Pei Ketron (@pketron) is a San Francisco-based photographer and educator…
Watch even just the first minute of Barbara Davidson’s video, and goosebumps will start to crawl up your arms. A 911 dispatcher’s voice plays in the background, trying to help a hysterical mother who’s child has just been shot.
“Is he breathing?” she asks.
“I need you to clam down, I’m trying to help you.”
“No, you can’t help me,” says the mother. And then she hangs up.
These are the type of situations that happen almost every day in Los Angeles, California. Children, cousins, mothers – all caught in the crossfire of gang violence.
“Gang violence isn’t news – it happens all the time,” said editors at The Los Angeles Times when photographer Barbara Davidson proposed the idea of documenting the victims of such violence. But instead of giving up and letting the story go untold, Barbara was fueled to spend the next three years showing how deeply entrenched gang culture is in our society.
“How bad could hell be?” asks one of the victims in her resulting multimedia project, Caught In The Crossfire. “If this is what’s going on now – killing and raping and robbing. You know, this must be it.”
In her talk at Luminance 2012, Barbara shared a clip of her project, and then took us through several heart-wrenching and chilling stories, as told to her by different families torn apart by gang violence:
“These acts of violence don’t only impact the person who was shot,” says Barbara. “They impact and terrorize entire communities.” These images are from Melody’s story, who was hit by a stray bullet during a homecoming football game. She died when she was 16 years old.
“I didn’t want this [project] to be about statistics,” says Barbara. “So I spent a lot of time with these families, just so I could see how it plays out.” Rose, pictured below, has two young children and was pregnant when she was hit in the spine by a bullet. Now she has to take care of her children without her legs, and feels like she’s a burden on them.
4-year old Josue Hercules was playing outside with his sister while rival gangs fought down the street. They ran, but they didn’t run fast enough – a bullet was lodges in Josue’s head, and his little 6 year old sister carried him home. Josue is now a changed boy; he’s prone to violence, he has severe headaches, and he fights with everyone.
Unfortunately, these stories are almost normal in certain areas of Los Angeles. “That’s a sign that there’s something very wrong with it,” says Barbara. When asked why she worked on this story for three years when people weren’t expressing interest in it, Barbara answers: “I’ve traveled all over the world covering conflicts, and I wanted to take that same sensibility to this story and show people that we not only have to go to Afghanistan and Iraq to cover injustices – we have it happening right here in our own backyards.”
In 2010, The Los Angeles Times dedicated seven pages to her story and in 2011 she won the Pulitzer Price for Feature Photography and a National Emmy for her multimedia project. Watch this exclusive video with Barbara to learn more about her project, and the physical and emotional pain felt by these communities due to gang violence.