Since 2012, University of Iowa photography student Zora Murff, has worked as a “tracker” for a program that provides low-risk juveniles alternatives to incarceration. He coordinates transportation to therapy and counseling sessions, contacts schools to make sure that the juveniles are attending classes, collects urine samples for drug tests, and monitors the juveniles’ locations through data from their ankle bracelets. As he explains, “My job is to be a consequence, to insert myself into their lives while the adolescents themselves are struggling to exert control over their development.”
After one particular meeting last year with a teenager who complained about the indignity of wearing an electronic monitoring device, Murff found a focus for his photography thesis: He wanted to capture how juveniles in the system are supervised and monitored, and how the resulting lack of privacy can impact their development. “Cameras are typically used by the state to surveil,” he says. “I too am recording, but my camera is there in a collaborative capacity. I feel that the people I’m photographing have taken back a level of control.”
His series, “Corrections,” took place over the course of a year, and Murff photographed approximately 32 people in the program. “It all comes down to trust,” says Murff, whom the juveniles nicknamed “The Guy With the Camera.” “Having trusting relationships with the youths was key.”
The series consists of anonymous portraits and still lifes, including photos of handwritten letters, monitoring devices, detention center uniforms – all the objects and places that have come to define life after the initial offense.
“Working with a vulnerable population, specifically youths, can be contentious territory,” says Murff. So he created a personal mantra to help him through the process: “The work is about the people you serve, not you.” Ultimately, he adds, “I want viewers to see inside of the system and draw their own conclusions.”