Film, Video Folklore and Seeing: Photographs from Cummins Prison

About this Item


  • Folklore and Seeing: Photographs from Cummins Prison


  • In two separate decisions in 1969 and 1970, Holt v. Sarver I and II, U.S. District Judge J. Smith Henley declared the Arkansas prison system unconstitutional on the grounds that it was cruel and unusual punishment. This was the first time a state's prison system had been declared illegal, and the first time that a Federal judge ordered a state to radically change the way it dealt with prisoners. A year later, ethnographer Bruce Jackson, who had previously done a great deal of work in the Texas prison system, made a brief visit to Cummins prison in Grady, Ark., to see what the worst prison in the United States looked like.

Event Date

  • March 25, 2010


  • -  Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo. Jackson is a filmmaker, photographer, and author or editor of 25 books, the most recent of which are "The Story is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories" (Temple, 2007) and "Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture" (Temple, 2009). Jackson was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows (1963-1967), Guggenheim Fellow (1971-1972), and Grammy Nominee (1974). Jackson's first book was a festschrift for Ben Botkin, Folklore and Society (Folklore Associates, 1966). His two best known folklore books are "Wake Up Dead Man: Afro-American Worksongs from Texas Prisons" (Harvard, 1972) and "Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me": Narrative Poetry from Black Oral Tradition (Harvard, 1974). Jackson served as president of the American Folklore Society, editor of Journal of American Folklore, and a member of the board of trustees of the American Folklife Center. In recognition of his ethnographic and anti-death-penalty work, the French government appointed him chevalier in L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2002). Jackson is currently working on a book of his Texas death row photographs and a new photographic project that has the working title Post-Industrial Buffalo.

Running Time

  • 1 hours 4 minutes 48 seconds

Online Format

  • video
  • image

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Credit Line: Library of Congress

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Chicago citation style:

Folklore and Seeing: Photographs from Cummins Prison. 2010. Video.

APA citation style:

(2010) Folklore and Seeing: Photographs from Cummins Prison. [Video] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

Folklore and Seeing: Photographs from Cummins Prison. 2010. Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.