Splitting, Gordon Matta-Clarke, 1974
At about 2 a.m. on Friday morning, after walking home in the pouring rain, I received a text from X saying, “Hey. I’ve slept like 8 hours in the past 3 days. I’m not going to set my alarm so call me if this weather breaks and we’ll go shoot.” Between X’s court dates and the six straight days of rain we had, we hadn’t been able to shoot for 10 days.
I woke up at about 6:30. It looked dark outside, so I put on a robe and went to the window to see if it was still raining. It had finally stopped. Excited, I called X to wake him up, but he didn’t answer. Defeated, I anxiously got back into bed. A few minutes later my phone lit up with a text from X. He picked up my call on the last ring. He was up and was getting ready to come pick me up.
X pulled up in front of my place at 7:15 dressed much more appropriately than the last time we shot. It was a cold, windy and overcast morning so we were bundled up. I handed X my maps and asked where he wanted to go. We decided to go to the southern most location and work our way north again.
We hopped on the highway and headed for our first location at 9226 South Ashland Avenue where 22-year-old Derrick Ross was shot at about 4:20 p.m. on Sunday the 9th of January while he was riding in a vehicle. Reports say that someone pulled up along side of him and fired several shots into the car, striking him in the head. This stretch of Ashland is a wide and well-traveled road. The long, low, glass store fronts are interspersed with vacant lots and storefront churches. Ross was shot at a part of this stretch that fell in front of a huge old used car lot that was now obsolete. The gated gravel lot was now filled with construction materials, bulldozers, and U-Haul trucks. The big wooden signs that I imagine used to be painted with the name of the dealership were worn down to the grain of the wood creating stark blocks of color against the ominous sky. While the stretch here had lots of car traffic, it was not really a place that many people seemed to walk. Only a few people passed the whole time I was photographing. I took several photographs from across the street and then wanted to get in the median and shoot from there. X brought his car around and parked it in the center of the street blocking me from oncoming traffic.
The next site was just a few blocks away at 9110 South Laflin Street where Vickie Myers was discovered dead with trauma to her facial area at her residence on the morning of December 26th. Her apartment was in a beautiful old brick building with limestone detailing around the doors and windows, a style of apartment building that I have often seen on the South Side of Chicago. The building was the only one of its kind on a street full of single-family homes. As I photographed, a worker came out of the building, got in his white van, and drove off. The only other person we saw while we were there was a young lady crossing the street at the corner wearing a pair of stiletto heels that we couldn’t believe someone could even walk in. It was still early and the streets were still quiet.
From there we went another few blocks to 9020 South Ada to the site where 22-year-old Justin Handcox was shot and killed. Handcox was standing on his porch at around 9:13 p.m. on December 1st when attackers came up and shot him in the head. The house was a beautiful brick single-family home with flowerpots on the porch, a manicured front lawn, and a stunning decorative brass grating over the glass storm door. By the time we arrived here, the clouds had cleared and the sky was blue over the picturesque scene. A sense of uneasiness came over me. It seemed like such a contradiction that someone died there.
Fort Dearborn, 1831
Fort Dearborn, 2011
In my experience photographing these sites, I have found that photographing homes where people died is much harder on the psyche. I believe that the land is attached to what once happened there. Drex Brooks’ Sweet Medicine proved that it is difficult to separate a place from its history. This is true in even the places that no longer begin to resemble what they once did. Take for example the historical land markers for Fort Dearborn in downtown Chicago. What was once a fort on a hill next to a river is now demarcated on the sidewalk amongst the urban jungle of skyscrapers and popular shopping by brass plates with its name. We have a need to know what was once there. When someone is killed on a sidewalk or in the street, there is no denying that a life was lost there, but when someone is killed in their home, the life that was lost there seems to have more attached to it. There are histories that intertwine that person with that place that supercede that of a change encounter in an alley or on a street corner. When someone is killed at his or her home, it is as though that home is then somehow broken. It feels different.
Splitting (Interior), Gordon Matta-Clarke, 1974
After photographing Justin Handcox’s porch, we traveled about 5 blocks north to 8525 South Hermitage where Shaun Leeks was also killed at a home just 10 days later on December 11th. Leeks was found dead in the home with multiple gunshot wounds after several gunman reportedly entered the house and shot him. Aside from the one abando across the street from the house, the block was very nice. It was a tree-lined street of single-family homes with nicely manicured lawns. The house Leeks was killed in was a two-story brick bungalow. I could only hear the rustling of the leaves in the wind as I photographed at this quiet site.
The next site was due west at 2952 West Seipp Street. It was here that David Blake, a decorated 15-year veteran of the police department was found dead in his black SUV after being shot several times. Blake's gun and wallet were found inside the SUV leading investigators to believe robbery was not a motive. The SUV's windows were closed and the shots were apparently fired from inside the car. Blake also was found with a cigarette in his mouth. It was not known what Blake was doing in the neighborhood, which is made up of single-family homes. He did not live nearby although many active and retired police officers also live in the neighborhood. As we drove there, X told me about all the suspicious things surrounding Blake’s death including the lack of motive, the cigarette in his mouth, the fact that the shots were fired from in the car meaning it was probably someone he knew. X also knew that the site was in a very odd area. Seipp is just north of 87th Street in a mess of tiny roads that loop around in odd directions or end abruptly. As we pulled of 87th and drove north up Francisco, I saw what he meant. We drove until the road looped to the left. The south side of the street was lined with well-tended bungalows, but oddly, the north side of the street had several stand-alone garages with no drives. The curb was built up and there was just brush and trees between the structures and the street. Since they stood in the backyards of the houses that they belonged to, there was no way of accessing them. X, who has been with me at all the sites where police officers were killed, said that he felt really weird being there. It made him uneasy. He stayed in the car while I photographed. He told me to take my time and that this was a safe place. When I was done, he seemed happy to be leaving.
Weird garages on Seipp
We headed back east and then north to 8027 South Princeton where Erika Greene was found shot to death on January 8th after the sport-utility vehicle she was driving crashed into a parked car and came to rest on a South Side lawn. 40-year-old Greene was shot within a block of her home. The block was lined with cookie cutter bungalow homes that each was a different color brick as far as I could see. They each had matching lampposts and address markers. On the way out, X pulled over to look at the brown circular signs on all the street posts marked the area. They read, “Celebrating Historic Bungalows.”
The next site was about 5 blocks north at 149 West 75th Street where Bryant Glass and Emmit Suddoth, both members of the Hawks Motorcycle Club, were shot and killed outside the Hawks clubhouse. The shooting stemmed from an argument in the club that led a gunman to open fire killing Glass and Suddoth and injuring 5 others. Records indicate that Suddoth was one of seven people named in a federal indictment that alleged a $35 million mortgage-fraud scheme. Federal authorities allege that the group recruited buyers for homes on the South Side and in the south suburbs that were purchased using mortgages based on fraudulent information. We arrived to find that 149 West 75th Street is a vacant lot abutted on the west side by a low brick storefront and on the east by a large grassy lot that was fenced off with chain link. There was still a small piece of yellow tape flapping on the fence. The most interesting thing was that a part of the sidewall to the east was filled with concrete blocks that were painted different shades of gray with white and black writing on them. Interestingly, I was just looking at the article online about this shooting and there is an image accompanying it. In the background of the image I could see a building that said Hawks on it and the address. Knowing that I photographed a vacant lot, I began to worry that I photographed the wrong location. After comparing my photographs to Google maps and looking at the street view, I discovered that the building that used to be the Hawks clubhouse is gone. In the pictures, it looks like the building is in good shape. I wonder why it was torn down.
Hawks clubhouse on google maps
X was getting tired and I had to head to work, so we decided to go to one more site and call it a day. We went another 5 blocks north to 7036 South Morgan where 39-year-old Wartonka Stevenson was shot and killed in a scuffle with three men that broke into his home at 3:00 in the afternoon on January 12th. As we pulled onto the block, X warned me of the dope spot on the next corner. He said to try to be quick. I used his car to block me from their sight as I photographed. Stevenson’s house had since been abandoned. The first floor windows of his house and the house to the north were both boarded up. There was a sign on one of the wood panels that indicated that the bank has repossessed the house and that it was for sale. The second story windows were partially missing and down the gangway I could see that some of the panels were ripped off the lower windows allowing for people to climb into the basement. I photographed quickly here. As I was finishing up, X said we needed to go. I got in the car to see two of the young men from the corner walking towards us. It seemed like a good time to call it a day.