In January, PhotoServe covered Trent Bell Photography on a personal project, REFLECT: Convict's Letters to their Younger Selves. Below is background on the project and an update.
Trent Bell Photography is an advertising and editorial studio consisting of photographer Trent Bell and his studio manager and retoucher Timothy Holt. Bell has a Master’s in Architecture and started his professional life as an architect, but soon found his creative energy was much better suited to photography. His love of architecture has always kept him involved in the representation of that realm, while with photography he also has the freedom to capture portraiture, landscape and travel imagery. Bell’s commercial photography encompasses his home base of Boston, Massachusetts as well as Maine, New Hampshire, the entire New England region and pretty much across the U.S. Over the years, he has developed a roster of clients that include such impressive names as: Conde Nast Traveler, Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times, Architect Magazine, Design New England, New England Home, Good Housekeeping and architecture firms as Rob Whitten Architects, Carol Wilson Architect, Sam VanDam Architects and many others.
Bell has been very successful with his architecture and interiors photography and is always busy with commercial projects — a very good position to be in these days—but he wanted something more in his work. Recently, he took on a different kind of project, something where he was able to infuse a more human and emotional side to his process.
In early 2013, a very personal project came straight to his door. Bell was shocked by the news that a friend—an educated professional, a husband, and a father of four children—had been sentenced to thirty-six years in prison. Over the next few months he found himself haunted by his friend’s bad decisions and the loss of his freedom. Bell started to examine his own life and found moments where things could have easily taken a bad turn for him and put him in a completely different place. “There were times when my son would look up and smile at me,” recalls Bell, “and the finality of my friend’s situation would rush into my head and I would hear a cold thin voice say: ‘…there, but for the grace of God, go I…’”
With his friend’s plight, Bell conceived of a unique photo project that would merge large-scale portraits of inmates in the Maine prison system with handwritten letters the convicts composed as though writing to their younger selves.
“REFLECT: Convict’s Letters to Their Younger Selves” came about as an artistic documentation of choices, consequences and reflection. Bell shot portraits of prison inmates, along with video documentation by Joe Carter and additional portraiture of prison guards by Corey Desrochers.
The Maine State Prison loved the idea and made it happen with the powers that be. Bell went into the prison and shot with a Canon 5D MK 3. His set ups were approximately seven feet from his subjects with a seven-foot Photoflex Octa-bank and backgrounds were lit by a single White Lightning 3200 with gridded reflector.
© Trent Bell
In the aftermath, the process has acted as a release for many of the inmates and even as a form of therapy. Bell’s portraits capture his subjects facing their demons and now being able to share some of their innermost thoughts in a way they could not or would not do before. Most of the reactions are shared in their newly released video."We have heard back from the prisoners that it was actually a very difficult process for them, but in the end they benefited greatly from the process of introspection and reflection," says Bell. They have all been very appreciative and their families have also felt the same way. All the prison officials have been very happy with the results and expressed their thanks.
“Our bad choices can contain untold loss, remorse, and regret,” says Bell, “but the positive value of these bad choices might be immeasurable if we can face them, admit to them, learn from them and find the strength to share.”
“REFLECT: Convict’s Letters to Their Younger Selves” had a gallery showing at Engine Gallery in Biddeford, Maine this past February that generated a great response throughout the community. As part of the show, they included a video done by Joe Carter. The video features inmate interviews and sounds from the prison, along with the original portraits and has quite a powerful impact. Throughout the entire process, Bell and his team were able to capture deeply felt reactions from the inmates. The video has added even more to the depth and scope of the project. You can now see for yourself and watch REFLECT: Convict's Letters to Their Younger Selves here.
You can also see more of Trent Bell's commercial and editorial work at his site, www.trentbell.com.