Surviving Gun Violence: Moving Photos You Have To See

This story was originally published in April, but since then there have been 216 mass shootings in the United States (as defined by Mass Shootings Tracker as an event where three or more people are injured by gun violence), and the subject matter feels pertinent again. This week, Oregon was rocked by a rampage at a community college, and President Obama responded with his most hopeless speech to date: "Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this." In an effort to regain feeling, to bring faces and names and lived experiences to the gun-violence epidemic, we're reposting Kathy Shorr's photo series, which, sadly, will always feel timely.

Originally published on April 11, 2015.

Estefania was sitting on her sister's sofa watching TV when a bullet flew through the window, striking her in the face. Sahar was traversing Times Square when police, in pursuit of a criminal, missed him and shot her. Moni was at the movies in Aurora, CO on that day in 2012. All three women survived.
This year, an estimated 32,514 people will die as a result of gunshot wounds in the United States — and over 500 of them will be women shot at the hands of an intimate partner. The statistics are grim, to be sure. But, in discussing them, we often overlook another population: those who get shot and live.
In her series, SHOT, New York City-based photographer Kathy Shorr is bringing to light life after violence. For some of her subjects, that includes prominent scars, which she lets rip across the frame. For others, only invisible wounds remain, but each woman assumes the prideful posture of a survivor who knows what it is to overcome.
“That’s what SHOT is about: looking at — really seeing — the people that gun violence affects, and seeing people from all over the country that have been shot. That’s much more powerful than hearing that two-thirds of gunshot victims survive. It’s too abstract. It loses meaning,” Shorr tells us.
Of course, her subjects are the lucky ones. According to a 2003 study cited by RH Reality Check, women in domestic violence situations are 500% more likely to be killed when there's a gun in the home — even if the gun is the woman’s own — and American children and teens die gun-related deaths at a rate of eight per day. Though surviving scarred and wounded by gun violence is statistically more likely than a fatal outcome, stories of survival receive much less attention from the media, which is part of what inspired Shorr's series.
As a teacher, Shorr watched her students memorialize the peers they'd lost to gun violence. “[The victims] kind of turned into these mini folk heroes...and I started really thinking about how the survivors have to dust themselves off and go on with their lives, [without that same] respect or admiration.”
Aside from a preoccupation with fatalities, the media delivers news of police-perpetrated murders and dramatic gang shootouts with appalling frequency. Mishandled, the coverage of those now heinously common incidents can perpetuate a myth that gun violence only happens within certain segments of the population, and that a wrong-side-of-the-tracks lifestyle is a necessary part of the narrative. Shorr's series reveals something even more dismaying: This trauma can happen to anyone; bullets maim innocent people on a daily basis.
“People from all parts of America, all different groups, can look at the individual portraits and say, ‘Oh, that woman is just like me… That could have happened to me,’" she says, explaining that she has photographed men, women, and youths from all different backgrounds. "So, there can be a connection between people who have not been affected by gun violence with people that have been, to see that it could happen to anybody.”
For the series, Shorr brought the women featured ahead, and most of her subjects, back to the places where they were shot — some for the first time since the traumatic event. The photographer is currently fundraising to support her cross-country travel, and plans to capture 100 survivors before completing the project and releasing it as a book later this year. And then, she hopes people will start talking.
"We have to start [a] dialogue," she says. She hopes viewers will look at the images and say, "'This is a problem we have in this country — a serious problem — how do we come together as Americans to figure out the best way to make this acceptable for everybody?'"
As for her own view on the subject, Shorr isn't out to campaign for either side of an issue that she considers full of "gray area." She wants to start a conversation — one in which she doesn't necessarily feel compelled to take part. “It’s not me who has to say something about it — I think the voice of the survivor is the voice that has to be heard.” Unequivocally, she says, “The pictures will tell the story.”
Ed. note: The images and anecdotes to follow contain sensitive material that may be triggering to some.

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