Us, Hulme, Manchester, 1984

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OPERATION JURASSIC



Operation Jurassic explores the journey of a brother and sister photographers behind a prison sentence and its psychological implications, revealing personal moments and emotions. The subjects of this exploration are the authors of the project themselves as well as the close people around them.


The project emerges from Roxana and Pablo’s need to detach from the situation they were faced with, but as time passed, it proved to bind them closer together resulting in a tight knit photographic collaboration with its own challenges. A series of issues from the past flared up alongside revealing unseen aspects of their persona allowing them to retrace and understand their relationship.


Pablo was imprisoned on 8th November 2012 for an offence that involves an array of artistic values and skills. He was convicted over a charge to conspire to commit criminal damage by means of graffiti and sentenced to nineteen months in custody of which he served five and a half in two high to medium security prisons in London and the rest on house curfew. Pablo’s situation had an effect on his personal and social life and consequently on Roxana’s too.


The compilation of legal documentation, paperwork, letters, drawings, diaries and photographs depicting emotions and moments before, during and after the custodial sentence provide the viewer with an intimate approach of the process whilst reflecting and raising issues of freedom, graffiti and the justice system. 

Sketch, 2007

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Turbulence, London, 2012

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Journey to the solicitor's, London, 2012

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After Pablo's visit, Manchester, 2011

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Sentence hearing day, London, 2012

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Reminder 1, London, 2013

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Spring, Manchester, 2013

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Just Chillin', Summer, London, 2012

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View from cell window, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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Request to travel abroad, Solicitor's letter, London, 2010

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The courtyard, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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Memories, London, 2011

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Case file opening note, London, 2012

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Evening run, Hackney Marshes, London, 2014

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Sketch, London, 2013

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Marina, London, 2013

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Prisoner A4606CT, London, 2012

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Serenity, Pacific Coast, Mexico, 2013

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Letter from a friend of Pablo, London, 2012

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Reminder 2, Manchester, 2013

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Behind bars, 2013

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Diary extract, 20th March, 2013

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Cell, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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Sweatbox view on the way to prison, London, 2012

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Cell, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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Email from Marina, London, 2012

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Self portrait thinking of Pablo, Manchester, 2012

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Missing, Manchester, 2014

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First visit, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2013

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Diary extract, 17th November, 2012

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Prison corridor, Diary extract, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2012

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Letter to sister, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2012

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Visiting area, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2012

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Letter from a photographer, London, 2013

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Tree sketch from Pablo's cell, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2012

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From the other side of the wall, Wormwood Scrubs fields, London, 2013

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Segregation Unit entrance, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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The raid / The arrest, London, 2010

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Diary extract, 5th March, 2013

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View from a prison cell, Diary extract, Brixton Prison, London, 2013

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C Wing Daily Regime (Rules), London, 2012

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Prison food, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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Diary extract, 7th December, 2012

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Magnetic ankle device, London, 2013

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Reminder 3, London, 2014

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Home curfew, London, 2013

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Diary extract, 26th November, 2012

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Prison cell interior, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2012

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A way out, London, 2013

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Return to reality, London, 2013

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Home curfew device, London, 2013

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Notification, Warning notice, London, 2013

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Diary extract, 13th November, 2012

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Self portrait, Diary extract, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2012

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Letter of information,London, 2012

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B Wing prison door, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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Prison door, Wormwood Scrubs, London, 2005

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Reminder 4, London, 2013

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To do list, London, 2013

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Boredom, Brixton Prison, London, 2013

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The Beginning, London, 2013

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Uncertainty and anxiety, Manchester, 2011

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Evidence, London, 2010

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Diary extract, 10th April, 2013

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Towards the end, Release Dates Notification, London, 2013

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Nowhere, Broadstairs, 2014

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In Roxana's words


Pablo would tag, draw, colour-in and carry on drawing for hours on end. He would sit at the dining table at our parent’s front room with his black-book, pencils, pens and markers of all different types and sizes. His favourite shades were blue, green, orange and pink - black was a must for outlining the letters. You could tell that this was his true passion. It still is.


Back then - twenty-two years ago - I couldn’t quite understand what was so engaging about painting a wall at night with a constant rush of adrenaline flowing through your entire body. That feeling of racing against time whilst keeping undercover, avoiding an encounter with the law. Now, I understand it a bit better.What drove my brother so passionately into graffiti was freedom, the feeling of doing what you want. Taking the streets and reclaiming them as yours, like standing on the edge of a cliff and letting go.


Painting a wall is releasing what you have been working on so hard and showing it to the wider world. Marking your territory? Yes, there is also this element but perhaps that discussion is for another ocassion.


At the time my brother began his graffiti career, I was starting to become more aware of the state of things in Mexico, the country where we both grew up. However, my thoughts were not completely absorbed by this at all. I was just an average teenager filling my time with all those things that teenagers do, yet I couldn’t quite understand my brother’s love of painting his nickname obsessively in public spaces, instead of painting something with more meaning or relevance to other people. For this reason, we clashed.


For a long time, Pablo and I wouldn’t share the same interests or ideas. We wouldn’t hangout nor would we have the same friends. Even though we lived under the same roof we hardly saw much of each other, and on the rare occasion we did, we would have something to argue about, normally to do with our divergent lifestyles and points of view on graffiti. We simply didn’t get along and as a result, we didn’t get to know each other all that well.


As siblings do, we had our moments of peace. For instance, when we shared the dining table and I flicked through his magazines while he sketched, although I was only allowed to get my hands on a select few. Those were the days when the Internet was inaccessible to most people, and so to find out what was going on, you either did it through magazines, newspapers, zines or word of mouth.


Despite all our ups and downs, a few years later when I got into art school, I realised that Pablo had the potential to become a photographer. His hundreds of pictures of graffiti on billboards, trains and walls had an aesthetic value, but he couldn’t see it. Their only purpose was to keep a record of the graffiti he respected or produced himself. I sensed that he had a good eye, and suggested him to study a degree in fine art, or something creative that would give him an opportunity to explore his skills more seriously. When he moved to London, he enrolled on a photography course; that’s when we started to reconnect through something we both had in common.


Looking back, I think that although his graffiti wasn’t meant to be political, it was an unconscious political statement in its own right since, without permission, it filled an empty space of concrete with colour, retrieving what was his, ours, everyone’s.


Are we asked if we want a massive billboard on the side of that building we go past every day? And what about those posters on the empty wall we walk along on our way to work? Or the light-boxed adverts at the bus stop? How come this is legal as opposed to painting a wall with a spray can? Furthermore, why do local authorities support the work of certain graffiti artists, while criminalizing and punishing others with harsh prison sentences?

Graffiti in contemporary society is seen from different angles that contradict one another. An ambiguity in its acceptance persists even though it is exploited to serve a wide range of markets. It is tolerated but barely acknowledged as a form of expression. It is understood as being a hobby for the young and if somebody embraces it as a lifestyle, they are seen as immature unless they make a living out of it. On the other hand, it can lead to legal consequences that are far more severe than we may think.


The risks involved in taking graffiti seriously are well known to graffiti artists and to some extent, accepted and present in the back of their minds as a possibility. Operation Jurassic, the name of the case in which Pablo and four other graffiti artists were investigated over the course of six years, is an example of such severity, where the custodial sentences ranged from nineteen to twenty-four months.


As a family member of someone who has done this for most of his life, I appreciate the fact that Pablo never kept his work a secret. Nonetheless, the worry was a constant. I was afraid he would get arrested, or that the police would raid my parent’s house, turning everything upside down, in search for clues or useful evidence to accuse him of any wrongdoings. This kept my parents vigilant until Pablo moved out. Moreover, living in Mexico, there was always the fear of extortion and incarceration in a country where prison conditions are poor, overpopulated to the extreme, and human rights are almost non-existent. The risks and possible consequences of his actions, and his apparent disregard for our concerns meant that I held d a grudge against him for many years.


The graffiti artists involved in Operation Jurassic were not caught in the act. The British Transport Police investigated the group of five UK based graffiti writers through a dedicated anti-graffiti squad, commanded by a detective in chief that searched for evidence and tracked every move they made between the 1st of January 2003 to the 16th of October 2009. They collated pictures from Internet sites, and travelled across Britain as well as the USA and Europe, to interview authorities and public transport officials, some of whom claimed to have witnessed the graffiti artists in action. The police also had access to their phones and bank account histories. They searched their homes, confiscating mobile phones, computers, hard-drives and cameras, as well as books, magazines, sketchbooks, photographs and rolls of film. All five artists were charged with two offences: 1) Conspiracy to commit criminal damage within the UK and 2) Conspiracy to commit criminal damage outside the UK. The latter was dropped.


Today, eight years after Pablo’s arrest and despite the three-year-long investigation process, with all its stress, uncertainty, frustration and fear, we both feel that it brought us closer together, offering us an interesting experience to discover whom we were and what we are made of.It was an invaluable opportunity to become more sensitive, and less judgemental towards those who have served time, acknowledging that everyone is susceptible to this.


Pablo was released on the 11th of April 2013, and wore a tracking device attached to his ankle that kept him under home curfew for five months. For the remaining time, he was required to report to his designated probation officer once a month until the completion of the sentence, in June 2014, when he was finally able to experience freedom as we know it.


During this process, a couple of coincidences marked our journey, but one stands out as a premonition to my brother’s fate. Pablo spent part of his sentence at Wormwood Scrubs prison, where he had previously taken pictures as a photography student commissioned by Hackney Council, seven years earlier for a project on prison awareness aimed at young people. Little was he to know that he would end up living there for a number of months.


Those nerve-wracking times united us and taught us many lessons, the most fundamental one being the importance of family, friends and partners in times of need. Without their love and support, one may not find the strength to move forward and see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Through working together on this project, we remembered the experience vividly, and how we navigated through it quietly. We would talk about photography projects and things that had little to do with what Pablo was going through, in order to keep our minds occupied and positive.I recall making excuses at work in order to be in London for court hearings, that were often cancelled and rescheduled; weekends and holidays spent taking pictures of moments evoking the passing of time and emotions.


Operation Jurassic is an account of our experience revealing intimate moments and emotions.It offers the viewer an inside story of the legal process Pablo went through, which we hope will raise questions on the way the criminal justice system acts against graffiti artists in the United Kingdom.


Manchester, 20th January 2018

New York City subway tunnels, USA, 2005

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