Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In The Pen

The decrepit castle shown above is no castle at all – it is the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, opened in 1829 and used continuously for 142 years before being abandoned in 1971.

It was, at the time it opened on a then-lonely hilltop, one of the most expensive buildings built to that point in the United States, and it quickly became one of the most-copied. It is estimated that more than 300 prisons worldwide are based on the Eastern State Penitentiary's wagon-wheel, or radial, floor plan. Its design incorporated a new philosophy of prisoner isolation.

Through the years, some of America's most notorious criminals were held in the Penitentiary's vaulted, sky-lit cells, including bank robber Willie Sutton and mobster Al Capone. Today the building consists of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers.

But it also stands as a popular tourist destination. Yes, you can "go to prison" at the Eastern State Penitentiary, and the organization that operates the facility today schedules art exhibits, haunted Halloween tours, and other activities throughout the year in the unrestored building.

As distinctive a tourist destination as this may be, it is even more distinctive as a setting for wedding photos. Most wedding photos are staged in bucolic and appealing places. But photographer Kella MacPhee has made pictures of couples on their wedding days in a vast array of unique settings, including the Eastern State Penitentiary. Check out this photo, part of a wedding portfolio shot in the pen.
We are not sure what a prison setting says about marriage, but MacPhee’s images are distinctive and compelling. You can see more of her work at

You can learn more about the Eastern State Penitentiary at