“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.
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.