhood

Staying with my grandmother during school holidays, holding her hand, we walked through bluebell fields, a mass of blue with a slight aroma. But the memory that comes most to my mind is grandmothers lavender trees, breathing deeply, inhaling the intoxicating smell of lavender.
So many childhood memories, many years have passed by, trapped in my mind forever, never forgotten… Grandmothers lavender trees, I can still smell them as if it were yesterday…

Author: CH, 25 years old, female. 

Upon Smell

I could never truthfully say that I know well the scent of the canola flower. Nor can I ever speak of times where I have waded through a field of tallow blooms beneath pearly skies. But I have swung free-spirited and singing from my mother’s hand through a sun-drenched meadow, her perfume mingling with that of the lavender that kissed our bare skin and stained our toes.

I have been pulled through iron waves touched by the chill of winter, with seafoam sticking to my face, neck and chest as salt stung my lips and my mouth was filled with bring water, my father’s laughter making me warmer than any summer sun.
And my nose has been pressed to a lovers’ chest, his body’s stench like that of our love making tinged with the flavour of coconut surf wax and spilled wine.

Scents and fragrances leave their marks on all of us, tying our memories, inextricably, to a certain odour.

Bat for a whiff of coconut and I am again fourteen, in the arms of my first heart throb, feeling as infinite as the stars. A hint of the ocean’s tang and I am in the sea with my father conquering a life-long fear of waves and the tide. An encounter with the delicacy of jasmine sees me shrinking to doll-size and experiencing my first trip abroad, my mother like a pillar of safety amongst a riot of unfamiliar names, people and places.
The beauty of smell is that it has always been able to stimulate the minds capacity to remember and arouse in us excitement, delight, melancholy, joy, comfort and yes discomfort, too. Things best remembered come alongside things best forgotten as, unsought, a smell recalls them.

Now my mother’s perfume and my father’s cologne can reduce me to tears and fill me with longing. I bless those little sensing’s for they are like mana from heaven, keeping clear the image of home in a place so far from their embrace.
In this world so colourless and sanitised, I live, I breathe and I expire.

6/12 Taste

Bertrand writes to the participants:

London, Oxford Street, early in the afternoon.
I arrived by the Eurostar after a sleepless night. I am hungry! Why not some Chinese Noodles? Or a pizza? Finally, I ended up buying an awful sandwich. It's ok, after all, I don't care about these meals that are not actual meals. These days, I have eaten most by necessity rather than by desire...

Author: HV, 60 years old, female.


Food we receive is not always edible,
Small bread roll we receive now and again, has no taste, sometimes
Individual serving of jam, which I swirl around my mouth, and Revel in the taste, a little taste is better than none.

A lot of Japanese food here in prison has no taste and some of
It has an awful smell, no western style dishes, sometimes
Noodles but again no taste, all meals calorie-controlled
Filling us for an hour, then you’re hungry again, I’ve forgotten
What Western food tastes like, I only eat to stay alive,
While in this situation of tasteless food...

Author: CH, 25 years old, female. 

A glutton am I and I have feasted incessantly upon richness and spice.

My ability to taste is more to me that just some simple pleasure. It is my consoling friend and indulgent lover, my tempter, obliviator and invigorator.

Like the child in the candy store after dark, I ran through the food halls of the market at World Cuisine in a craze.
Unthinking, unseeing, I take plump fruitcakes from their hooks, jellied fruits from their moulds and lobsters from their shells. I ripped open packets of sugared doughnuts, frosted cakes, crisps and chocolates like an animal.

My teeth I blunted on tins of tuna, fruits, beans and spaghetti or crushes glass jars of sauces, pickles and conserves in a blind desperation for their contents. I licked at tubs of ice cream and frozen desserts until my tongue bled, and scratched at biscuit tins, boxes of chocolates and the cardboard wrappings of lasagne and pizza until my nails cracked and the paper made cuts on the skin of my hands. On these and more I gorged myself, and gorged myself, and in my wake I left a mountain of half-devoured food stuffs and their wrapping, atop which I made a throne of charred steak bones and ribs, pastries and nutshells.

I was a shame to my gluttony, and I adored it. Taste’s joys were my addiction, and I was its willing subservient.
Though I no longer can indulge in its unholy practices, I dream of the day I can. Soon, I think, soon, they will be mine...Custard tarts drizzled with lemon curd, wagyu beef sliders with blue cheese sauce, butterscotch puddings with dark chocolate raspberry confit, lemon roasted salmon with duck-fat-roasted new potatoes, lamb shanks with blood oranges...

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