Laurie and Debbie say:
At their “The Counted” project, The Guardian has documented 532 people killed by the police in the United States in 2015. Photographer Josh Begley has collected Google Maps aerial photographs of the locations of almost 500 of these deaths, and arranged them in a project he calls “Officer Involved.”
Teju Cole, writing at The Intercept, says:
In row after row, we see photographs of corners, streets, suburbs, towns, all in daylight, almost all free of human presence. All these images — in spite of the mysterious lyric beauty of some of them — were captured indiscriminately by the all-seeing eye of Google, either with a bird’s-eye view or at street level. They were then selected and set into an array by Begley. In one sense, they are the same as any other stills randomly pulled from Google Maps. But when we look at these photographs in particular, we are also seeing the last thing that some other human being saw. It is an immersion in the environment of someone’s last moments.
Stripped of blood, shotgun shells, vehicle parts, and home-made altars, the sites are in some way bare and neutral, interchangeable (as Cole says) with any other 450 Google aerial images.
We disagree with Cole about one thing: these are not the last thing some other human being saw. You don’t see the birdseye view of the place where you are; you see a lamp post, a steering wheel, a cop’s gun in your face, the sidewalk. What they are is the last place some human being lived, the last air some human being breathed. What they also are is the place people who loved that human being go to mourn, the place people who are fighting these hundreds upon hundreds of deaths go to pay their respects.
So what’s the point of these neutral, distant images? They don’t grab your heart. They might (as they do for Debbie) take you to places like this that you’ve been yourself, physically. They might (as they do for both of us) serve as a chilling reminder of just how many, just how frequent, just how final. Because they are visuals and not numbers, they bring a kind of solidity to the all-too-familiar litany of “yet another, yet another.”
If you want to know more about the numbers, go to the database site. They break their data down by identified race (yes, more than 75% are African-American or Latino/Hispanic), by gender (more than 95% male), by state, by name, by how they died, and more.
Begley’s photographs do something the numbers can’t do; they remind us that these officer-involved killings are happening around us, in places that look familiar, sometimes places we recognize, sometimes places we live. Will they change anyone’s mind, or move someone to understand something new? We can’t know that; we often talk about photographs making the invisible visible. Begley’s photographs are a step toward understanding the inconceivable.