Over the course of my career, I have worked to capture the human condition through my photographs. In pursuing this goal, I have been privileged to meet some incredible people and to witness history as it unfolds. I hope my work evokes empathy, humanity, and compassion in those who view my work.
Caught in the Crossfire
This is perhaps one of the most well-known of my projects. “Caught in the Crossfire” focuses on innocent victims of gang-related gun violence in Los Angeles. In undertaking this project, my goal was to provide a vehicle for the survivors and highlight the epidemic of gun violence, not only in Los Angeles but across the country, as well.
In Los Angeles, gang violence has resulted in the deaths of innocent victims, leaving behind devastated families who have had to cope with grief and loss from 5-year-old Aaron Shannon Jr. who was killed in his backyard on Halloween while wearing his Spiderman costume to 16-year-old Melody Ross, who was one of the victims of a shooting at a high school football game. Tragedy has affected too many people who call Los Angeles their home. With this project, I wanted to show how everyday violence affects individuals, families, and even entire communities. Even though it’s become commonplace to hear about shootings—in L.A. and across the country—it is important to remember that lives are forever changed by violence, and that we should try not to distill this violence into statistics without considering the actual people traumatized by it.
Much of my work in “Caught in the Crossfire” was in photographs, but I also produced a 30-minute documentary, Caught in the Crossfire: Victims of Gang Violence, to reach a wider audience and to show the world the impact gang violence creates for those who call Los Angeles home. This epidemic is nationwide, and I am currently traveling across the country photographing survivors of gun violence using an 8×10 film camera as a Guggenheim Fellow.
This was a unique opportunity. I partnered with Volvo in 2008 to help usher in a creative blend of technology through art. With the launch of the Volvo XC60 and its built-in City Safety system, I was asked to take photographs of city streets and scenes using the vehicle’s camera. This project was effectively the first exhibition to be shot using a car. Though I had never used a vehicle as a camera, the experience seemed too exciting to pass up. I wrote the script for this conceptual work and directed the multi-million dollar campaign.
Navajo Nation: Frozen Land Forgotten People
The indigenous people of the United States are often forgotten, and suffer from intense poverty because of government neglect. My editors made the decision to cover the people of the Navajo Nation after President Obama’s decree in 2009 which allowed for federal funding to support the rehabilitation of previously unused land. In 1996, the “Bennett Freeze” served to alleviate tensions between two tribes of Native Americans, the Hopi and Navajo, by banning members of these tribes from building structures or utilizing services such as electricity.
As with “Caught in the Crossfire,” I wanted to document the reality of everyday life for the Navajo Nation. Photographing humanity alongside poverty illustrates how individuals of the Navajo Nation live and survive. It remains one of the most impactful projects I’ve worked on.
Taliban Prisoners of War
Three thousand Pakistani and Taliban prisoners contained within the Sheberghan Prison in Afghanistan. In this project, I wanted to document the conditions faced by prisoners of war, most of whom were captured in 2001 and never having their case heard by a judge. Some of the most jarring photographs include men caged by bars and emaciated prisoners bathing in a cargo container. It was also revealed that, while transporting prisoners to the prison, hundreds of prisoners were suffocated while trapped in sealed cargo containers. Westerners rarely see the reality of war up close and personal, and in capturing these harrowing sights in photographs, I hoped to provide an intimate look inside a warlord’s prison following 911.
Lord of Miracles
I’ve captured a lot of violence in my career, but I’ve also had a number of opportunities to document celebrations of life’s rituals. The Al Señor De Los Milagros celebration, an annual religious practice that honors Peru’s patron saint: Señor de los Milagros “Lord of Miracles” in downtown Los Angeles, was one of my favorite assignments. As with my other projects, I like to present my work in black and white to give a visual consistency to the work and invite the reader to look deeper into images like this one featuring smoke from candles and incense.
In pursuing the honest depiction of the human experience, I have worked to present accurate depictions of the world, especially in the wake of tragedy, hardship, and poverty, but that goal has compelled me to seek out the beautiful parts of life, as well.