by Paul H. Henning
SHOT: 101 SURIVORS OF GUN VIOLENCE IN AMERICA
powerHouse Books, 2017
In a world where gun violence is so prevalent that many reports of shootings barely even qualify as news anymore, New York photographer Kathy Shorr sets out to shift our perspective by capturing the faces (and sometimes body parts) of 101 people who have suffered the consequences of gun violence and have lived to tell about it. With her new book, Shot: 101 Survivors of Gun Violence in America, Shorr’s often powerful portraits introduce us to Americans, ages 8 to 80, who’ve had their lives both physically and psychologically altered forever by being on the receiving end of one or more bullets.
Whereas discussions of guns in this country are often reduced to either slogans or statistics, Shorr’s images remind us that there are real people with names, families, and jobs, coming from all walks of life and ethnicities, who suffer the brutality of gun carnage in myriad circumstances. She introduces us to Tyrek Marquez, for example—a 7-year-old child who was watching a parade when he was hit in a crossfire between feuding gangs. Dayna Roscoe was an Army sergeant serving at Fort Hood when she was shot by a crazed psychiatrist who killed 14 people and wounded 32 others. And bus driver Joe Wilson may be one of the luckiest people on the planet, having survived three separate shootings.
Just before writing this review, I noticed two short news briefs in my local newspaper that were included with the accident reports. These incidents—in which two people were injured by gunfire in one and a 4-year-old boy accidentally shot himself in the other—received minimal coverage, contained no photos, and barely register as anything out of the ordinary. Unless they’re particularly lurid, we’ve come to accept these reports as a part of daily living in America.
Our collective desensitization to gun violence over the decades has been reinforced by the distance we maintain from the incidents—it didn’t happen in our neighborhood, we don’t know the victims, and the fact that we generally don’t see their pictures enables us to take note without feeling personally connected. We might see a mug shot of the alleged perpetrator, but the nature of a news story means we have a clearer image of what the shooters look like than we do of their unfortunate and often unintended targets.
Shorr has humanized the issue by giving us a photographic statement that says, “This is what gun violence looks like.” She compels us to see that it’s not just the stereotypes of gangbangers and drunks in a bar who are getting shot, but people like you and me, who very often are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The debate over “gun rights” is ongoing, but no matter where you stand politically on the Second Amendment, we can all agree that any incidence of gun violence is a tragedy. Kathy Shorr photos demand that we concurrently ask: what about the right of every American to a life free of gun-produced trauma?
All photographs © Kathy Shorr
The Library Book
Thomas R. Schiff
Aperture Foundation, 2017
For most of mankind’s stay on Earth, the written word was the exclusive property of ruling classes, royals, and those at the top of religious hierarchies. Books were painstakingly compiled, beautifully produced, and jealously hoarded by those same aristocrats, since, as we all know, knowledge is power. But when Johannes Gutenberg came along with his ground-breaking printing press in the mid-15th century, the availability of books began to increase exponentially. Private and “subscription” libraries arose to meet the needs of an emerging upper middle class, and, over time, the concept of the public lending library was born, and brought to life in the 18th century. All of those libraries, both public and private, helped pave the way for the democratization of knowledge, but they also provided ample opportunities for leading architects to apply their talents to these buildings, considered as important as courthouses and legislatures.
Photographer Thomas R. Schiff spent over two decades on his quest to document a cross-section of the most architecturally notable libraries in America. The result is The Library Book, a sumptuous collection of more than 120 images shot in panoramic format and compiled in an oversized (11.25” x 14.5”), heavy-weight (just under 6 pounds!) format. And, if the double-truck and full-page reproductions aren’t enough eye candy for you, there are also four gatefolds, the most impressive (and I mean really impressive) of which are interiors of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Text is minimal but informative. For example, did you know that industrialist Andrew Carnegie built over 1,700 public libraries in the USA? Neither did I!
The Library Book is a loving homage to the buildings whose initial raison d’être was, of course, to house collections of books, and which often stay both relevant and vibrant today by serving far broader purposes. Libraries from twenty-nine different states, as well as the District of Columbia, are represented in the book—some with just a single library or photo (for example, Georgia’s Atlanta Central Library interior which, while thoroughly modern, traces its roots back to the 1867 founding of the Young Men’s Library Association), others with multiple institutions (not surprisingly, California leads the pack with 13 different libraries pictured).
Schiff’s photographic skills are quite extraordinary. Due to the often wide variance in lighting, exposure, and contrast in a single frame, panoramics can be tricky to execute well, but both Schiff’s exteriors (which make up about 15% of the book’s images) and interiors (the remaining 85%) are beautifully rendered. The subjects run the gamut from the historic to post-modern. The library in the Century Association’s clubhouse in New York City, for example, falls into the former category: descended from two 19th-century clubs, its interior evokes images of dignified gentlemen sipping fine brandy and smoking cigars while discussing the artistic merits of the latest book they’ve read. Meanwhile, one can imagine any student from Hogwarts being right at home in the lushly red-carpeted, baroque Uris Library at Cornell University.
Conversely, the library of the future probably looks a lot like Schiff’s image of the interior of the Kalamazoo Public Library, whose holographic collar and resulting colorful bands of light give it a distinctly “Starship Enterprise” feel. Relatedly, the twilight exterior of the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, looks more like a landing craft from an alien space mission than an “institution.”
The Library Book’s gorgeous panoramic imagery is both literally and figuratively eye-opening, dispelling any notion that libraries are mostly staid or anachronistic. While Thomas Schiff did not set out on his photographic mission with the idea of creating a travel book, I’d be genuinely surprised if his pictures don’t motivate many readers to seek out one or more of his intriguing library subjects. To borrow a concept from the tourist industry: Go for the architecture…stay for the books!
Paul H. Henning is the founder cr8vstrategy, a consultancy which advises small creative businesses. Henning also serves as the Director of Business Development for Tetra Images, and is the US rep for BikiniLists, a marketing service which connects creatives with art buyers.