From juvenile justice to redlining, the artist joins Document to discuss good aesthetics, Blackness, and navigating art world capitalism

Zora J Murff’s photographs expose the complexities and competing narratives of American racism. His 2019 book, At No Point In Between, combines portraits and landscape photography with found images of anti-Black violence perpetrated throughout American history. One of the most thought-provoking inclusions is a screenshot of Walter Scott fleeing as an officer fatally shoots him in the back; an image that inverts the lens of scrutiny onto the medium itself—in what ways might images be used to reconcile Black freedom or further violate it?

The appropriation of found image also problematizes notions of ownership or property, as Murff—an artist with self-described “anti-capitalist” views—combines his own photographs with historical documents. It is nearly impossible (for this viewer, at least) to erect an intellectual scaffolding from which the photographs of Blackness are inseparable from commodity or labor when viewing Murff’s work.

Two of Murff’s photographs are currently on view in MoMA’s exhibition, Companion Pieces: New Photography in 2020. These works, originally part of At No Point In Between, Murff’s project that examines the racial dynamics of Omaha, Nebraska, grapple with ideas as old as America herself. What’s new is the photographer’s inclusion.

Alex Hodor-Lee: Do you work while you’re teaching or are those two things separate processes?

Zora J Murff: I get a lot more artwork done when I’m not teaching. I’ve shifted my practice lately to making collages. I started doing these collages on my studio wall to get my ideas out and my mind moving. Getting back into that more deeply interrogative mode.

Alex: In so many ways—and I mean this in the best way—you don’t seem like a photographer. Do you see yourself as one?

Zora: [Laughs] I would say I’m an artist. Yes, I am a photographer. But at the same time I’m not. I’m also an archivist. I’m also not an archivist. I find interesting aspects of things I’m curious about or consume and I think about how, by interacting with that thing, I subsume pieces of it that are relevant or necessary for whatever I’m trying to do.