Johanna told me that she went to the Fotomuseum in Rotterdam 2 times in March 2022 for the exhibition ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’. This exhibition tells the story of Christina Boyer and her conviction. It is not an easy exhibition because in 1992 Christina was wrongly convicted for the murder of her then 3 year old daughter.  The exhibition was created by Jan Banning, a photographer fighting for justice in words and images. He made amongst others,  the exhibition ‘Comfort Girls’ and he became internationally known for the exhibition ‘Bureaucrats’.

How it began

In 2018, Banning was in Georgia at the Puloski Prison where he portrayed about 80 women. Back home, he went looking for more information about them and he soon stumbled upon the history of Christina Boyer. Banning made contact with Christina and they began a correspondence.

Occasionally they talked on the phone and Banning also visited her in prison. The more Banning investigated, the more doubts he had about whether Christina was justified in being convicted of murdering her infant daughter. It turned out that her little daughter had been abused by her boyfriend while Christina was at work.

Christina’s youth

Christina appeared to have had a heartbreaking life before she was also wrongfully convicted.  She was abused as a child but also as a wife. Her mother was a heroin prostitute, her father was the pimp.

Conviction

Christina was convicted of not taking her daughter Amber to the hospital in time causing her to die. In addition, the pancreas was damaged which Christina was also suspected of and that earned her another 20 years sentence on top of the life sentence already given to her.

Tragic

The tragedy is that Christina is not the only one who has little chance of a fair trial, many underprivileged people are not believed and cannot afford a good lawyer. In fact, Banning’s research has also become an indictment of the American criminal justice system that results in millions of people being incarcerated.

He examined how reputable medical experts interpret cases but also how the media plays a role. 95% of the criminal cases in the US end not before a jury but with a Plea Bargain, which is a settlement in exchange for a confession. Unwealthy people with a bad lawyer do this mostly. It also allows to apply for Parole. The application then comes before a 5-member Board of Pardons of Parole but because they are overloaded, they therefore only have a few minutes to decide about your fate.

In December 2021 Parole was rejected for Christina for the 9th time.

The exhibition

Banning interpreted Christina’s story in parts and then depicted it. In this process, he actively involved Christina. She kept (and still keeps) a diary and those diaries are part of the exhibition.

Banning also presented Christina with photographs he took in the Deep South, asking her what she saw in these pictures. By doing this Banning gives us the opportunity to get an impression of Christina’s inner world now that she has spent some 30 years in prison.

Johanna wrote me that she was very curious about the exhibition. At the entrance hang the portraits Banning made of the women in the Piloski prison with on the other side of that room, front pages of newspapers from 1992. Johanna got the feeling of entering the prison.

In the next room, there were beautiful blue walls with the photographs telling Christina’s story. They are staged photographs. Banning created still lifes that depicted transience, temporality, meaninglessness and emptiness. The story is sad but the photographs are beautiful. The color pink keeps returning because it was the favorite color of Christina’s daughter Rose. The photos are also haunting which made Johanna very emotional.

In the next section hung the photographs Banning took in the Deep South. These photographs hung in a bare concrete space. The photographs showed landscapes/the environment. They are alienating and desolate environments. These are the photographs which Banning presented to Christina and asked her for a reaction. It is striking that Christina sees, for example, bars, prison walls where we simply see a wall, a lamppost etc. Christina’s reaction to the photos is shown next to the photos.

Reflection

According to Johanna, the exhibition forces you to think about objectivity versus subjectivity. Why it fascinated Johanna so much is because it made her think of me. I too have been in prison for about 28 years and I am also innocent. I too have not had a fair trial.

Book, podcast, YouTube

The book Banning made about Christina is available both in Dutch and in English. Banning has received a lot of media attention and there is a podcast Jan & Christina (in Dutch). On YouTube you can see the opening of the exhibition where Christina is also present (by phone). You can find the video here: Opening exhibition

Johanna found the exhibition very moving.  Banning calls it his most important and moving project. You can find more about Jan Banning and his work here: Jan Banning

Derrick L. Griffin, 18-2-2023