NEW YORK – Photographer Richard Ross can’t pin down the moment he found his calling. It could have been on the concrete floor of the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Miss., where he sat photographing a 12-year-old inmate in a yellow prison jumpsuit as he gazed at graffiti of spaceships and aliens scribbled on the wall of his tiny, decrepit cell. Maybe it was the young inmates trying to sleep on the floor of the intake room of a Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. Or the facility for young female offenders in California where the administrator told him all 88 residents were victims of sexual abuse. It could have been his visit with Ronald Franklin, who ran away from home at 13 after his mother tried to kill him, got involved in an armed carjacking and ended up in a Miami juvenile detention center where he waited four years without a trial.
Juvenile-in-Justice, an exhibition of 50 large-scale color prints by award-winning photographer Richard Ross, will open at the Sturgis Library Art Gallery at Kennesaw State University, in Kennesaw, Ga., on Oct. 9, 2012. Ross’s photographs, based on five years of work interviewing and photographing young people involved in the juvenile justice system, document the realities of life in juvenile justice facilities across the country. The young people featured in these photographs have different levels of involvement in the criminal justice
system—some have been tried and convicted, while others are being held in detention while waiting for the gears of the system to turn. A variety of settings are also featured, from segregation cells to recreation areas.
The sight of decrepit, abandoned buildings can evoke many different reactions. They can inspire or disgust, educate or anger, thrill or frighten. Abandoned buildings serve as a reminder of our history—as well as our disappointments—and the art created of them can paint a vivid picture of urban decay. Being the oddball out of capital cities, Atlanta was not built on a major body of water. Instead, it grew as a central railroad hub of ill repute. It was a city of prostitution, gambling, and violence for a long time.
NEW YORK — As Ara Oshagan rocked his first-born son to sleep he prepared to meet monsters. While he bounced and cooed his boy, Sebouh, to sleep to the achingly plaintive melody of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata he was the image of a doting father, but in his mind he was quietly bracing himself to meet some of what many considered to be California’s youngest and most dangerous criminals. The geo-physicist turned documentary photographer had never been behind the walls of the juvenile detention facilities that dot the outskirts of Los Angeles along the spine of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, but the following morning he was going to take his camera, walk in, and take pictures of killers and gangsters. “I expected the worst,” he said. “The worst of the worst; The ones glaring at you in those orange jumpsuits.
There is no qualifying the corners of human suffering around the globe. It is all bad, from massacre sites, to famine zones. Still, if you consider just how dark the outlook for a human can be on God’s green Earth, observe the work in West Africa of the Spanish photographer Fernando Moleres. Few places in the world hold the level of hopelessness of an African prison, for the most part vortexes that may release a human but never the human spirit. Now imagine a prison in a failed state in Africa.
Watch Photographer Captures Young Faces of Juvenile Detention on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour. The PBS Newshour aired an interview Thursday with noted photographer and regular Bokeh contributor Richard Ross. For the last five years, Ross has been visiting youth detention centers across the United States, more than 300 so far, and documenting what he sees. In addition to his photographic work, part of a project he calls Juvenile-in-Justice, Ross has interviewed more than 1,000 detained youth.
In the nation’s consciousness the Pacific Northwest stands out there on the edge of the ocean, crisp, wet, clean and green. It is our better half, poking us to a cleaner lifestyle, forcing us to look to the outdoors, to the natural beauty around us, reminding us of the things we need to do for our inner selves. We know it’s so, there is too much out there reverberates with the truth of it all. Healthy people, pristine forests, water, water everywhere. Fill your lungs with some fresh air and live a good life.
Richard Ross is a busy guy. Catch him, if you can, dashing to, through or from, an airport. He’s always on the go.
But then again, if you plan on visiting 300 youth detention facilities across the nation, taking photos of more than 1,000 young people and administrators, then you don’t really have time to stand around and chat, for long anyhow.
One’s photography does not appear in more publications than you can shake a Canon 5D at — from Harpers to Architectural Digest — by being lazy. You don’t sit on your butt on the way to having your photos shown at galleries from The Tate Modern in London, to the High Museum in Atlanta. You don’t loaf around and end up publishing books, such as the Architecture of Authority and Waiting for the End of the World and get them introduced by the likes of John MacArthur and Sarah Vowell, by slacking.
And in between, if you are Ross, well you don’t really have down time, because there’s that class you have to teach at U.C. Santa Barbara.
It’s a good thing he approaches his work with the energy of a teenager, but it’s a better thing that he does it with the practiced eye and maturity of his 64 years. With that combination, comes not only care for his art and what’s in it, but the subjects and subject beyond the images. See it across his body of work.
His latest, and the object of his profound care for the past five years, is a project he calls Juvenile-In-Justice. This is what has taken him to those many detention centers scattered across 30 states. After 40 years of working in photography, he’s turning his attention, and his lens, he says, to the juvenile justice system.
The point of this exercise? He does not even attempt to blur his motivation. It is, quite simply, to “instigate policy reform.”
With his stunning photos it is hard to see how he will fail:
Ross’ work begins appearing this week on this page as well as our new arts page, Bokeh. Twice a week, you’ll see new images of his work on the JJIE site, where a link will take you to a larger body of his work on the Bokeh site. The images, all of youth inside detention centers, will include cutlines telling you enough about the teen for you to get a feel of their, and Ross’, humanity.
JJIE launches Arts site:
Not too many years ago, the still photo was the domain of the professional and the dedicated hobbyist. Today, when school children routinely have iPhones at the ready, we’ve reached the point where the world is our collective subject, caught from a billion different angles.
And what a glorious addition to our gallery of life’s great riches it is, this daily chronicle of human life, the capture of otherwise forgotten moments, the tally of the small order of life’s minutiae as well as the dramatic breaths in time that bring about outcries of emotion, the sparking of movements, the fall of governments.
With so many photos taken by so many photographers, though, the prevailing opinion may be that the art form has been eroded, that the cascade of mostly mediocre images pummels the viewer into disinterest. The riveting scene from a few years ago now ranges from mildly interesting to old hat.
But the truth is, stunningly wonderful photography exists at the top of the populace’s current body of work. These are the images produced by those who know the science of the trade and practice it with a passion, every day. You see their work in the giant metro papers, but also in galleries. The composition, if you will, is there. A nice picture, that on closer inspection tells a story that demands your attention and stirs your emotions.
Today, JJIE introduces Bokeh, what you might call our fine arts site. Here is a place where some very fine still images will reside, along with photo essays and written essays on the art of photography.
Some of this work will include those at top of the field. On Monday, we begin publishing photographer Richard Ross’ work. Ross spent five years photographing and interviewing some 1,000 inmates in youth detention centers all across the country.
Other work on Bokeh (the name roughly means, ‘the aesthetic quality of the blur in that part of the unfocused image’) includes our own. Today, a photo essay, “Saturday in the Park,” by JJIE photographer Clay Duda runs on the site. This is our attempt to capture the voices and thoughts of kids on common, but important, questions of the day. (Click here or see the introduction to the essay below.)
And finally, through our partnerships with groups such as VOX Teen Communications, you’ll see the work of young photographers, the way they see the world and the issues dominant in their lives.
Youth as its subject and the quality of the work are the common threads in the photography of the professionals, the up-and-coming photojournalists and the dedicated beginners congregating on Bokeh.
What you see on Bokeh is meant to be craft, strong and compelling, a home for the best work on the issues of juvenile justice.