The TED talk we watched discussed how children from disadvantaged communities were far more likely to grow up to go to jail rather than college. Goffman shared the heartwrenching tales of young boys playing a variation of “cops and robbers,” with a large portion of the game taking place when the child playing the “cop” violently “arrests” his playmate, exposing the way these boys grow up to expect this kind of treatment from cops as they have seen it played out in their own communities.

I thought Zora Murff’s images (and the accompanying essay “Faces as Passports”) work well with this talk, as they talk of how the released subjects of the photos hide their faces in attempt to reclaim their identities and as when we see the face of a criminal, we immediately search it for the sign of a crime. With the boys in the neighborhood, they grow up to expect some kind of interaction with the police and most likely will end up arrested. Stop-n-frisks have been used to racially profile and search boys on the street. When these kinds of incidents happen, the cops seem to do the same thing photo-tourists do: they search the boy’s face for his crime. They take his identity, his skin color, his economic class, and his childhood neighborhood, and they use it against him. They use it as means to associate him with crime and to take him away. And he cannot hide his face.

The released adolescents that shield their faces are taking that freedom back. They are choosing to shield their faces from judgement and assumptions. My favorite image was the one of the young African American man with his back to the camera, head turned upward, and one side of his sports-jacket collar folded up, as if he forgot to check that it was laying down. This shows a youth preparing for the future – still learning – and moving forward with hope.


One thought on “Faces

  1. Wonderfully astute comments! Bravo, Lissa. The connections that you’re making with Goffman’s TED talk and Zora Murff’s photographs is the hard work of taking an interdisciplinary approach.


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