Richard Ross and Zora Murff both use photography to explore the experiences of young people in the American prison system. Their images, on view in “Juvenile Corrections,” opening today at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in Denver and running until October 8, share a concern for the ways that systems designed to punish and control adults are translated for children, but their approaches are distinct. Ross began his series “Juvenile in Justice” in 2006, and spent six years documenting life in more than 250 institutions in 31 states, photographing and interviewing more than 1000 children. His portraits of young people with their faces averted in bare cells are paired with excerpts from interviews in which they describe abusive and absent families and foster parents, long histories with the juvenile justice system and crimes ranging from breaking an iPhone to murder. In contrast, Murff’s images are mostly made outside of institutions, instead picturing young people posing outdoors, their face covered by their hands or turned away from the camera. Other images show the objects issued by the institutions—an electronic monitoring bracelet, an oral hygiene kit. (Some of the objects themselves will be on view in the CPAC show along with Murff’s photos of them.) Murff’s perspective was influenced by his time working as a Tracker for Linn County Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a position that supports an alternative to detention facilities. As he writes in a statement about the series, by “employing ideas of anonymity, voyeurism, and introspection, “Corrections” is an examination of youth experience in the system, the role images play in defining someone who is deemed a criminal, and how the concepts of privacy and control may affect their future.” Samantha Johnston, executive director of CPAC, tells PDN that in this election year, she was interested highlighting politically engaged work, and hopes the show offers “a different perspective” on the topic. As a way to broaden the dialog further, CPAC will host a panel discussion with the University of Colorado Denver, “Ethics, Art and Activism in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” on October 1.
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Juvenile-In-Justice: Revealing How a Brutal System Fails Troubled Youths (For PDN subscribers; Log in required)