Bettina von Kameke reveals prison life through a lens

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The Independent Culture

Some of Bettina von Kameke's images of male prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs jail could have been taken for a prison prospectus. A tidy cell is complete with a TV, desk and photos on the walls; an inmate relaxes on a comfy black sofa in a communal social area with pool tables; prisoners pump weights in the prison gym; others are playing a board game. But perhaps sadder is the face of an inmate peering through the small glass window of his closed cell door, watching other inmates playing ping pong.

Von Kameke has been exploring the community of life inside the imposing old prison in west London, which was built between 1875 and 1891. "They did a lot of security checks on me before I was allowed in. I had to learn how to stay safe in prison. If I went into a cell I was told to always keep eye contact with the door and not let prisoners manipulate me." Pictures show them doing shifts in the prison kitchen before being put back in their cells. But it looks like they are on a holiday camp – was she allowed to see some of the darker aspects of prison life?

"I was surprised at how respectful the interaction between staff and prisoners was. Of course I was aware that there is drug-dealing inside and it is a hard prison. I could feel the intensity and harshness of the energy... I reflected it in the sadness, heaviness, anger and frustration through the expressions on their faces. But the objective is to show the humanity in the system."

Wormwood Scrubs, Great Western Studios, London W2 (020-7221 0100) until 11 March