After his series “Police”, a young photographer Sébastien Van Malleghem decided to focus his camera lens on the Belgian penitentiary system. It seemed like a logical sequel. The question of “what happens to the people arrested by the police in Belgium” somehow imposed itself.

Sébastien Van Malleghem (b. 1986) is a freelance photographer from Belgium who is known for his long-term projects that centre on the idea of justice in contemporary Europe. He devotes himself to one topic for years in order to get as closer as possible to the truth. After following the daily job of police officers throughout Belgium for four years, Van Malleghem realized it’s time to look into the lives of prisoners.

The reportage on Belgian prisons started back in 2011 and over a period of three years Van Malleghem documented the day to day life of those confined to a 8 meters squared cells with bars and grey walls. The result is a gripping and thought-provoking series which won him the BOZAR – NIKON Monography Series Award this year. A world full of greyness had to be revealed in black and white. Title of the series is straightforward – Prisons – because the images speak for themselves.

Once imprisoned, inmates become forgotten men. They are removed from society’s gaze, isolated and ignored. Prisons are kept out of sight so ignoring could continue. But not only that the law-abiding people don’t want to see them, they don’t even want to talk about prisons. Starting from the belief that an image may encourage much needed conversation, Van Malleghem went behind the closed doors of prison and tried to capture its reality “as straight as he could” aiming at opening the society’s eyes on the conditions in which the inmates live. The result is an intense series of photographs showing prisons in Belgium from an angle other than what the press and television shows. From an authentic angle.


The book “PRISONS” has been published in September 2015 by André Frère Editions and selected as one of the best photo book of the year 2015 by TIME.

Prisons © Sébastien Van Malleghem