As we enter into our sixth year of the annual Student Prize competition, we at Lenscratch find ourselves truly amazed at the quality of work that passes through the submission inbox year after year after year. Aline Smithson and myself were joined by previous Student Prize winner Shawn Bush as we sat down with nearly 200 submissions from all over the world. It is with great pleasure to announce the first-place winner Zora J Murff, recognizing his body of work Re-Making The Mark, and also celebrating his excellence as an MFA graduate from University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
In his body of work Re-Making The Mark, Zora navigates iconography that is structured upon historical and cultural racial profiles. It is hard for me to articulate themes of race and violence when looking at the breadth of Zora’s work because my privileges have allowed me to slip by in life without addressing either. This is why the work that Zora does is truly important. It facilitates conversations that are hard to have, and it provides representation when there is lack thereof. Re-Making The Mark highlights the beauty and normality that should be seen within people of color and their communities, though emphasizes the realities of how racism is rooted in signifiers regardless of the time of day.
Zora’s work is currently on view at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Fransisco from July 5 – October 28.
Zora J Murff is an MFA Candidate in Studio Art at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Zora attended the University of Iowa where he studied Photography and holds a BS in Psychology from Iowa State University. Combining his education in human services and art, Zora’s photography focuses on race, identity, and how images are used to reinforce social and cultural constructs. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and featured online including the British Journal of Photography and The Guardian. His work has also been published in Aperture Magazine, VICE Magazine, GOOD Magazine, and The New York Times. Zora was the Daylight Photo Award Winner in 2017, a Lensculture 2017 Top 50 Emerging Talent, and a Joy of Giving Something Fellow through Imagining America in 2016. Zora’s first monograph, Corrections, was published by Aint-Bad Editions, and his second monograph Lost, Omaha was published by Kris Graves Projects. Zora is also a Co-Curator of Strange Fire Collective with Jess T. Dugan, Hamidah Glasgow, and Rafael Soldi.
How has studying photography changed the way that you think and create photographic imagery?
My educational background isn’t in art, and I wasn’t exposed to much art growing up. I graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2010, and that led me into the human services field. I picked up photography as a hobby and eventually decided to study it. When I began my first series Corrections, I was still pretty naive to what could be accomplished with photography, but I think my experiences with–and inherent drive for–working with people was highly influential on the work that I make.
As an undergraduate student, I worked closely with Jeff Rich and Margaret Stratton at the University of Iowa, and their leanings towards documentary photography was influential in how I conceptualized my own photographs and thoughts on photography. As a graduate student, I was still very interested in documentary photography, but I became more interested in how the genre could be expanded—how I could tell a story without being so directly tied to truth. That was a special thing about going to graduate school. I had time and resources to try different approaches to photography and broaden my thoughts on it.