Isadora Kosofsky: Vinny and David is a photography series about two brothers that began with a visit to a juvenile detention center (PHOTOS).

Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers

Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers

Behold
The Photo Blog
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM

Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers

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Brothers Vinny and David stand together as the sky darkens before a summer storm.

Isadora Kosofsky

During her early teenage years, Isadora Kosofsky wanted to use photography to explore the connection she felt to some of her friends who were part of the juvenile justice system. In order to delve deeper into the psychology behind those relationships, she tried to gain access to a number of juvenile detention centers but was rejected because she was still a minor. Once she turned 18, however, she was granted admission to a few places and at a detention facility in New Mexico, she noticed a young man getting his mug shot taken—Vinny was incarcerated for stabbing a man who was assaulting his mother.

“I felt an immediate connection to him that’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t a photographer,” she said about seeing Vinny for the first time. “It’s just this mysterious connection that you know as a photographer that you have to explore. You either sense a reflection of yourself in that person or you feel a pull and there’s a story that needs to be pursued.”

For Kosofsky, simply documenting Vinny’s incarceration couldn’t possibly begin to portray his whole person, so she dropped out of college to shadow Vinny and work on the series about him. She continued photographing him after he was released, and, after three years she feels their friendship has trumped their relationship as photographer and subject.

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“I wanted the work to be more intimate and that is extremely challenging in an carceral setting,” she said. “It’s difficult to have personal interactions and to create an environment as a photographer where the subject can show vulnerability in front of the camera and that’s mainly because you’re being watched constantly so it doesn’t feel like the private interactions you would have at home.”

But Kosofsky didn’t want to simply focus on Vinny. She began to develop relationships with his mother, Eve, and also, more importantly for the series, titled “Vinny and David,” with Vinny’s older brother David, who had also spent time in both juvenile and adult detention centers, and whose trust was much more difficult to gain. Kosofsky said it took around a year—during that time she continued to photograph Vinny—until David slowly began to allow her into his life.

“He told me that he has spent a lot of time contemplating permanence and impermanence,” Kosofsky said about an early conversation she had with David. “Impermanence is something that has been common in his life and also for his brother and parents. Permanence, something foreign to him, is closely tied with photography, so I realized that I needed to be gentle with him.”

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Vinny stands in command call before entering his cell at the juvenile detention center.

Isadora Kosofsky

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Eve visits Vinny during visitation at the detention center. “Mom, just get me out. Just get me out, Mom,” says Vinny.

Isadora Kosofsky

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Eve cries after learning that the court will not allow Vinny to live with her and has ordered that he live with his paternal aunt. “I died when I lost my son. I have lost Vinny forever,” says Eve.

Isadora Kosofsky

Although she is still quite young, Kosofsky’s desire to tell a story from multiple points of view was already established in her work on “The Three,” which focused on a senior love triangle. With Vinny and David, she again wanted to take multiple narratives and focus on how those stories intersect.

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“There was a need for both of them to be a focus of this project,” she explained. “The brotherhood that exists between them I thought was so significant.. I was trying to express a love story between two brothers where one brother becomes an extension of the other.”

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David looks at his fiancée, Felicia. David and Felicia have been together for five years.

Isadora Kosofsky

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Felicia and their baby, Lily, see David through video visitation.

Isadora Kosofsky

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David and Felicia react as they teach Lily to walk.

Isadora Kosofsky

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Eve holds her youngest son, Michael, in the pool. Michael’s greatest wish is to receive “a hug. I want a hundred hugs a day”

Isadora Kosofsky

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Vinny, Michael, and Elycia play together on a trampoline. This is Vinny’s first visit since beginning his new life with his aunt who lives three hours away from his mom and siblings.

Isadora Kosofsky

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Vinny, now 15, and David, now 21, after spending the day together. "Vinny broke into my heart” says David when asked about their bond.

Isadora Kosofsky

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Vinny looks at David and Lily before saying goodbye.

Isadora Kosofsky

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David, Eve, and Vinny huddle together in the parking lot outside the courthouse after David is proven innocent on his charges.

Isadora Kosofsky

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.