April 19th, 2019
2019 Portfolio Prize Runner-Up: Zora J Murff
Zora J Murff evaluates the fallout of prejudicial housing policies within the larger narrative of violence perpetrated against African Americans.
By Michael Famighetti
Zora J Murff has emerged as a distinguished voice in photography dealing with the complex intersections of race and American society. Earlier works have focused on a facility for incarcerated youth, where he was employed, by exploring notions of visibility and interrogating a system that rendered his young subjects invisible. For his recent series At No Point in Between, Murff turned his attention to the historically black neighborhood of North Omaha, Nebraska, a cityscape shaped by “redlining” and other prejudicial housing policies. Through his mix of emotionally resonant portraits, vacant landscapes, and fraught archival materials, Murff locates his investigation of this particular place within a larger American narrative of violence perpetrated against African American citizens. His project has been informed by viral videos of police shootings of these horrific documents he reflects, “They are injurious, yet informative, shifting how I navigate my own black body through this world.” But Murff never entirely reproduces images of trauma. Instead, he offers fragments, suggestions, hints. By “creating a collection of images scrutinized in both their historical and contemporary contexts,” he notes, “I metaphorically connect the body and the landscape, fast and slow violence.”
Zora J Murff (born in Des Moines, Iowa, 1987) combines his education in human services and art to explore how photography is intertwined with social and cultural constructs. Murff, who is visiting assistant professor of photography at the University of Arkansas, received his MFA in studio art from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and a BS in psychology from Iowa State University. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and featured in Aperture, the New Yorker, Vice, British Journal of Photography, and the New York Times. In 2019, he was named an honoree for PDN’s 30: New & Emerging Photographers to Watch, selected for the Light Work Artist-in-Residence Program, named the Daylight Photo Award Winner, and selected as a LensCulture Top 50 Emerging Talent with his collaborative partner Rana Young. Murff has published two monographs, Corrections (2015) and LOST, Omaha (2018).
Michael Famighetti is the editor of Aperture magazine. All images courtesy the artist.