Aperture and Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York have joined forces, with the generous support of 7|G Foundation, to launch the inaugural Next Step Award and announce photographer Zora J Murff as its winner. As a recipient of the award, Murff will receive a $10,000 artist’s grant, the publication of a photobook with Aperture, and an accompanying exhibition at Baxter St at CCNY.

At a pivotal time in reconsidering equity across the country and in arts institutions, the Next Step Award aims to identify strong emerging or evolving voices whose work deserves greater recognition. The annual award will support underrepresented US-based artists at a critical juncture in their artistic development. It will also support the presentation of diverse opinions, as well as timely lens-based work that’s relevant to today’s visual culture and society, across a wide array of genres or approaches.

“The Next Step Award was created with the specific focus on fostering inclusivity in the industry and taking action steps to create greater equity within it,” says Michi Jigarjian, president of Baxter St. “We are thrilled to partner with Aperture to present the work of Zora Murff to the cultural landscape and also invest in its scholarship.”

Selected for the work he began with the published series At No Point In Between and has continued in American Mother, American Father, Zora Murff describes his project as “a discursive narrative on the evolution and perpetuation of anti-Black violence.” Lesley A. Martin, creative director at Aperture, notes that “Zora Murff’s work distinguished itself for his rigorous approach to photographic storytelling, one that challenges how images can simultaneously support or subvert the spectacle of violence against Black individuals, while also using photography to explore memory and identity on a personal level.”

Murff was named the winner out of an extremely competitive list of artists, nominated by an intensely knowledgeable and diverse group of artists and curators who brought expertise and artistic experience to the selection process. The nomination committee included Dawoud Bey, Nayland Blake, Isolde Brielmaier, Zoe Buckman, Howie Chen, Carmen Hermo, Justine Kurland, An-My Lê, Christopher Lew, Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, Aspen Mays, Sarah Hermanson Meister, José Parlá, Seph Rodney, Antwaun Sargent, Drew Sawyer, Lisa Sutcli e, Mickalene Thomas, Ka-Man Tse, Jasmine Wahi, Deborah Willis, and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa.

The roster of nominated artists who submitted to the prize included Arielle Bobb-Willis, Kierra Branker, Tommy Bruce, Widline Cadet, William Camargo, Shikeith Cathey, Kevin Claiborne, Robin Crookall, Delphine Diallo, Jason Elizondo, Nona Faustine, Delphine Fawundu, Christina Fernandez, Oto Gillen, Allison Janae Hamilton, Jon Henry, Pao Houa Her, María José, Dionne Lee, Nate Lewis, Qiana Mestrich, Star Montana, Cheryl Mukherji, Zora J Murff, Matthew Placek, Cli ord Prince King, Daniel Ramos, Carter Seddon, Dana Scruggs, A. L. Steiner, and Chanell Stone.

Zora J Murff (born in Des Moines, Iowa, 1987) is assistant professor of art in the University of Arkansas School of Art, Fayetteville. He received his MFA from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and holds a BS in psychology from Iowa State University, Ames. Merging his educational experiences, Murff’s practice highlights the various intersections between social systems, social phenomena, and art. He has published books with Aint-Bad Editions and Kris Graves Projects. His most recent monograph, At No Point In Between (Dais Books, 2019), was selected as a winner of the 2019 Lucie Foundation Photo Book Awards (Independent Prize). Murff is cofounder and cocurator of Strange Fire Collective, a group of interdisciplinary artists, writers, and curators focused on work that engages with current social and political forces. Murff is represented by Webber Gallery, London.

About Aperture

Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, connects the photo community and its audiences with the most inspiring work, the sharpest ideas, and with each other—in print, in person, and online. Created in 1952 by photographers and writers as “common ground for the advancement of photography,” Aperture today is a multiplatform publisher and center for the photo community. From its base in New York, Aperture Foundation produces, publishes, and presents a variety of photography projects and programs—locally, across the United States, and around the world.

About Baxter St

Founded in 1884, Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York is one of New York’s oldest artist-run nonprofit spaces, fostering the development of emerging lens-based artists at critical moments of their careers. Through dynamic programming and access to workspace, Baxter St at CCNY has long been a catalyst for innovative creation within the artistic mediums of photography and video practices. Ranging from exhibitions to workspace residency programs and conversation series, our core mission is to support and activate a vibrant community deeply engaged in the art of lens-based contemporary practices.

About 7|G Foundation

7|G Foundation champions organizations and individuals that challenge inequality in human rights, education, art, and culture. By partnering with organizations, artists, and community facilitators, we seek to build strong community bonds that elevate local culture while supporting cultural change founded upon our core social impact and sustainability values.