So let’s take a trip back to the old Eastern Sates Penitentiary (ESP) in Philadelphia. This is a personal photography project that is a lot of fun, but can be quite daunting and challenging. First let me just give a little info on ESP. During the Jacksonian-Era prison systems in the United Sates were changing drastically, you see ESP was built as a “penitentiary” and not a prison. If you were sentenced to ESP you went to pay penitence for your wrong doing in society. As the story goes it all came about when several powerful Philadelphians met at Ben Franklin’s home and spawned the idea for ESP. I don’t want to write out a boring history book here so to describe it in a nut shell. The building was epic for the time and when an inmate entered into and was assigned a cell he/she rarely if ever left the cell. In the beginning the concept was once you entered in you seen no one and you spent your time alone to dwell and think about why you were there. Most times guards had covered faces when meals were given. There was a very tiny outdoor court-yard that one would enter through a door in the back of their cell for one hour of exercise per day. The court yards had high walls so all one could see is the sky. Also the cells had a skylight that let light shine in. The light was to represent the eye of god looking down upon you. You can read more about ESP and the prison/penitentiary system at http://www.ushistory.org/tour/eastern-state-penitentiary.htm But simply put if you lived at ESP your life was bleak at best.
So as time moved on we as a society decided that we were treating killers and thugs too damn harsh and that they needed the finer things in life and ESP was shut down. Now it is a museum of sorts. Playing off of the “what people see now as this horrible place” concept it has become somewhat of a carnival sideshow that we’ll dress up by calling it a “museum.” And let’s go further and say “it is haunted” and that will really scare the bejesus out of people and make them pay $14 to walk through the place. Of course I’m giving my personal opinion here, but seriously the place is a bit of a ruse.
Now with all that said; ESP is one awesome place for photographers. However they will not let you photograph a model inside during regular business hours. Unless you’re like me and you find a really cool model that is up for some fun and likes ducking & dodging security cameras and employees… well then yes you can shoot a model inside of ESP. Sorry that is a story for another day and what a story it is. One time I was at ESP by myself and when I first walked in I still had my 70-200mm lens on (because that is how my camera always travels) and I had people scrambling to tell me “sir, sir you are not allowed to photograph models.” Really? I looked at the young dork and asked “and where my good man do you see a model?” He then replied “you’ll have to leave.” Realizing very quickly I was dealing with a… actually I don’t really know what I was dealing with, but a fair guess would be 100% stupidity. So I put on a 24-105mm and walked away.
So last year while researching online for a photo shoot I came across ESP’s site and found that they have three nights a year that they let photographers come in after regular hours and you can more or less photograph whatever you want. You can bring models, props, lighting ect… However it is a first come first serve system and it can be hard to get good shots without having people in your photos. The other challenge is lighting. Because you’re entering in at 5:30pm, outside light is great, but indoor light is… well there isn’t any. I mean there are lights inside and there are skylights but it really is a job for a full crop sensor and riding higher ISO ranges. I shot last year’s images as high as ISO 5000. I could have done better, but the lighting assistant did not show up and I had to just “wing” it.
So this year I will enter in with the ever so elegant Nicole Gallagher and a makeup artist. We are going for more of a fun and not so serious shoot. Although there is the planning of wardrobe still we’re going to make it all about having fun. Remember “having fun at a photo shoot is my number one rule” and if it is not fun then we are doing something wrong. So stay tuned for an update and some behind the scenes video.
Thanks so much for reading and have a great day.