Photographers Share Reflections On Sleeping at Alcatraz

This month, we’re publishing Hidden Alcatraz, a unique collection of images taken by thirty-four photographers who were granted unprecedented access to the island. Guided by rangers, they explored places off the normal day tour: the prison roof and lighthouse; the hospital; the tunnels; the morgue; the rumored “dungeon” beneath the cell blocks. At midnight, they were left to sleep in jail cells if they could stomach it.

In the book—and in the six photos excerpted below—you can glimpse life on the island apart from the crowds, the tours, and the souvenirs. The images present diverse visions of beauty in decay, highlighting the eerie, almost supernatural mood of the former prison.

Accompanying the photos, the photographers offer their reflections on encountering haunting traces of former inmates, staying overnight in a cell, and the special qualities that make the island ripe for gorgeous photography.

Linda Hanson, "Death"
Linda Hanson, "Death"

“Sleeping in a cell was bizarre and strange. Not something I ever wish to do again. Like ghosts, we wandered the cell blocks at night, shooting shadows and calling out just to hear the echos. It was a haunting night in a haunting place.”

Dan Katzman, "The Guards' Tunnel to the Prison Laundry"
Dan Katzman, "The Guards' Tunnel to the Prison Laundry"

“Alcatraz is an amazing place to photograph because of its inherent contradictions. A forbidding place of man set among great natural beauty. A building created for permanence that is crumbling before our very eyes. Water stained ceilings replace bland institutional sameness.”

Deborah Roundtree, "Utensil and Knife Box, Kitchen"
Deborah Roundtree, "Utensil and Knife Box, Kitchen"

“There is a haunting certainty about Alcatraz. You are literally on a rock. All your feelings, thoughts and dreams are contained. You look across the Bay, and see one of the most beautiful cities in the world, San Francisco, with all its richness and textures of life. It’s an odd feeling of isolation and loss.”

Anton Orlov, "In the Laundry Room"
Anton Orlov, "In the Laundry Room"

“Alcatraz has always been a mysterious island to me. The story of a prison-island that now lay abandoned; the stories told and untold that surrounded it; the many historical layers that once thrived and now simply rested there—all evoked an eerie surreal image in my mind of an island full of ghosts that haunt it day and night.”

Steve Fritz, "Graffiti in the Prison Chapel"
Steve Fritz, "Graffiti in the Prison Chapel"
Steve Fritz, "Room with No View"
Steve Fritz, "Room with No View"

“I was drawn to Alcatraz by the opportunity to spend a weekend photographing and sleeping in the most infamous prison in the world, and the chance to meet and work with other Bay Area photographers, and together explore the photographic richness and possibilities of the island.”

7 thoughts on “Photographers Share Reflections On Sleeping at Alcatraz

  1. @ Chris Turner
    Yes, this shot is surreal, the photographer has a total feeling for composition and light/shadow influence!

  2. What an amazing opportunity, not sure if I could stay the night in those cells though!

    I love the gaurd laundry room tunnel shot.

    Thanks for showing the pics.

  3. Dear Peter,

    > I could not imagine sleeping in the cells overnight.
    … than you have to go there in the early morning so that the night will not catch you 🙂

    Have a nice day,
    Thomas

  4. I would do this in a split second for the opportunity of photographing it. I’m an avid amateur photographer who enjoys taking my own and viewing the photographs of others. I was intrigued by the widely varying perspectives in these photographs.

  5. Fascinating pictures.

    I could not imagine sleeping in the cells overnight.

    I am planning/researching a trip to San Francisco this summer and now I cannot wait to tour Alcatraz.

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