Nigel Poor

Artadia Awardee

Nigel Poor is a visual artist whose work explores the various ways people make a mark and leave behind evidence of their existence. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and can be found in various museum collections including the SFMOMA, the M.H. deYoung Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. She is also a professor of photography at California State University, Sacramento. In 2011, Nigel got involved with San Quentin State Prison as a volunteer teacher for Mount Tamalpais College (formerly the Prison University Project). She is the co-creator and co-host of the Pulitzer Prize nominated prison-based podcast Ear Hustle and the co-author of This Is Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life (Crown Publishing).

“I have a personal habit of collecting things people leave behind, and the parking lot at San Quentin State Prison has become my hunting ground, a place full of intriguing left-behind bits and pieces.

When I found the first underwire, I thought it was a curious anomaly. With the second one I thought OK, that’s weird, people must be getting it on, in a wild way in the parking lot. But by the third one I realized there was something I wasn’t getting. It took me a while to figure this one out. The underwires are pulled out of the bras of women who come to the prison to visit their family and friends inside. Visitors cannot have metal on them, so if they get to the parking lot and realize they have worn the wrong kind of bra they have to pull the wire out before going in. Every time I pick one up, I think about the person out in the parking lot struggling to cut into her bra to fish out a wire.

A crushed tube of bright red lipstick, a flattened spool of string, underwire from a bra, Saran wrap braided into a chain, a folded piece of paper covered with x’s and o’s, an exploded ballpoint pen, a tiny notebook wadded up and soaked by water, a torn page from a child’s coloring book.

You can find a worthy story anywhere – it just requires being interested in what is around you and being attentive.”