Murder is not generally a subject in which most artists find themselves immersed. But twelve years ago, Deborah Luster's mother was murdered, sparking a photographic project which led her to three different state penitentiaries in Louisiana, her home state, as a means of healing and understanding.

Photographing inmates against a black backdrop or in the fields, Luster captures the individuals housed behind the barbed wire and prison cells in a project called "One Big Self" . Cutting 5 x 4" aluminum and coating it with a liquid silver emulsion, Luster creates images which serve as reliquaries for these men and women whose cockiness, youth, bravado and shyness are imbedded in these pocket-sized contemporary tintypes. Through these images she asks us to "see beyond their crimes ... to suggest that our punitive models are as reflective of who we are as our reward system."

Ms. Luster's work is represented by and currently on view at Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago.

One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (photo emulsion on metal, 1999)
Below: detail