Richard Ross is the author of Juvenile In Justice, a 2013 Alex Award that’s a photographic essay of lives in over 200 juvenile detention centers in 31 states. His photos, and the stories of the teenagers feature in them, are on display as a part of a traveling exhibition and on his blog.
As a librarian who works with incarcerated teens, I am always surprised by how rarely society seems to think about them. Most teens in our community, luckily I suppose, never even seem to realize we have a juvenile detention center. It seems that if you don’t know someone in detention, it is easy to forget it exists. I know your goal with your book and exhibition is to shed light on the juvenile justice system. What initially sparked your interest in the topic?
I did the project Architecture of Authority, which was more successful in terms of intellect and recognition than I imagined it would be (success can me a difficult mistress). So I look[ed] for the work that had been done as part of it that could be mined in more depth [… A]s I explored the world my kids disliked, high schools and adolescent corridors of power, that led to a more in depth investigation….
Some of the facilities you go into have hundreds of residents. How do you choose who to interview?
I try to get a range of kids, ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, length of stay, charges. [I]t also depends on which kids are willing to speak. Although most of them are happy to have attention paid to them as they may be intensely bored.
Getting into these buildings can be a challenge, as you mention in your afterword. Is there a white whale for you? A facility that you really want to photograph but you just can’t get in the door?