University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Artist as Advocate

child with back turned and head against the wall at Hale Ho’omalu Juvenile Hall, Oahu, Hawaii.
Hale Ho’omalu Juvenile Hall, Oahu, Hawaii. Photograph by Richard Ross.


Artist as Advocate

As an artist, Richard Ross ’67 has exhibited at London’s Tate Modern. As a photojournalist, his images have appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. But in a life and career that Ross describes as “working on four different burners at once with two ovens burning,” he now sees artist-activist as his most critical role. In particular, Ross trains his lens on the juvenile justice system in the United States, creating starkly honest photographs of young Americans, overwhelmingly people of color, punished beyond their crimes with lock-down in solitary confinement. Ross shared his work in an exhibit at the Davis Center during April and shared his thoughts in a campus talk, “Art as a Weapon of Social Change,” on April 2. 

The photographer said that showing his work in contexts where it can make a difference drives him. That means the halls of Congress, the Supreme Court, and colleges across the country. “The gallery isn’t the right home for the work that I’m doing, because it appeals to a very privileged few and they aren’t the ones who take the information and change the world,” Ross said. “I want to make beautiful trouble, that’s my goal.” 

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