The survivors ranged from ages 8 to 80 and included high-profile shootings — the Aurora movie theater and Fort Hood shootings — and the forgotten who never made the news. They included all races, many ethnicities and multiple gun owners. They were also geographically diverse. Shorr traveled to 45 cities in two years, from 2013 to 2015, using her savings to finance that first “SHOT” project, a continuing series that is very personal to her.
When asked why she took on the story of gun violence in America, Shorr stated one reason could be because of her own experience of gun violence in the mid-’80s: She was robbed at gunpoint during a home invasion.
“The first reason is something that is inside of me. It’s not something I think about a lot, but I know when something like this happens to you, you’ll absorb it. It becomes part of your psyche,” Shorr explained.
“I lived in Greenwich Village at the time, and my daughter was about 15 months old. Two men dressed as post office employees came to my house, pushed the door in, and the next thing I knew, I had a gun pointed at my face,” Shorr recalled. “My daughter was a toddler, and she was in between this guy and me, and he said to me, ‘I’m not kidding … get in here now and close the door.’
“So I know what it feels like to have a gun pointed at you, and the helpless, powerless feeling you have that someone is in control of your life and the life of the person you love the most,” Shorr said. “Luckily, that all worked out without anybody being injured, but it’s something that stays with you. I know that it’s a part of me, and I certainly never want to have that feeling again, nor do I wish that on anyone because it’s a terrible feeling.”
Shorr said another reason was to focus on the living. That idea struck her while she was a teaching fellow in New York City, instructing art and photography. She said students would come into her classroom wearing memorial cards around their necks.
“I would always think that those people who were killed, well, they are like folk heroes. But we never hear anything about the people who survived. It’s almost like they’re lucky, and they just moved on with their lives, so let’s not talk about them,” Shorr said. “No one was paying attention to survivors as a group, and they would be an incredibly interesting group of people to photograph.
“In 2013, I felt that the country had become so polarized that nobody was ever talking about the grayness of gun violence,” Shorr continued. “It was always a black-and-white thing: Either you love guns and the Second Amendment, or you hate guns, and you don't want anyone to have one. There was never any middle ground.”
While all of that was going through her mind, she was struck by a local television news report on an Indonesian man who had been shot and survived. His name was Antonius. She reached out to him, hoping that a photography project about gun violence survivors might help people relate to them, and it could also help the survivors if they were given the chance to talk about what they lived through.
She hoped that maybe, just maybe, showing the scars of gun violence could help people see how it affected everyone in America.
According to current statistics cited in bradyunited.org, 321 people are shot dead in the United States every day, and 210 survive gunshot injuries. Ten survive an attempted gun suicide attempt, and 90 are shot unintentionally and survive. Seventeen children and teens survive gunshot injuries — every day.
Annually, 34,566 people and 6,294 children and teens are intentionally shot by someone else and survive.
The numbers are staggering. The impact of gun violence in America is tragic, and it rips apart countless families throughout our nation year after year. In fact, Americans kill one another with guns at 25 times the rate of other high-income countries, according to Brady United.
“Some people actually told me it (“SHOT: 101 Survivors of Gun Violence in America”) was a little too much for them to see, but I thought it was really important because I felt gun violence was such an abstraction. It was always something that happened, but you never really had a face to it,” explained Shorr.
Shorr said the collateral damage caused by gun violence has caused unending pain and grief for so many Americans, “and we all hope something will make a difference to change this descent into madness we are unfortunately traveling on.”
Shorr’s “SHOT” projects have certainly made a difference, and she is comforted by the knowledge that her work is helping gun violence survivors, such as Antonius, gain a bit of closure.
When Shorr made those initial arrangements to photograph Antonius for the book, she asked him if he was able to go back to the place where he was shot, and if he wouldn’t mind if she photographed his scar.
“He just lifted his shirt up, and I photographed the scar,” Shorr recalled. “Afterwards, we were walking back to my car, and he thanked me. ‘Why are you thanking me? You did the hard thing,’ I told him. He said, ‘No, I’m so glad we did this because I feel like I took the space back. I’m not afraid anymore. I feel like I got through it.’
“It's almost like this very slight analogy: If you get in a car accident and you drive your car again, or you fall off your bike and you get on it again. It’s that kind of empowerment of facing your fear,” Shorr said.
“After that, I thought, ‘Wow, I think I can do this project. If everybody reacts like he did and is even thanking me, then maybe it will become cathartic for people who had this happen to them,’” she said.
“So many people had that same cathartic experience that Antonius had, which was really wonderful because going into it I never thought it would be something that would be so healing for people. I was very happy to be part of it.”
Lori King, based in Toledo, Ohio, is a writing contributor to News Photographer magazine. She is a retired military journalist and a retired Toledo Blade photojournalist. She can be reached at [email protected].
Kathy Shorr’s website and the “SHOT Project.”