Marc Asnin: Final Words is a book that opens the conversation about the death penalty through the final words of executed inmates (PHOTOS).

Can These Selfies Change the Way We Think About the Death Penalty? 

Can These Selfies Change the Way We Think About the Death Penalty? 

Behold
The Photo Blog
Oct. 15 2014 12:51 PM

Can These Selfies Change the Way We Think About the Death Penalty? 

tinastrickland
Tina Strickland: Taking one life doesn’t bring back the first.

Tina Strickland

During the summer of 2013, documentary photographer Marc Asnin came across the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, which lists the final words of the 517 inmates executed in Texas since 1982. Seeing the extensive list presented in such a matter-of-fact way set in motion an idea for a book, Final Words, that includes the last statements and mug shots of the prisoners who have been executed in Texas up to that point (the book will be updated to reflect the current number people executed). Asnin’s goal is to get the book into the school curriculum in all 32 states that still use the death penalty with the hopes that it will open up a new conversation told from a first-person perspective rather than simply from a list of statistics.

Final Words is a way to create a conversation about the dehumanization of the death penalty,” Asnin said. “Even if the [students] decide they’re still for the death penalty after reading it, there is a process where they can understand these are still humans and what they can learn from those final words … I think we will be better off as a society.”

Left: Poulomi Basu: An eye for an eye makes the world blind. Right: Marc Asnin: We as a people do not and should not embrace the Orwellian act of dehumanization.
Left: Poulomi Basu: An eye for an eye makes the world blind. Right: Marc Asnin: We as a people do not and should not embrace the Orwellian act of dehumanization.

Left: Poulomi Basu Right: Marc Asnin

Left: Cristobal Olivares: Killing was never the right answer to educate people. Right: Sim Chi Yin: Life itself can be unforgiving enough.
Left: Cristobal Olivares: Killing was never the right answer to educate people. Right: Sim Chi Yin: Life itself can be unforgiving enough.

Left: Cristobal Olivares Right: Sim Chi Yin

larryfink
Larry Fink: There are too many moral inconsistencies, too many biased perceptions, too many ill-informed people to make a decision to end another’s life.

Larry Fink

Asnin added that while he is against the death penalty, Final Words isn’t about justifying criminal acts, and his goal is to present the material without taking a side. Apart from the sometimes barbaric mishaps that occur when using capital punishment, Asnin also wants to bring into the conversation the large number of people who have been exonerated (146 since 1972).

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To try to get the project realized, Asnin partnered with the VII Association, established by the VII Photo Agency, whose mission is to “engage in activities that create a dialogue about human rights issues that are of urgent concern.” Asnin also embarked on a crowdfunding campaign that includes a “selfie” component. To add visibility to the project, photographers are asked to upload a selfie along with a statement about their feelings on the death penalty on the Final Words website. Asnin said that although some of his previous work, including a series about his Uncle Charlie, were photo projects that were driven by words, embarking on a project like Final Words as a documentary photographer confused people since he wasn’t doing any of the photographing—instead he was engaging the photography community.

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Left: Gemma-Rose Turnbull: Because there’s racial and socio-economic disparity in who gets killed. And, because there’s no remedy for mistakes or arbitrary decisions. Right: Myriam Abedelaziz:No one has the right to decide for someone else if he should be dead or alive.

Left: Gemma-Rose Turnbull Right: Myriam Abedelaziz

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Left: Rebecca Sanchez: “But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders …" –Albert Camus. Right: Ron Haviv: To ignore the maxim “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” is unforgivable & not worthy of a nation.

Left: Rebecca Sanchez Right: Ron Haviv

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Left: Ed Kashi: It’s an imperfect form of justice in both its means and ends, and the cruelty does not protect our society or advance human values. Right: Sebastian Zielinski: I stand against the death penalty because everybody should have a second chance.

Left: Ed KashiRight: Sebastian Zielinski

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Left: Barbra Walker: Execution is a violent public spectacle of official homicide, and endorses killing to solve social problems- the worst example for our kids. Right: Stephanie Sinclair: Because states should not have the authority to purposefully end a life.

Left: Barbra Walker Right: Stephanie Sinclair

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.