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I Shoot Instax Photos That Document Victims of Violence in Chicago


In 2016, there were 762 murders in Chicago, the most by far anywhere in the United States — more than the total of New York and Los Angeles combined. This year there have already been over 600 homicides. I was born and raised in Canada, where there are fewer murders in the entire country than Chicago has in one year.

They are not the nameless; they are not a number… They are the victims of violence, and all were killed in Chicagoland.

The bicycles of 5-year-old twins Addison and Makayla Henning are seen on their front lawn in the 400 block of North Reed Street in suburban Joliet, Illinois, August 31, 2017. The girls died from multiple gun shots to the head and their mother Celisa Henning, 41-year-old, died from a single gunshot on August 28, 2017 in what police are investigating as a murder-suicide.

I started documenting their stories in Chicago over 6 months ago. It began because I felt the stories of the victims were too often being referred to as a statistic rather than a person, so I started visiting the places where they were killed. I wanted to know more about what happened to them, to somehow feel connected. Most of the time, there was a sense that it never even happened, even though a life had been taken there. I wanted to take a photograph in a compassionate way that would become a tangible memory from such tragic stories, connecting the victims as a person and not as a statistic.

A vigil for Damien Santoyo, 14-year-old, who died on the steps after being shot in the head during a drive-by shooting in the 1700 block of South Newberry Avenue in Chicago, August 6, 2017. Photo taken August 7, 2017.

In the beginning of the project I was photographing the places on a digital camera, but I felt that there was something missing. While visiting the vigil for Semaj Crosby in April, I had my Fujifilm Instax Wide instant film camera with me in my bag and decided to take a photograph. A mourner at the site came over to see what was I was doing, so I gave her a photograph right from the camera. She held it in her hands and I watched her as the image slowly appeared. To be able to hand someone these photographs was an incredibly rewarding feeling to me, even if it was under such tragic circumstances. I knew from that moment, that I wanted the pictures to be on analog film.

A person walks by a bullet hole in a restaurant window that is linked to the shooting of Manuel Hernandez, 30-year-old, taken at the 2700 block of West 51st Street in Chicago, September 28, 2017. Hernandez was killed on September 21, 2017.

This became an important part of the story to me, being able to share the photographs with friends and family at several of the vigils. Watching their reactions to the photographs developing in their hands, like a new memory being created, was very special. Their names were handwritten directly on to the borders of the photograph because I wanted people to immediately see that behind each image was a real person and they had a name.

Johnson “John John” Liggins Jr.,17-year-old, at the Gatlings Funeral Home in Chicago, in this photo taken November 3, 2017. Higgins died from gunshots to his head and chest in the 8000 block of South Coles Avenue on October 23, 2017.

Taking that instant photograph felt like capturing a final memory of their lives to be remembered. The images were all unique, just like the victims. One moment, one person, one image.

A sign is posted on a tree for a memorial for Elizabeth Kennedy, 36-year-old, in the 3300 block of West Marquette Road in Chicago in this photo taken October 25, 2017. Kennedy, a mother of three, was stabbed in the chest while trying to break up an argument on October 21, 2017. Eddie Crowder, 50-year-old, is charged with first-degree murder.

I think the hardest part at the end was reflecting on all their stories. I was no longer seeing the photographs but the individual people behind all the images. So many tragic stories. Jazebel, John John, Cynthia, Miriam, and Corbin. Standing in the spots where many took their last breaths.

A rose and melted wax from candles used at a vigil for Daniel Cordova, 26-year-old, in the 2500 block of West 46th Place in Chicago, May 8, 2017. Cordova, was found dead at the scene on May 7, 2017, and died of multiple gunshot wounds.
A vigil for Gustavo Garcia, 10-year-old, on the overpass at East 95th and Avenue N in Chicago, in this photo taken July 19, 2017. Garcia was fatally shot in the back while riding in a vehicle with his step-father on July 15, 2017.
A cross for Jawon Garrett sits among dozens of other crosses at a make-shift memorial for the victims of violence in the 5500 block of South Bishop Street in Chicago in this photo taken September 25, 2017. Garrett, 40-year-old, died from multiple gunshots to the body in 2300 block of West Madison Street on September 13, 2017.
Candles are lit in memory of Joshua Rayborn, 28-year-old, outside his home in the 2900 block of South Arch Street in Chicago, in this photo taken September 20, 2017. Rayburn, who is married with two children, died form a gunshot wound to his chest on September 18, 2017. An 18-year-old is charged with first-degree murder in his death.
A sign is placed on a chair for the memory of Miriam Cruz Hurtado, 31-year-old, and her son Corbin Dallas Barraza, 4-year-old, in the 1700 block of North Mannheim in Stone Park, Illinois, in this photo taken September 24, 2017. Hurtado and Barraza were both strangled and stabbed to death at their home on September 21, 2017. Daniel Barraza, 32-year-old, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
A balloon for Community Activist William “Willie” Cooper, 58-year-old, is seen next to a billboard in the 100 block of West 95th Street in Chicago, July 18, 2017. Cooper was shot in the mouth and torso from an AR-15 assault rifle during a drive-by shooting and died at the scene on July 15, 2017.
A memorial for Xavier Joy, 23-year-old, in a parking lot in the 6200 block of South Ingleside Avenue in Chicago, in this photo taken November 3, 2017. Joy was shot several times and died June 8, 2017.

Though most of the vigils are long gone, their pictures will remain and I hope their memories will too.

All these photographs were taken in 2017.

About the author: Jim Young is an award-winning photojournalist based in Chicago. Born in Canada, he has been covering international and domestic news, politics, features, and sports for the last 20 years for Reuters News Agency. Jim started his career covering the Canadian Prime Minister, politics, and news in Ottawa. In 2004, he spent months covering John Kerry, traveling throughout the United States on his first of four U.S. Presidential election campaigns. After moving to Washington D.C. a year later, he covered Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama while assigned to cover the White House and political news. Since moving to Chicago in 2011, his work has focused on covering major and breaking news, sports, and in-depth stories on daily life. He has traveled extensively through the United States and Canada and to over 60 countries worldwide to cover four Olympic Games, World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, The Masters, world leader summits and political elections. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, and Twitter.