gently upon a soul

This past weekend, I visited Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  Many photographers have worked this ruin/museum and produced amazing images, inspiring me to visit a local place I have not seen in the 14 years I’ve lived here.  I’ve also started experimenting more with dramatic light and knew this site would be challenging and offer a good exercise.  I never expected to come away so excited about the images I captured on that day… so excited to photograph stills without anything living in them, so excited that I’m planning to return and to look for additional sites, my awareness now keen to develop a new project.

I have not been able to put into words yet what it is about making these images that captures me so.  But it’s not about gloom and doom as much as it’s about the light, about illumination, opportunity, spirituality, the connection to the good in the world… an odd paradox for a prison.  I suppose I’ll have to think about this.  But the ray of light in this image reminds me of God rays coming through a cloudy sky laying their gentle beams of light upon the earth… here the single beam laying its hand gently upon a soul.

For more images from this day, visit the New Work gallery on my website: Rhoda Maurer Photography at


8 thoughts on “gently upon a soul

  1. Yes, Rhoda, I think that juxtaposition is what makes this image so powerful. It makes me weep: the beam of light laying a gentle hand on a soul confined.

  2. Rhoda, we met at the end of your day at ESP. These are wonderful images, capturing the haunting beauty of ESP. The image takes me back to my question regarding how does one maintain their spirit in these conditions? To your beautiful point about the ray of light, I can’t help but respond in wonder; does the ray of light serve as a symbol of hope for those who maintian their spirit? Or does it serve to taunt a person who has lost there sole of what might have been. thanks for the wonderful images and thoughful words!

    • Thank you! I have to hope that these rays of light at ESP become a symbol of hope or forgiveness rather than torment. After doing a little research about the penitentiary I found that it was intended not simply to punish, but to move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. However, in reality the prison system inflicted quite a bit of torture treatments reasoning that this would help inmates repent…. quite disturbing to say the least.

  3. Just a little more on ESP. Friday’s NYTimes had a story about an ESP inmate, who painted biblical murals in the Chaplain’s office. One of the points of the story, and why I’m again posting a comment, centers on how the inmate’s religious faith strenghtened in prison. The article mentioned he served his sentence and never returned to a life of crime. I think the story gets to your point about spiritual reflection, change and the light. Because as corny as it might sound; changes comes with light, not in darkness. again, the images are wonderful.

  4. This image perfectly capture Penn’s concept of the “Eye of God” present in each cell. I love the idea of God as light and light promoting inner well being.

    • Thanks, Becky. I was so captured by this place and the quality of light for photography. But as you mentioned, the idea of light promoting inner well being along with confinement and conflicts of mind prove this to be a powerful place that I can only hope to capture with a photograph.

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