So for the last few months Steven Hirsch, a freelance newspaper photographer, has been photographing and interviewing some of the unheralded defendants who pass through the court system and posting the results on a Web page, Courthouse Confessions.
Mr. Hirsch transcribes recorded interviews, deleting his own questions, so that his subjects’ words are presented to readers in an uninterrupted flow. They talk about what sent them to court and ruminate on the legal systems or their own lives. Many of the interviews have an intimate and confessional tone, as people describe the transgressions they are accused of.
Reading the words (sans Hirsch’s question), I can tell you that this is the real McCoy. This is what they sound like. This is how they think. This is what they tell their lawyer.
What’s fascinating about this is not only what is included, but what is not. As the Times story notes, some leave out the “unsavory” details that turn them from self-perceived victim of the system to something else, whether liar, animal, schemer or just plain stupid.
These “courthouse confessions” were taken at 100 Centre Street, the primary criminal courthouse in Manhattan. It’s one of the busiest, ugliest, dirtiest, nastiest places you will ever see, but also one of the most fascinating. The breadth of humanity walk through its doors, from the wealthiest to the poorest, the celebrity to the unknown.
The fact that Hirsch got these people to talk to him, and to talk so openly, shows a remarkable need for catharsis, for validation, of humankind. This need to talk, of course, is the same need that cops capitalize on daily when getting their statements and confessions. But Hirsch’s photographs and stories are shockingly close to actually being there, seeing it and hearing it as it happens.
This is a spectacular photo essay. No doubt many will read the words and be totally unable to comprehend the world in which these defendants live. But this is definitely life at 100 Centre Street.