101 Survivors of Gun Violence in America
Many Americans are likely numbed by the sheer volume of information about gun violence. So much data, so many statistics, so many news stories, and on and on. It is far too easy to distance oneself from the personal impact of gun violence. All the numbers and infographics make the topic detached enough to look the other way. Kathy Shorr’s photographs permit us to look directly at the intensely human aspect of what happens in America each day. Gun violence has an incredible personal impact, and an after-effect that is irreversible. SHOT enables us to explore the dialogue about gun violence.
Shorr says the project is not meant to be polarizing, but rather to connect us to each other and how much we have in common; giving us the opportunity to begin to take an unbiased look at guns in American society. A number of the survivors in SHOT are responsible gun owners themselves. Shorr’s book is a poignant comment on America’s culture, gun culture, and contemporary portrait photography. The depiction of these people who have a violent act in common makes her series touching, and strengthening for this community of people whose lives are forever changed, but not limited by, their wounds.
Shorr states that the goal of SHOT is to focus attention on the survivors of gun violence — people who have been shot and survived the experience. From across the United States, survivors from different socioeconomic, political, ethnic, gender and age groups are the united faces of gun violence; 101 varied, relatable people who have gone through a life altering experience.
The majority of portraits are taken at the location of the shootings. This adds another dimension to SHOT as most of these locations are banal and “normal” places we all visit: shopping centers, places of entertainment, church, neighborhood streets, movie theaters, etc. Many of the shootings actually occur in the survivor’s homes. This gives the viewer another chance to connect or relate with the participants and to imagine just how close we all are to the possibility of this happening to someone we know.
The images Shorr shows us are not ones that simply document, or try to dramatize the violence, or even merely present portraits of smiling people who have transcended beyond a traumatic event. Her portraits transcend normal portraiture. The SHOT project focuses on the living whose lives have been forever changed by the emotional and physical trauma of gun violence. They are present in their portraits, words (survivors write a statement to accompany their photo) and are not able to be dismissed as statistics that have passed on but rather as a “force” to reckon with.
I am not a victim, but a survivor. Donzahelia Johnson
Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose. Thérése D’Encarnacão
When I paged through SHOT, I found a number of the full two-page spread photographs to be visually and emotionally jarring. The viewer is looking right into the face of a person, but the fold of the book runs right down the middle of their face or head. Why would the photographer choose to place the crease of the book directly through the middle of a person’s portrait? Then it struck me, these people’s lives and identities are now defined as what happened before, and what happened after the violence that impacted them. Quite literally, as well as visually, their lives are divided, and their sense of self is divided. Some of the people Shorr photographed show their wounds, their artificial legs, their scars that run across their body. Their direct gaze into the camera allows us to connect with what they experienced and personalize their experience in some way.
Shorr’s photos of individuals lifting their shirts to reveal the scars from their wounds captures a touching, vulnerable gesture. Amid tattoos, wrinkles, stretch marks and exposed under garments are the lines and raised marks on their skin that trace where their bodies were repaired. The raised keloids, or scar tissue, create sculpture-like forms, lines and hash marks in a similar manner to the Japanese art of Kintsugi. The word Kintsugi means “golden rejoining,” a 15th-century metal art dedicated to the restoration of fine ceramic pottery. A mixture of gold and epoxy are artfully applied to the edges of the broken pottery. The shards are reconstructed and the result is a restored piece of pottery with gleaming gold fissures. In the case of this ancient art form, it’s about the power of transforming broken ceramic pottery into beautifully resurrected masterpieces.
While the original form of the vase has been destroyed, the essence of its beauty not only survives, it thrives. In other words, the transformation is not just about putting the pieces of one’s broken life back together, it’s about a total reinvention of self in which our shattered pieces are transformed into a beautiful, thriving masterpiece. By applying this metaphor to the individuals Shorr has photographed, we can find the deeper meaning behind her portraits. While these individuals may have been deeply hurt and may never want to revisit the pain of their experiences, by having the courage to do so they discover that even if they feel broken, they are collectively much more than each of their identities alone. Their lives are a “vessel of hope” that stands proud, strong and whole as survivors; and an example of the beauty and determination of the human spirit… cracks and all.
Kathy Shorr is a freelance photographer based in New York. Her work has been exhibited widely at such galleries as Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY, and Sariedo Gallery, NY. Her series, “Limousine,” was included in the prestigious Visa Pour L’Image, International Photo-Journaliosm Festival, in Perpignan, France. Her work has been published in Popular Photography, Newsweek, French Photo, Camera Austria, Photo Review, On Seeing, New York Observer, and The Village Voice. As a freelance educational consultant, Ms. Shorr works with diverse groups of all ages in helping to learn how to express themselves through the lens and screen arts.
Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.