Signal Boost

 Signal Boost

Juan C. Giraldo
Zora J. Murff &
Lorenzo Triburgo


Curated by Jordan Rockford & Rafael Soldi
In partnership with Strange Fire Collective


In the last decade, social media platforms have quickly become engines for amplification, allowing organizing and sharing of messages on a global scale. This new tool, signal-boosting, has proven to be both conducive of change, and catastrophic to our democracy. Strange Fire Collective has used its platform and reach to signal-boost relevant work made by women, people of color, and queer and trans artists, writers, and curators who reflect our time.

For Signal Boost, curators Jordan Rockford and Rafael Soldi have selected three photographers to amplify from the Strange Fire archive, whose work speaks to the Society for Photographic Education’s 2018 National Conference theme, Uncertain Times: Borders, Refuge, Community, Nationhood. Artists Juan C. Giraldo, Zora J. Murff, and Lorenzo Triburgo explore questions of migration, identity, borders, and how we occupy space as fellow citizens in this country.

Generous support to produce this exhibition is provided by The University of the Arts.


Juan C. Giraldo: Blue & Blue

Juan C. Giraldo, Lunch Time, Chicago, IL 2013

I have spent most of my life in the shadow of New York City, in the midst of the declining industry and long forgotten silk mills of the Riverside section of Paterson, New Jersey. My photographs explore the lives of a people; their experiences closely mirroring my own. I was born in Manizales, Colombia and raised in Riverside, after my parents, brother, and I moved there in 1981. Paterson is a working class city, similar to other working class cities where my subjects live.

I moved to Chicago in 2012 and began to photograph the Great Lakes Reload (GLR) on Chicago’s far southeast side. GLR is a 385,000 square foot warehouse that transports, stores and process various types of steel products: sheet, plate, bar, beam and tube products. Over time, GLR came to feel eerily familiar. The smell of diesel and cigarettes remind me of the loading dock I worked on in my youth; GLR’s dock workers share qualities with so many of my family members, former co-workers, and friends. Familiarizing myself with their personal anecdotes and experiences allowed me to embrace the details, beauty, and drama of the mundane, which unfolded as I continued to photograph them. A strong bond emerged which allowed me to photograph my subjects as I would my family. The evidence by the decor of these homes reveals their residents as people of Catholic faith, first generation immigrants, and blue-collar manual laborers. In their stories I see echoes of my past. Intimate spaces reveal the textures of a working life; a Gatorade bottle as a vase uncovers the beauty in the banality of domesticity. My portraits and still life photographs highlight objects of importance and their iconographic meaning in these settings, reflecting a reverence for my personal history and the lives of the people I photograph.


Juan Giraldo is a photographer currently living and working in the New York City metro area; he received his MFA in May of 2015 from Columbia College’s photography department. He’s been artist-in-residence at The Center for Photography at Woodstock & Eyes on Main Street. Exhibitions include: Flesh/Water, Curated by Kelly Ciurej, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, 2018; HATCH, Curated by Zora J Murff MEDICI Gallery, Richards Hall University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE; Context: Art & Documentary, Curated by Noah Addis, Perspective Gallery, Evanston, IL; Photoville, Brooklyn, NY; Photolucida: Critical Mass Top 50, Curated by David Rosenberg, Artwork Network Gallery, Denver, CO; Eyes on Main Street, Curated by Régina Monfort & Jerome Deperlinghi, Wilson, NC, 2016; Aqui, Curated by Lisa Janes, Perspective Gallery, Evanston, IL. His work explores the personal interior spaces of working people, the textures of a working life and the banal indicators of domesticity that shaped his view of the world, both as a first generation immigrant and laborer. In addition to this work he continues to photograph his family as part of an ongoing project in which he looks at his relationship with his parents.


Zora J. Murff: At No Point In Between

For many African-Americans, the Great Migration from the Jim Crow South was a search for hope. However, oppression followed them in the forms of continued racially motivated violence and prejudicial housing policies. Perceptions generated from and reinforced by the false image of Blackness have always been solid and clear: the other cannot live amongst us, and must be controlled. The need for whites to control African-Americans created mounting tensions that resulted in race riots and spectacle lynchings; these power structures, which were widely perceived as a “Southern phenomenon” were lying in wait for them [1]. Once again, like their ancestors following Emancipation, Black individuals found themselves in an environment of perceived freedom [2].


Zora J. Murff, At No Point In Between

As overt racial violence became a point of cultural shame, it was re-presented through government policy. The passing of the National Housing Act of 1934 brought with it the practice of redlining. These policies restricted individuals from receiving home and business loans, perpetuating the socioeconomic divide along the color line through the denial of access to wealth. Photographing in the historically African-American neighborhood of North Omaha, Nebraska, my survey examines not only race, segregation and financial disenfranchisement, but also how policies predicated through systemic white supremacy are a form of violence.

We perceive violence dichotomously between fast and slow, and readily understand forms of fast violence – like lynching – because they are reinforced by our narrow perception of what it means to be at risk [3]. Forms of slow violence – like redlining – are not so easily understood because their effects only become visible after long periods of time. The slow violence of redlining pushed African-Americans into the North Omaha neighborhood and kept them there. Following the collapse of the industrial economy – the sector in which many Black individuals were employed – the community was devastated financially and fell into disrepair.

I represent slow violence through photographs of the architecture and surrounding landscape, those who inhabit it, and by referencing the tumultuous local histories of fast violence spurred by racism. Slow violence subtly marks the landscape, and my depictions of structures and scenes are poetic reflections on how space has been shaped. The portraits are points of confrontation with those who are affected by slow violence, and emphasize a push and pull between intimacy and distance. Together, these silent images weave a complex narrative about person, place, presence, and absence. The medium of photography is unique in its capacity to evince temporal layers, revealing our past to help us better understand the contemporary moment.

My reflections on past injustices are a contemplation on Black identity as something other than a body held in contempt. Through photography, we can see the mark that has already been made. If we look and continue to ignore, the false image of Blackness will remain the fixed image. It is not our burden to attempt to erase this mark, but rather see it, extend it, and bring it back upon itself; a way to reinterpret it, and make it a different mark entirely.

[1] According to the NAACP, from 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of those lynched, 3,446 were Black, and 95 of those lynchings took place in states where segregation was illegal.

[2] Following Emancipation, many Black individuals joined federal militias, many turned to indentured servitude, and many were unemployed. Due to large numbers of African-Americans relocating from plantations to southern towns where work was not available, brutal policing policies and “separate-but-equal” laws were put into place.

[3] Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2011.


Zora J. Murff is an MFA Candidate in Studio Art at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Murff attended the University of Iowa where he studied Photography and holds a BS in Psychology from Iowa State University. Combining his education in human services and art, Murff’s photography focuses on race, identity, and how images are used to reinforce sociocultural constructs. His work has been exhibited nationally, internationally, and featured online including The British Journal of Photography and Wired Magazine’s Raw File. His work has also been published in VICE Magazine, GOOD Magazine, Huck Magazine, and The New York Times. Murff was the Daylight Photo Award Winner in 2017, a Joy of Giving Something Fellow through Imagining America in 2016, and was selected as a LensCulture 2015 Top 50 Emerging Talent. A portfolio of his work is included in the Midwest Photographers Project through the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Murff published his first monograph, Corrections, through Aint-Bad Editions in the in Winter of 2015, and his second monograph LOST, Omaha, through +KGP in the Spring of 2018.


Lorenzo Triburgo: Policing Gender

When I began this project I became pen pals with 32 LGBTQ-identified prisoners. The emotional aspect of corresponding with prisoners presented unexpected moments of self-reflection, genuine laughter, genuine tears, and the knowledge of oneself that only arises when working to understand another’s experiences. I never ask my pen pals why they are in prison. Instead, we share our coming out stories, childhood triumphs, failures and fears, and goals for a better future – both personally and for our communities.

In Policing Gender, as in my previous body of work Transportraits, I employ visual connotations of landscape and portrait photography to cast a critical lens on notions of the “Natural” and the politics of queer representation, this time in service of prison abolition as a crucial queer issue.

Policing Gender is an installation of photographs and audio. The photographs are abstract metaphors on absence and imprisonment and the audio component is a compilation of voices of LGBTQ prisoners with whom I have been writing on a long-term basis.

The photographs of draped fabrics recall the lush backdrops in renaissance portraiture (such as Venus and Cupid by Hans Holbein), and adopted by photographic portraitists such as queer icon Catherine Opie. However, instead of granting the viewer the opportunity to gaze upon a subject these “portraits” are figureless, leaving the viewer to contemplate the absence of our community members who are behind bars.

Lorenzo Triburgo, For Leo, from Policing Gender

The title, “Policing Gender,” refers to the surveillance, policing, and punishment of LGBTQ bodies in the United States—a phenomenon most commonly visualized by the violent police raids of gay and lesbian bars in the 1950s and ‘60s, but that started at least a century earlier and continues today. Consider the unwarranted arrests of transgender women (especially women of color), the disproportionate regulation of “public indecency” laws that target gay men (particularly of color), and the longer prison sentences given to queer youth as compared to their gender/sexual normative peers (Grant et al., 2011; Mogul et al., 2011).

I am grateful for the generous project grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council of Portland that made this project a reality. I also remain in awe of and indebted to the education, passion, and radical politics of the people at Beyond These Walls, Black and Pink, and Critical Resistance Portland.

Grant, Jaime M., Lisa A. Mottet, Justin Tanis, Jack Harrison, Jody L. Herman, and Mara Keisling. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2011.

Mogul, Joey L., Ritchie, Andrea J., Whitlock, Kay, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2011.


In his artworks Lorenzo Triburgo consistently confronts the overlapping ideas of American identity, authenticity, and photography’s critical role in framing and constructing our understanding of identity and reality.

His series, Transportraits, has been exhibited widely in major cities across the United States, Europe and Asia and won first place in the gender category in the international photography competition, the Pride Photo Award in 2012. He was awarded a Project Grant through the Regional Arts and Culture Council of Portland, OR for his current project Policing Gender that examines mass incarceration from a queer perspective. Triburgo exhibits this project at learning institutions throughout the U.S. and hosts workshops regarding the radical, transformative act of becoming a pen pal with LGBTQ-identified incarcerated individuals.

Triburgo has work in the permanent collection at the Portland Art Museum and has been published and written about in various web and print journals including PDN, Slate, The Huffington Post, and the website for The Transgender Studies Reader 2, edited by Susan Stryker and Aren Aizura, and published by Routledge. He holds a BA from New York University in Photography and Gender Studies and an MFA in Photography and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts.



Jordan Rockford is an Academic Advisor and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he teaches in the College of Art, Media and Design and develops photo-based curricula for UArts’ teaching partnership with the Library of Congress. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of the Arts and an M. Litt. in Art History from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, with a focus in Museum Studies and the History of Photography.

Curatorial projects include the first US exhibitions of work by Cambodian artist Vuth Lyno and Israeli photographers David Adika and Gustavo Sagorsky; creative development for Hidden City 2009, a city-wide festival of installation art based in historic sites; and exhibitions for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the Delaware Art Museum, Penn State Abington, and the William Way LGBT Community Center. Rockford was a founding member of NAPOLEON from 2011-2016, and is a Design Consultant for the Mural Arts Program.

Rafael Soldi is a Peruvian­-born, Seattle-based artist and curator. He holds a BFA in Photography & Curatorial Studies from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He has exhibited internationally at the Frye Art Museum, American University Museum, Griffin Museum of Photography, Greg Kucera Gallery, G. Gibson Gallery, Connersmith, PCNW, and Vertice Galeria, among others. Rafael is a 2012 Magenta Foundation Award Winner, and recipient of the 2014 Puffin Foundation grant, 2016 smART Ventures grant, and 2016 Jini Dellaccio GAP grant; he has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and PICTURE BERLIN.

His work is in the permanent collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, and the King County Public Art Collection. He has been published in PDN, Dwell, Hello Mr, and Metropolis, among others. Rafael is the co-founder of the Strange Fire Collective, a project dedicated to highlighting work made by women, people of color, and queer and trans artists.


To download a PDF version of this essay please click HERE

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NAPOLEON is a collectively-run project space that strives to provide a platform for new work and new ideas.

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