City of Chicago map of homicides in 2009
As of May 1st 2010, it was estimated that the same number of Americans were killed in Chicago as in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. In a time when Americans are focused on simultaneous wars in places that are beyond our immediate reach, I am interested in exposing the breadth of violence that occurs right here in the city of Chicago. It is common to hear someone say after a particularly devastating day for the city, “And it’s not even summer yet.” As the temperature rises so does the homicide rate. Beginning on Memorial Day and ending on Labor Day, I will track the homicides in the city. Once the crime scenes are processed and the yellow tape is taken down, I will visit and photograph the location of each murder. The images will be descriptions of the places where these acts took place. Some of these places might fit neatly into stereotypes that we may have about where things like these happen, but I expect others will be more surprising to those who feel that their neighborhoods are safe. The images are individually meant to be reflections, meditations on our city and collectively, a call to action. Once completed, the images will be compiled in an editioned book. The sheer volume of images as they stack up over the season will be the primary voice of the project.
The inspiration for the images that I will take come from Stephen Chalmers’ Unmarked, Joel Sternfeld’s On This Site, and Drex Brook’s Sweet Medicine. All three of these photographers approach sites that have an historical attachment to violence, death, and loss. Chalmers photographs the dumping grounds of serial killers, Sternfeld photographs the sites of tragic events from America’s past, such as Kent State and the site of Emmett Till’s death, and Brooks photographs the sites of the battles and massacres that occurred as Native Americans were driven from their homes in the American West. Each of these photographers brings a unique awareness to the relationship between a life and the land it exists on. My photographs will take from theirs, the contradictions created between beautiful photographs and the awareness of what has happened there. This conflict will bring to the surface the residue of the life and the absence of what once existed there. The images will be labeled with the place, date and death number. This text, coupled with strategic image making, will evoke a sense that something or someone is missing and emphasize the sense of loss that is glossed over in the news because of the relentlessness of circumstances.
These photographs will exist on two planes. Individually they will be remembrances, memorials for those who may not be deemed important enough to have them or reckless enough to not deserve them. In April of this year, Chicago saw 46 homicides, up 12% from 2009. While the families and friends of the victims have ample time to ruminate on these losses, the pace of homicides in Chicago leave the public with little time to let individual fatalities sink in because there is always another closely following. As single photographs, each victim will be given the space and consideration they deserve. If this rate continues, Chicagoans will likely see upwards of 125 homicides in the summer months. In such volume, these images will make tangible the numbers that get thrown around on the nightly news. With any luck, this project will help incite action in a group of people who may feel safe from this violence that may just prove to be right at their doorstep.