This Is Where Executions Used to Take Place

The Photo Blog
Jan. 21 2014 10:18 AM

This Is Where Executions Used to Take Place

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Original site of execution: hanging. Now a department store, Rhode Island, 2012.

Emily Kinni

Eighteen states have outlawed the death penalty. Photographer Emily Kinni’s ongoing series, “Where Death Dies,” shows us what has become of the sites where the final executions took place in 12 of those states.

Kinni started the series in 2011 while taking a break from another series about sex hotels. Her interest lies in the evolution and psychology of space. Sites of execution, with their dark yet historic pasts, seemed an especially rich and complex study. “I started thinking about the liminality, the in-between place where you take a place designed for death and you decide to alter it to something else,” she said.  

Some of the sites have retained some of the totems of their former uses, like electric chairs and execution chambers. Others have completely transformed, having made way for homes, shopping malls, and other buildings. Kinni’s work serves to investigate the success and meaning of that transformation. “I have such a strong response to the interior because that's aesthetically what I'm drawn to. On every level, I care about the hand that goes into what happened in those places. But I've gotten much more of a response to the outside shots, the public images that have no evidence of the original site. I understand that fascination,” Kinni said.

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Original site of final execution: hanging. Now the lobby of the State Office Building, Alaska, 2011.

Emily Kinni

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Original site of final execution: hanging. The prison was torn down and buried below the field, which is now in its place. A sign raises the question of what will be next for the site. Maine, 2012.

Emily Kinni

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Original site of final execution: electric chair. Now an unused conference room in the New Jersey State Prison, 2011.

Emily Kinni

Finding these sites was often a challenge. Many former execution sites are not well-documented, and Kinni often had to track down former guards and personal archives to piece together the exact location. Other sites, which were both in tact and well-documented, were hidden behind bureaucratic red tape. Kinni is still waiting for access to some of those sites.         

Though her intention for the work is not political, Kinni said viewers often use the series as a jumping-off point for discussions about the death penalty. “It does dance so closely to the subject that there's no way to separate the two. I'm happy the work can provide a platform for generating a conversation that goes in that direction. I love reading the responses the work can generate,” Kinni said.

You can follow Kinni on Facebook and Twitter.

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Original site of final execution: electric chair. Old Sparky, West Virginia Penitentiary, 2011.

Emily Kinni

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Original site of final execution: hanging. Now a residence, Wisconsin, 2012.

Emily Kinni

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Original site of final execution: electric chair. Now a vocational space in Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York, 2011.

Emily Kinni

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Original site of final execution: hanging. Now a janitorial break room, Minnesota, 2011.

Emily Kinni