The PhotoBook

April 4, 2014

Nico Bick – P.I.

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Nick Bick copyright 2011, self-published

Nico Bick’s P.I. is a study of what is purported to be the one of the most well-known prisons in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the Over-Amstel Penitentiary Institution locally known as Bijlmerbajes (Bijlmer Jail). Using a documentary style, Bick photographed the cells of prisoners, isolation cells, communal rooms and holding cells. Bick also include an area that is most relevant to the prison administration; the control rooms and an area equally important to the prisoners; the doors leading out of the facilities.

Interestingly, the book is unbound and the interior sheets are folded and tucked together. I think that there might have been initially some order to how these pages were arranged, but over the last couple of years, while I continued looking at these sheets I have managed to create a jumble in the presentation. I suspect that that was part of Bick’s plan to allow the reader to rearrange and create their own order out of the inherent madness associated with a tightly regimented prison system.

Perhaps with the exception of the prisoner’s rooms and control rooms, the areas photographed within this institution are ambiguous. The facility appears almost too clean and sterile with the exception of one type of room that seems to invite graffiti. The locations are photographed without the presence of the prisoners or their guards, but we sense that due to the nature of this place, someone maybe just beyond the scope of Bick’s lens. This is a man-built structure with a very specific purpose in mind.

In stark comparison to the photographs of the US jails and prisons interiors, in which the prisoners are living in a mass communal, the individual rooms appear to be only a slight departure from someone’s home residence. Each room appears to be designed for an inhabited by a single individual; each provided a window, blue curtains, a corner table with a small television and coffee maker and an adjoining chair. On the shelves above the single bed is a place to hold books, snacks, or a photograph. Some of these rooms look Spartan as though just occupied, other have the accumulated debris that comes with too much time. Bick’s photographs appear objective and not judgmental of the current situation and circumstances.

As a book object, it has tri-fold stiff cover, with the interior panels containing thumbnail photographs and captions that provide an index to the interior sheets. The four color interior sheets are folded and loose (unbound). An introduction is provided on another loose sheet by Frits Gierstberg while the book was designed by Joost Grootens.

Footnote: This is one of the photobooks that I received in early 2012 and which never seemed to make through my photobook review cycle. Nevertheless the book’s intriguing design in conjunction with the clearly seen yet stark photographs made a strong impression and this book keeping lingering in my memory as a book that needed to be discussed.

Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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