BY JANET MANDELSTAM
For more than a decade, photographer Richard Ross has been traveling the country to document America’s juvenile justice system. Now, his photographs of incarcerated youth are on view at Bloomington City Hall through the month of April. The images are stark and often show the young detainees in isolation.
“Putting a teen in isolation is no way to change behavior,” Ross says.
It’s not the juveniles’ behavior he’s hoping to change.
“I work with kids that have no voice from families that have no resources in communities that have no power,” Ross says of his work, which includes a traveling exhibition, three books, and a performance piece, Juvie Talk, that features the stories of juveniles in his photographs. “I put a face on juvenile in-justice.” Ross’ use of the term “in-justice” is deliberate, a play on words he uses to emphasize the wrongness of youthful incarceration.
Ross was in Bloomington in early April for the opening of the exhibition, to give a lecture on his work, and to conduct a master class on photography. He also met with elected officials to discuss
the juvenile justice system in Indiana and Monroe County.
“I hope the work has changed this world just a little bit,” he says. It has been shown in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. During its stop in Philadelphia, he says, “Voluntary attorneys got involved, and 250 records were expunged.”
He has visited 300 different juvenile facilities in 35 states, including Indiana. Gaining access to the facilities was “a process,” Ross says. “But I grew up in New York and never take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Impetus for bringing the exhibition to Bloomington came from Rachel Glago, marketing director at Cardinal Stage Company and a member of the Bloomington Arts Commission. Glago was Ross’ student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he has been an art professor for many years. “I took a class called Art & Social Justice, and then I worked as an assistant in his studio,” Glago says. As a student, she would transcribe the interviews Ross brought back from his visits to jails and prisons.
“I saw how the project has continued, and I wanted to bring this work here,” Glago says. “I hope it creates conversations about the juvenile justice system in Indiana.”
To see more of Ross’ work, visit richardross.net.