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Photographers present the beautiful side of Alcatraz

Prison windows on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay
Prison windows on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay
Photo by flickr user jeffgunn

The new Fox Network show Alcatraz, starring Sam Neill and Sarah Jones, has stirred up new interest on the topic of ‘The Rock’, as Alcatraz has been known, and its many mysteries. The island and the prison of Alcatraz has had a complex history, influencing many people’s images of the City of the Bay over the decades.

Alcatraz was originally used by the U.S. Military as a military prison, and became a federal prison in 1934. This relatively short period, 1934 to 1963, is the basis for many of the stories and myths of Alcatraz. Prisoners like Al Capone and Whitey Bulger captured the popular imagination, then and now. The tale of a group of prisoners who tried to escape in 1962 - all were recaptured or presumed drowned - is the ultimate prison escape story, made into the movie Escape from Alcatraz a few years later.

Many of us know this part of Alcatraz's story. But did you ever think that Alcatraz could be beautiful? In the new book Hidden Alcatraz: The Fortress Revealed, a group of photographers present their interpretations of the island of Alcatraz and the prison structures that remain. A short introductory essay reviews Alcatraz’s history, and is followed by a set of interior and exterior photographs of Alcatraz, its buildings, and its environments.

This coffee-table book makes a perfect gift for someone who loves The Rock, or just loves photography. The photographs inside are stirring, beautiful and disturbing in turns. Hidden Alcatraz reveals some of the secrets of Alcatraz, and its place in San Francisco lore and legend.

Further reading: Hidden Alcatraz: The Fortress Revealed, edited by Steve Fritz and Deborah Roundtree. University of California Press, 2011.

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