Audio Interview & Transcription: Sara Bennett
Transcription of Artist Audio: Sara Bennett
SARA BENNETT: My name is Sara Bennett, and my day job was as a criminal appellate attorney working for the public defender’s office.
VERONICA ROBERTS, curator of Day Jobs: Can you talk a little bit about how your work as a criminal defense attorney made your work as an artist possible and what the connections are between those two?
SARA BENNETT: Well, probably the biggest thing is the access, because isn’t that—every photographer is looking for access. And honestly, I have access. You know, the very first person I photographed, her name was Kayla and she’d been home from prison for about two and a half weeks. And I had told Judy [Clark, a woman represented and photographed by Bennett] I was looking to do this project, and she gave me Kayla’s number.
And I called Kayla and I met her at Penn Station. Which if you’re not from New York City, how we ever found each other, I don’t know. But I met her and we kind of had an instant connection. And I think she felt very comfortable with me but she took me to a meeting of formerly incarcerated women that day. That’s where she was going.
And I walked in and there were maybe 15 women there. And somebody was like, “Hey, wait a minute, you were so-and-so’s lawyer, right?” And I was like, “Yeah, then this is what I’m doing.” And they all volunteer, like, “I would love to be part of this series.” And so that was basically instant access.
And like today, I’m actually going to photograph somebody. I got the name of somebody, and my Bedroom Project—I’m always trying to, you know, get more and more subjects for. But the woman told me her whole life story on the phone, like within 2 minutes of talking to me. I just think that—well, actually, I know this is true because years ago I showed up to photograph somebody in her bedroom. And it turned out The Times, The New York Times was there on the same day. And so, we were both photographing, and the woman took me aside and she said, “I’m not taking him into my room, so you can come back another day.” And I just knew right then. So, I would say that’s a long answer. But the—I think the main thing is access. And the other thing I talked about before is I think I, I know I will do no harm. And I think the women know that I will do no harm. And so, they feel comfortable with me and I feel comfortable with them.
Sara Bennett is an artist and public defender based in Brooklyn, New York. After working as an appellate attorney for nearly two decades, Bennett began taking photographs and recording the stories of current and formerly incarcerated women. She hoped that the photographs – including the series The Bedroom Project and Life Inside – would illuminate the dignity and humanity of her sitters, and the pointlessness of long sentences and barriers to societal reentry.
Bennett has had solo showings at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, OR and Photoville in Brooklyn, NY. She has been a part of notable group exhibitions, such as Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at MoMA PS1. You can find Sara Bennett online at sarabennett.org and @sarabennettbrooklyn on Instagram.
Photo © Cory Rice for the What is Photography project