UNL MFA photography student wins Imagining America fellowship

Zora Murff. Photo by Rana Young.
Zora Murff. Photo by Rana Young.

Zora Murff, a second-year Master of Fine Arts student in photography in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s School of Art, Art History & Design, has been selected as a recipient of an Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life/Joy of Giving Something, Inc. $2,000 fellowship award.

Thanks to a grant from the Joy of Giving Something Foundation, each year Imagining America awards scholarships to students at member campuses who actively serve their local communities through programs in photography or media arts. In addition to the tuition scholarship, recipients commit to engaging in a yearlong exchange that will result in a collaborative media project.

“It was a welcome surprise,” Murff said. “I was really glad they chose me to be a part of the organization and for providing financial support for me to continue my practice. It was really good news.”

Professor of Art Dana Fritz recommended Murff for the fellowship.

“I am delighted that Zora has been awarded this fellowship, and I was pleased to recommend him for it,” she said. “So far, our graduate students in photography have an excellent track record for this fellowship.”

Amanda Breitbach, who received her M.F.A. in photography from UNL last May, received the fellowship in 2014-2015.

“Zora and Amanda are both community-minded, but their work manifests itself in different ways,” Fritz said.

Prior to coming to UNL last year, Murff created “Corrections,” a community-engaged project focusing on youth in the juvenile justice system.

“Trained in psychology and human services, he worked as a tracker for youth on probation,” Fritz said. “His access into this world then enabled him to create a moving body of photographs that has recently been published as a monograph titled ‘Corrections.’ His work has been exhibited nationally, internationally and featured online, including The British Journal of Photography and Wired Magazine’s Raw File.”

This summer, Murff began making connections with two prison re-entry programs in Lincoln: Released and Restored and Charity Autos.

Released and Restored provides inmates and ex-offenders in Nebraska with the tools and support systems needed for learning how to live productive lives in their communities. Their focus is on building employability skills such as interviewing skills, writing resumes and cover letters and building a job history.

Charity Autos is run by Northern Lighthouse Church. Each Saturday, inmates from the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln and volunteers work on cars by donation and the cost of parts only.

“I’ve been visiting those organizations over the summer and connecting with the incarcerated individuals who go to the programs and making some images of them,” Murff said.

His collaborative media project for Imagining America will likely involve his connections with organizations.

“It would likely be something working with them in some way, whether that’s raising awareness about the programs or giving those individuals a chance to create their own art so their voices are heard in an unfiltered way,” Murff said.

On Sept. 23, Murff will be presenting a TEDx lecture in Lincoln titled “Corrections: Image and Influence.” He is one of 11 speakers at the event.

“It will be focused on ‘Corrections,’ but it will be more broad on the use of images and the idea of how image shapes judgment,” Murff said. “Trying to get all of that into a 10-minute talk has been challenging.”

He’s looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s a different type of speaking and a different way of engaging an audience,” he said.

Murff will also be presenting at the Midwest Regional Conference of the Society for Photographic Education in St. Louis, Missouri, in October.

He also has two upcoming exhibitions. He will have a two-person exhibition with Richard Ross at the Colorado Photographic Art Center in Denver during the month of September, and he will have a solo exhibition of his work this November at Filter Photo in Chicago.

Fritz said Murff’s focus of his artwork on the criminal justice system is timely.

“While always a worthy subject of study, our criminal justice system is undergoing increased scrutiny as people are more able to make and share photographs and videos of their interactions with police,” she said. “While these lens-based products are not made as art, artists like Zora have the unique opportunity to use the same media to show what hasn’t been seen or invite viewers to see this polarizing subject in a new way.”

For more information on the TEDxLincoln event on Sept. 23, visit http://www.tedxlincoln.com/.

For more information on Murff, visit his website at http://www.zora-murff.com/.