EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY

EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY

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Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks. His answer has become the capstone on his forty-year robbery career. He said simply, “because that’s where the money is”. From the 1920s through to his arrest in 1952, Slick Willie Sutton robbed banks to the tune of over $2,000,000.

In 1945, after spending 11 year in Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Slick Willie masterminded one of the most infamous prison escapes in US history when he and twelve other inmates tunneled their way out. Even though the escapees were recaptured relatively swiftly, the Great Escape only added to the legend of Slick Willie Sutton.

Today Eastern State Penitentiary is a thriving museum and tourist attraction. After closing in 1970, it stood derelict until it reopened to tourists in 1995. That year it had just 17,000 visitors. Today the museum receives over 250,000 guests per year, and is one of Philadelphia’s top tourist destinations.


It is also a photographer’s playground. It is a wonderful structure full of enthralling textures, deep shadows, and eerie pools of light. While there has been some restoration, most of Eastern State Penitentiary stands as an intact ruin with barber’s chairs, beds, tables, lockers, and other prison furnishings just rotting away where they were left.

Throughout Eastern State Penitentiary one finds the wonderful interplay between light and geometry that can make for an intriguing photo study. If you go, and I encourage you to do just that, you will also need to bring patience as you may need to wait for just the right moment when the tourists clear the frame. It is well worth the wait.

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