“The first time I saw my self-portrait I cried and felt ugly, I looked very vulnerable,” the former inmate Kristine says.
Today she feels strong and confident. The project ‘Her/Story’ by the Spanish photographer Cristina Nunez Salmeron, helped Kristine feel proud of herself again.
“I’m from a small village in Norway where everybody knows everything about each other. I was a victim of psychological violence, and started using drugs. I got into crime at a young age,” says Kristine.
An extreme exposure
Kristine went to prison when she was 20, as one of the youngest inmates at Bredtveit Woman’s Prison in Norway. She was one of 45 inmates, from Norway and Spain, who participated in the bilateral cultural exchange project ‘Her/Story’ financed by Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
“The project changed the way I look at myself,” says Kristine.
Artist and photographer Cristina Nunez Salmeron wants to portray human beings, without labelling them according to their class or situation, through photographs. She is letting inmates take their own self-portraits to describe how they feel. Cristina believes the photos serve as both beautiful and unveiling art, as well as therapy in the way the inmates analyse each other’s photos.
“I think the extreme exposure makes people relate to one another in a deeper and a more humane way,” Nunez says.
Kristine used to have good self-esteem, but inside the prison walls she felt depressed and developed anxiety.
“I felt lonely, and some of the other inmates scared me. I didn’t feel that I belonged there,” Kristine says.
After being a part of the ‘Her/Story’ project, Kristine has a different perspective on things.
“In the beginning it was scary. I’m more comfortable taking selfies with filters. In a way, the photos forced me to see myself from a different perspective. I listened to what the other inmates saw in my photos. Some nice things were said, and I still remember those things today.”
The Bredtveit prison: “A great method of therapy”
The ‘Her/Story’ aims to improve the cultural links between Spain and Norway, as well as promoting an European identity. According to the Deputy Head of Bredtveit Prison, the EEA Grants financed project also functioned as a form of rehabilitation.
“We have never seen anything like this before. It has been an exciting part of the correctional services. Cristina Nunez managed to create a discussion about hidden feelings that’s usually difficult to talk about. The participants were very satisfied and proud of their products,” says Doris Bakken, Deputy Head of Bredtveit Prison.
Bakken is fascinated by the way Cristina uses photography to reflect on the inmate’s feelings and self-esteem.
“They also developed a closer relationship to each other, and became more tolerant. From our perspective, this project and cooperation was very successful; it worked not just as an art project, but also as a method of therapy,” says Bakken.
“I was ashamed of myself”
After eight months’ atonement in prison, Kristine is back to everyday life. Today, she is abstinent, she is studying almost full time, and she recently got engaged.
“This project has helped me with a lot of things and my life is good now. I didn’t like my pictures in the beginning. I was ashamed. Now I can look at those pictures and say: I am proud, I look good. It represents who I used to be. It is art,” says Kristine.
Bredtveit Prison has arranged similar workshops on their own initiative after this project. ‘Her/Story’ will continue after the funded EEA Grants project period is over, by students from Oslo Fotokunstskole, supervised by Nunez.
In spring 2017, some of the portraits will be shown in a separate exhibition at Aker Brygge in Oslo, Norway.