Rule Breakers: Krista Wortendyke

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Sarah Hadley, Associate Producer, Photo Independent
Rule Breaker: Krista Wortendyke

I never want to see another picture of a street scene where nothing is happening—no people and no real subject matter—as if the sheer nothingness of life had weight and meaning. But there are exceptions to every rule. At first glance, Krista Wortendyke’s photographs for The Killing Season Chicago depict random places in Chicago, devoid of people, street life, and any obvious meaning. They don't particularly show off the architecture or light, and the main subject is often a sidewalk in front of an empty building. However, each photograph records the location of a homicide and the series is a compelling document of what has happened on these streets. I normally revel in the romance and the beauty of photography, and yet Wortendyke’s simple, austere records of a place where something tragic happened profoundly moved me.

Wortendyke began this project in 2010 on Memorial Day and the title derives from offhanded comments made to the artist about how summer in Chicago was a busier time for murders. She felt compelled to create a project about this phenomenon, spending the next three months tracking the homicides in Chicago and documenting the sites where they occurred. The photographs were deliberately made after the police tape had been removed and there were no people in sight. The absence of street life in the images is part of her plan to examine these seemingly banal locations where horrible tragedies had occurred and to make people stop and think about the city they inhabit and the violence taking place around them. In total, Wortendyke documented 172 crime scenes. Her website presents the images along with the victim’s name, their age and how they died, giving a small bit of dignity to their death. Taken alone without captions, the meaning behind the images might be hard to decipher, but as an installation they are arranged by date, with one photograph on top of another, creating an eerie cityscape that chronicles the high number of murders in just one summer in Chicago. 

There has been lots of artwork dealing with the violence in Chicago, but Wortendyke has continued to create nuanced and complex work that deals with the public perception of violence in our culture.
—Krista Wortendyke

Johnnie Dyer, 38 Johnnie Dyer was standing outside 3017 West 5th Avenue in the East Garfield Park neighborhood shortly before midnight on September 1st when someone approached and shot him several times. He was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m. at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Johnnie Dyer, 38

Johnnie Dyer was standing outside 3017 West 5th Avenue in the East Garfield Park neighborhood shortly before midnight on September 1st when someone approached and shot him several times. He was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m. at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Detrick Garrett, 29 At about 1:26 a.m. on July 7th, officers responded to the scene at 4531 North Clarendon Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side and found Detrick Garrett shot several times. He was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 2:04 a.m.

Detrick Garrett, 29

At about 1:26 a.m. on July 7th, officers responded to the scene at 4531 North Clarendon Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side and found Detrick Garrett shot several times. He was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 2:04 a.m.

Carl Roberson, 23 Carl Roberson was on the sidewalk when he was shot in the abdomen on July 4th by a man who exited a white vehicle at about 7:57 a.m. at 5433 West Chicago Avenue in the Austin neighborhood. He was pronounced dead at 10:32 a.m. at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Carl Roberson, 23

Carl Roberson was on the sidewalk when he was shot in the abdomen on July 4th by a man who exited a white vehicle at about 7:57 a.m. at 5433 West Chicago Avenue in the Austin neighborhood. He was pronounced dead at 10:32 a.m. at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Xiaohong Song, 50 At 1:43 a.m. on July 3rd, Xiaohong Song got off the bus following a trip to a casino boat and was approached by two male suspects in the Chinatown neighborhood. They grabbed him from behind in an attempt to rob him causing him to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk in front of 230 West 23rd Street. An autopsy showed that he was strangled death.

Xiaohong Song, 50

At 1:43 a.m. on July 3rd, Xiaohong Song got off the bus following a trip to a casino boat and was approached by two male suspects in the Chinatown neighborhood. They grabbed him from behind in an attempt to rob him causing him to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk in front of 230 West 23rd Street. An autopsy showed that he was strangled death.

Christopher Walton, 30 Walton was shot while sitting in his vehicle in the Little Village neighborhood on the 1st of June. He was found at 10:33 p.m. at 2215 West 28th Street in the driver’s seat of his vehicle with gunshot wounds to his head. He was pronounced dead at 11:17 p.m. at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Christopher Walton, 30

Walton was shot while sitting in his vehicle in the Little Village neighborhood on the 1st of June. He was found at 10:33 p.m. at 2215 West 28th Street in the driver’s seat of his vehicle with gunshot wounds to his head. He was pronounced dead at 11:17 p.m. at Mt. Sinai Hospital.