Portraits of survivors featured in “SHOT” photography book
“This is what surviving gun violence looks like,” Megan Hobson, a survivor pictured in Kathy Shorr’s forthcoming photography book “SHOT” writes.
The idea for the project began when photographer Kathy Shorr came face-to-face with a gun during a home invasion and later as a high school teacher when she encountered numerous memorials to victims of gun violence. But, her “thoughts focused on the others — the survivors of gun violence. Where were their tributes?” she writes in the introduction.
The 101 survivors photographed in “SHOT” range from a third-grade student to a bus driver and an ex-gang member to a rock musician of different ethnicities and ages. The project is meant to pay homage to survivors and advocate Shorr’s support of “sensible gun laws that do not infringe upon the rights of responsible individuals to own a gun.”
One image shows a woman’s dental plate resting in her hand, a result of injuries sustained from a gunshot wound. People are predominantly pictured where the shooting took place: from the rearview mirror in their cars, outside a McDonalds, in a bar, in an open field, at home.
“One of the reasons that I wanted to photograph at the location, was that most locations are ordinary and banal places — not scary or threatening — places like a shopping center, Wal-Mart parking lot, church, the gym, neighborhood streets, a party, etc.,” Shorr said in an email to the Brooklyn Eagle. “If someone could not identify with one of the 101 survivors, then perhaps they would be able to identify with the places where they were shot, as most people do frequent these normal places.”
Shorr continued, “Returning to the scene of their shooting was cathartic for most people, a reclaiming of the space … There were others in the project that were shot in their own home and continued to live there. As most shootings occur in places that we frequently visit in our daily lives, some had been back before.”
But it wasn’t easy for all participants even if they wanted to do the portrait. “One Miami survivor who was shot by her boyfriend called me the night before our appointment and said that she had gone to the location earlier that day and could not go through with it. A year later, I returned to Miami and sent her an email asking her if she wanted to try again. She immediately responded ‘Yes’ and she and her young son met me at the apartment house complex where her fiancé had shot her. She too felt empowered after going back now that she was ready for it,” Shorr recounted.
Some survivors were left with scars ripped into their bodies while others came away with no visible trauma. Some were random victims, others were targets.
Aniyah Halsey of Brooklyn was accidentally shot in the leg when a group open fired on the street her family’s car was driving down. Kenny McLaughlin is pictured by a pool table inside the Brooklyn bar. After leaving the bar one night, which he was mugged and eventually shot while trying to get back inside for help. Shorr’s intimate portraiture is an argument against the numbing affect of innumerable reports of gun violence.
More than a simple treaty against gun violence, Shorr’s book is a lyric essay about what happens long after the crime is committed. Her empathic curiosity about the changed lives of these 101 survivors is apparent. The lingering camera probes, how does one continue to live after surviving the improbable?
The subjects are quoted intermittently throughout photo spreads, describing the events of their shooting and its effect on their lives afterwards. Suburban, rural, cityscape — it is all there. But all too often people of color are faced with disproportionate proximity to gun violence and that too comes across in the back pages of “SHOT,” which summarize how the shootings happened. Stories of escalated domestic abuse also abound throughout the pages of the book. People were hit in hate crimes, acts of domestic violence, robberies, by stray bullets or by accident, in gang related fights, family arguments, by mentally ill strangers and in the middle of police busts. No one is exempt from gun violence and this fact turns this book about near-death experience into a meditation on mortality itself. 2015 marks the first time that the number of Americans injured by gun violence surpassed injuries caused by motor vehicle collisions. In 2014, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported 81,034 nonfatal gunshot wounds.
It took Shorr two years, from 2013-2015 to complete her book. Initially, Shorr reached out to survivors, often in the form of a personal letter, to see if they would be willing to participate. As the project gained traction, people began contacting her. “The book is for all people including gun owners,” Shorr told the Eagle. “Many of the survivors are in fact gun owners and there is even an NRA member in the project … Gun violence is not a black and white issue, there are many shades of gray. We all need to talk about it to each other and not at each other, to come up with ideas that will have us address this realistically.”
In past projects, Shorr has photographed people riding in a limousine she drove as well as residents of shelters and she told the Eagle she has started work on a project “about big oil and pipelines in America including the issue of eminent domain.” A Bushwick native, Shorr worked as a public school teacher in New York City and continues to teach photography classes. She has exhibited her photographs in America and abroad.
“SHOT,” published by powerHouse Books, comes out in April. Shorr will be promoting her book in a host of upcoming events and panels. She will appear in Brooklyn on April 13 at Powerhouse Arena for a discussion with Brooklyn photography writer Lyle Rexer.