marianne barthélemy

loving still

LOVING STILL


When a prison sentence is issued, the entire family suffers.


“It’s like we’re sentenced too,” says Marine Morillon. She travels an hour and a half on her day off every Sunday to visit her boyfriend, incarcerated at Rennes Vezin’s prison for men in the North of France. At the Rainbow House, a small hotel in the North of France, people come from all over country to visit incarcerated loved ones.


The French inmate population has multiplied by 2.3 in the last forty years alone. Today, there are 68,500 incarcerated persons in France, most of whom are parents, husbands, wives, partners, siblings. Incarceration is a privation of liberty, and experts say it should not result in a privation of parenthood and partnership. Yet, long sentences served in prisons often faraway from home weigh on relationships.


*Financing by the SCAM Bourse Brouillon d'un Rêve

Artist Statement

The rooms have happy names that remind me of an elementary school: butterfly room, flower room, blue room. Pastel-colored wallpapers cover the walls, and neatly-folded sheets sit on the beds— blue, orange, yellow. In each room, a mirror over a sink, and a glass cup. A room costs twelve euros a night, thirteen for two people. The stories behind every sticker-decorated door are a mix of happy and sad, probably like every other hotel in the city of Rennes, in the North of France. Yet, every guest staying at the Rainbow House has something in common: they come from far away to visit an incarcerated loved one.

The French inmate population has multiplied by 2.3 in the last forty years alone. Today, there are 68,500 incarcerated persons in France, most of whom are parents, husbands, wives, partners, siblings. Incarceration is a privation of liberty, and experts say it should not result in a privation of parenthood and partnership. Yet, long sentences served in prisons often faraway from home weigh on relationships.

The non-profit Brin de Soleil is run entirely by volunteers; they created The Rainbow House, a space to host families of incarcerated persons who do not live locally. With a men’s prison of 850 inmates, and a women’s prison of 250, Rennes has a large incarcerated population from all over France, and as well as Spain, Romania, and England. Their family-members travel from all over. to visit. They are wives, husbands, girlfriends, sisters, daughters and sons. They are frequent visitors or one-timers, and can stay for just one night or days at a time.

When a prison sentence is issued, an entire family suffers. Y visits his wife two to three times a month, coming from a city two hours away. He used to come with his two sons, who were recently placed in foster care. They are all separated now, he tells me, as the boys themselves are in two different homes. I also met fifty-two-year-old Marian, who came from England for the trial of his younger sister, detained in Rennes for 14 months. Days later, they left the prison together as she was finally released.

There is a lot of misinformation and misrepresentation of incarcerated persons and their families in France— stereotypical and criminalizing. There is also a lack of public debate about our fast-growing prison system (the focus on overpopulation in prisons and whether to build more structures leaves suffering family-members in the shadows). This project, though grounded in information, deals mostly with representation and dignity. I collaborate with inmates’ loved ones to craft a photograph that, through light, posing, and place, evokes their internal state. By portraying the family-members in a cinematic way, almost like fiction, I push the representation of a topic that has mostly been photographed in a traditional “documentary style,” or over-dramatized and misrepresented in mainstream media. By straddling different genres, I also seek to subvert viewer expectations and ask questions about which representation styles we reserve to which demographics and topics. I hope to offer a dignified portrayal of people dealing with incarceration, and, in doing so, to bring about more conversations about the ways in which incarceration impacts our country.

The project is comprised of mostly of photographic scenes. The scenes are made from a distance, the room as much a character as the visitors who are just passing through. There is, always, a sense of expectation, of suspended waiting. That is the feeling that has been most often put forth by families : that they feel suspended, in waiting. A prison sentence puts life on hold. Sometimes literally, renovations are halted, job prospects are set aside, moves are delayed. The photographs are intertwined with collages, made from interviews with the families staying at the house. The shapes of the collage, inspired from Apollinaire’s famous calligrams, evoke the physical spaces of the cell, the visiting room, or the hotel room, and often echo the story told. The gaps between the words also tell a story. With the collage, the words are more sparse than in an a long interview. They grow in meaning as they linger in the air.


Lorsqu’un détenu est condamné, c’est toute une famille qui souffre.


“C’est comme si nous aussi on était condamné,” me dit Marine M. Elle fait un trajet d’une heure et demi chaque dimanche pour rendre visite à son compagnon, en détention au Centre Pénitentiaire de Rennes-Vezin en Bretagne.


En France, la population carcérale a été multipliée par 2.3 ces dernières quarante années. Aujourd’hui, il y a 68 500 personnes sous écrou en France, une grande partie d’entre eux étant des parents, des maris, des femmes. Quel est l’impact d’une incarcération sur leur famille? Sur leur relation avec leur(s) enfant(s)?


Pour mon projet de thèse, AIMER, ATTENDRE, je travaille avec des familles de détenu(e)s pour étudier l’impact psychologique d’une détention sur les proches.

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