In 1967 and 1968, photographer Danny Lyon spent fourteen months photographing inmates of six Texas penitentiaries. The project resulted in his book, Conversations with the Dead, published in 1971. In addition to portraits and scenes of prison life, Lyon photographed work gangs. In this photograph, prisoners fell trees and gather debris to clear land.
Unlike idyllic scenes of the forest as an Edenic paradise, like that of Arthur F. Kales, Lyon’s photograph is an unidealized view of the work needed to fell a forest. And, unlike Robert Adams’ views of clear cutting, where enormous machines cut huge swaths in the landscape, in this image the focus is on the role of forced labor in the American penal system.