One day while picking up her daughters from daycare, Shirley Justice was attacked by her ex-husband. She was shot 14 times, and she survived.
Since 2013, photographer Kathy Shorr has chronicled people like Justice, survivors of gun violence in America. In her portrait, Justice stands near a window wearing a bra, revealing the scars writ across her chest and stomach. The expression on her face reads as mournful, even incredulous, yet at peace.
“Fourteen bullets entered my body that day,” Justice recalled in her interview with Shorr. “Fourteen bullets that ripped through every major organ and artery. Fourteen chances to die. ‘I will live for you,’ I promised my girls as I lay on the ground watching my ex-husband flee the scene.”
Shorr’s photo book, simply titled Shot, features 101 portraits accompanied by interviews and descriptions of her subjects, all of whom survived instances of gun violence in America. Shorr first began thinking about the project after she and her daughter were held up at gunpoint during a home invasion.
Neither Shorr nor her daughter were physically injured during the encounter, but the experience and the subsequent emotional trauma left the artist agonizing over the thousands of Americans each year whose lives are irreparably changed by virtue of a loaded gun.
According to CNN in 2016, there are more mass shootings in the U.S. than in any other country in the world. That same year, The New York Times reported that gun homicides are a common cause of death in America, killing about as many people as car crashes. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 2001 and 2014 alone, 440,095 people died at the hands of a firearm on U.S. soil.
“People don’t always think about the survivors,” Shorr told The Huffington Post. “Gun violence survivors are here and have a voice, a very important voice. They have experienced something that is kind of indescribable to someone that hasn’t experienced it.”
To begin her project, Shorr reached out to a man named Antonius, whose story she’d learned while listening to the NY1 news. She approached him on Facebook, they emailed back and forth and eventually met in person. After talking through the details, Shorr and Antonius returned to the Brooklyn street corner where he had been shot only seven weeks prior. Antonius took a Xanax to stay calm.
The shoot, according to Shorr, was overwhelmingly positive. People from the community came by to shake Antonius’ hand. He pulled up his shirt and Shorr photographed his scar. Antonius told the photographer how cathartic it was to return to the site and take back the space. “At that point I realized this was a project I could really do,” Shorr said.
“I always saw it as a book,” she continued. “I just felt that once I started there was no turning back. Especially once I started talking to people and learning their stories, I felt an incredible amount of responsibility to complete the project.”
Shorr’s subjects adhere to no single age, gender, ethnicity, class or occupation. Their stories are equally as far-ranging. There is 8-year-old Taniya, accidentally shot by a fellow third grader who brought his father’s gun to school, and Greg, a Georgia-based police sergeant shot by a drug dealer during a bust. There are victims of robberies, domestic abuse, hate crimes and stray bullets. The physical impact of the violence manifests in wheelchairs, prosthetic aids, purple contusions or scars of gauzy flesh. The emotional impact the viewer can only attempt to imagine.
Shorr describes her style as part street photography, part documentary portraiture. Some images zoom in on the physical residue of where bullet met flesh, while others are more straightforward portraits, focusing more on the person than the tragedy that shattered their sense of normalcy. Many photos were captured at the location where each subject was wounded, which the artist described as a way of saying, “You didn’t get me, I’m here.”
“The project was always meant to bring a face to an abstract situation,” Shorr said. “To show how gun violence affects everyone, not only certain groups of people. Anyone can be shot, anywhere. Many of the people in the project are gun owners themselves; one is even a member of the NRA.”
Shorr hopes her portrait series serves as a non-partisan foil to the polarizing shouting matches on the subject of gun violence. “It’s time to start talking about these issues so we can grow and learn from each other,” Shorr said. “When people can see both sides of an issue, and both sides have valid points, we can talk to each other rather than at each other. It’s not a black and white issue.”
Kathy Shorr’s Shot: 101 Survivors of Gun Violence in America is available now. On Thursday, April 13, Shorr will join Lyle Rexer for a discussion and book signing at Brooklyn’s Powerhouse Books. All captions were provided by the artist.
Correction: An earlier edition of this article misstated the location where Courtney Weaver was shot, due to an error in the book’s caption.