In Late 2007 Jonathan Holiff - the son of Johnny Cash's manager in the 1960's - contacted iClips to broadcast a live concert on the exact day of the 40th anniversary of the Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison. The concert would feature Johnny's original group the Tennessee 3. I started the process to produce this event which I was quite excited about. I was to also to direct the video.
First up was a visit to Folsom Prison. I sat in a room with six prison Bureaucrats – picture guys in bad suits and fat cigars - IN the wardens office. To say the least this was the beginning of a very surreal experience. Jonathan led the meeting - he is a smooth talkin’ intense guy. I chimed in on production issues. After we settled on time, date, logistics, we went to scout rooms where we could shoot. We looked at the original room where Johnny performed, plus some other spots including the new cafeteria which was "fully populated" when we visited. INTENSE - especially since we had to sign a waiver that allowed the prison to use force with guns if we were kidnapped or attacked by prisoners and taken hostage. We basically gave them the right to shoot at us, no questions asked.
I was not allowed to take pictures when we were around prisoners (but I took a few). We were stared down by the prisoners, and shuttled around all parts of the prison. All very fascinating, including a little shopping at the Prison Gift shop! This is all happening about one month away from the shoot date.
As it got closer (about one week out), Jonathan and the Warden got in to an argument about access for the press as this would obviously be a big media event. They were already limiting us to a certain number of crew and camera placement, and there was not much room left. We offered to provide a LIVE satellite feed to ABC Morning News for an interview in the morning with the Warden, plus live clips, have a photographer there to provide photos to any and all media outlets, etc. At first this seemed fine with the prison until I think a local newspaper wanted to know why their photographer couldn’t be there. Jonathan insisted on this content being somewhat exclusive so he could monetize it, and that’s when the Warden blew a gasket. Without ANY warning, or giving Jonathan another opportunity to have an alternate plan, they cancelled everything. Jonathan tried to make a stink in the media against the prison, but they just ignored him and it all went away without ever happening.
Photography has brought me to many places I would never have been given access to. Here are a few of my shots from Rock n’ Roll’s most famous prison. (Click to enlarge.)
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Jay Blakeseberg is a leading music photographer and videographer, and a founding partner in iClips.net. His work can be found at www.blakesberg.com