Photography Now 2017 – Zora J Murff

Artist Interview

This is an open series of interviews with the artists in the Photography Now 2017 exhibition.


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Zora J Murff: Levi at 15, 2015

1. Where are you from, and what is your background in photography? How did you get into photography?

I am from Des Moines, IA, and have been practicing photography professionally for about five years. I began taking photographs as a hobby, and completely fell in love with it. I decided that is what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing, so I enrolled in a BFA program. I am currently in my final year as an MFA student.

2. What inspired you to make the work in Photography Now 2017? What is the work about? Please describe one piece, the evolution of the concept, and the process?

I started my series Corrections while I was completing my undergraduate studies. I was enrolled in an Advanced Photography course and we were tasked with making a cohesive body of work. I was employed by a juvenile detention facility at the time, and decided to make my series about the kids and their experiences in the system. The series as a whole uses photography as a way to reflect on stigmatization and perception through how we look at and judge individuals contextually. One of the pieces, Lucas at 15, depicts a young man on his bike, his head resting on the handlebars. All of the portraiture that comprises the series was a collaboration between me and the person depicted. I was required to keep kids’ identities anonymous, and so I always approached making images of them in a way that would keep their personhood intact, while highlighting their unique personalities. Lucas, which is a pseudonym, was always building bikes from scraps and traded parts. He was very talented at this, and was a skill he took pride in. We talked about what the bikes meant to him, and he saw them as a symbol of freedom and independence. Given that he was in a system designed to strip him of his individuality and freedom, We thought his static posture juxtaposed with a symbol of mobility made a strong statement about the growing pains of adolescence and the stagnation he felt while on probation.

3. Much of the work in Photography Now 2017 seems to describe a distance between the subject and the viewer, a disconnection, and/or a dystopian situation. How do you think your work relates to these ideas?

The juvenile criminal justice system is all about distance. When kids are incarcerated, they are physically distance from their family, friends, and communities. There is also a distance between how they want to be seen and how others seem them. I wanted this gap to manifest between the viewer and subject as well. Without context, the viewer is unable to know that these kids are in some sort of trouble, but viewing the portraits with the information I have provided makes them have to consider their own value judgements when it comes to people who are tagged “criminals”.

4. What are you working on now?

My work has shifted from studying the role photography plays in the criminal justice system to how images are used to establish and reinforce stereotypes of African-American individuals to justify oppression. My current research focuses on redlining: unfair housing policies implemented by the federal government. These practices were predicated through systemic white supremacy, and I use photography as a way to interpret them as a form of unseen violence. I represent this dire societal issue through photographing the landscape and architecture of redlined neighborhoods, those who inhabit them, and by referencing the tumultuous historic violence spurred by racism that has often affected these places.

5. What is the one photograph you always wanted to make but never could?

A successful self-portrait.

General exhibition information:

Photography Now 2017
November 4, 2017 – January 14, 2018
Juried by William Ewing

Featured Artists: Lars AndersonSarah AnthonyBen ArnonSandra BacchiJohn BarnardEmily BerlAdam Bernard, Christopher Paul Brown, Tianqiutao Chen, Jennifer Garza-CuenOrestes GonzalezTamar GranovskyAlejandro Loureiro LorenzoJeanette MayZora MurffLaurie PeekCeaphas Stubbs and Ayumi Tanaka.

See full exhibition information or exhibition guide (