Krista Wortendyke

Interviewed by F-Stop Magazine

Xiaohong Song, 50 Reggie Coles, 29

F-Stop: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to you working in this medium as an artist?

Krista Wortendyke: I took a photography class in high school and while many of the other students were hiding in the blackroom pretending they had film to develop, I was ardently working in the darkroom making print after print. Photography was like magic. I’m still amazed every time I put a print in the developer and an image surfaces. When I went to college I thought I wanted to study marine biology, but that was short lived. I was back in the darkroom pretty quickly. My attraction to the medium was really in its tie to the real. I constantly grappled with this limitation, but always loved the challenges it presented.

F-Stop: How did this project “Killing Season” come about?

KW: I moved to Chicago about 10 years ago. Over time, I heard more and more about the issues that Chicago has with violence, but really never paid them any mind. On May 2nd of 2010, a man killed his two sons and himself just a few blocks away. The news doesn’t release exact addresses, just block numbers. I became obsessed with walking on that block and trying to figure out where the murders took place. A few days later, there was a shoot out on the Dan Ryan Expressway, the CEO of Metra committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, and a man walked into the Old Navy in the Loop where he killed his girlfriend and himself. All this happened before noon and the sentiment I kept hearing that day was, “Just wait, it’s not even summer yet.” I decided that I wanted to explore this idea the only way I knew how, which was through photographs.

F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images and choosing what to photograph?

KW: I wanted to document the homicides in the city during the so-called “Killing Season.” I chose the time period of Memorial Day to Labor Day since that is what we all think of as summer. I began tracking the homicides within the city of Chicago by following breaking news and posting updates on my blog It was important to me that the sites were clear of any immediate evidence and free of people. Part of each homicide report has a code that says where each person was killed, whether it was the sidewalk, front porch, gangway, etc. I used those codes to direct where my camera was pointing at each site. As I was able to photograph each location, I posted it on the blog along with the information about what happened there and a link to the location on Google Maps. Each time I went out, I also kept notes about my experiences. Those notes became a diary in the form of blog posts about the experience of doing this project, what I saw, and what I learned.

F-Stop: In the process of making these images did you get to know more about the individual victims or meet people connected to them?

KW: There were 172 homicides that summer. I had a different experience in each of the locations I went to. Some places were vibrant neighborhoods where I talked to people about what happened, some were quiet and non-descript. In each case, I researched all that I could find on the victim and the circumstances. Because of the procession of homicides in Chicago, some victims had nothing more than a location and a name. Some victims were even unidentified. Oddly, the contact with people who knew the victims came later. Many of them reached out through the blog and some emailed me. There was this expectation from people that since I did this project that I might know more than they did. In some cases I think I was a disappointing beacon of hope.

F-Stop: What do you want people to see or think about when they look at these photographs?

KW: When I look at these images I see a very sad story that has no easy resolution. In the process of doing this project I learned more than I could ever say in an interview. Prejudices that I didn’t even know that I had were turned upside down and backwards. I learned a new level of compassion and understanding. My worldview is changed. When I look at these images, I have hope that maybe what I learned will help others to pay more attention.

F-Stop: What was the biggest challenge in making this work?

KW: Throwing myself into an unfamiliar world where all I read about was violence and death was emotionally draining. Sometimes I seemed to be the only person that was paying attention, or that was the way it occasionally felt. I was very bad for dinner conversation for about a year and a half. Aside from the emotional challenge, some of the locations were extremely challenging to photograph. One 24-hour drug corner where a young man was killed was extremely difficult. I ended up having to call in an on-duty cop to help clear the area. There were also a few houses where babies were killed in child abuse cases. I had a very hard time pointing my camera at those houses and drawing attention to why I was there.

F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?

KW: I think I pick up little pieces of inspiration all over the place. I love that Felix Gonzales-Torres can cloak two standard wall clocks with so much emotional significance, and that Marina Abramovic tests the limits of the human body. I am interested in the way that David Hockney deals with space and time in his joiners and how Gordon Matta-Clarke deconstructed buildings and the idea of ownership at the same time.

F-Stop: What are you working on now?

KW: I’m exploring some new ideas about surveillance and the idea of a collective image existing because of media saturation, particularly in light of what happened after the Boston Marathon bombing, when authorities collected cameras from everyone present and scoured them for clues. I’m fascinated with seeing the same incident, the same instance from all these different perspectives. I’ve also been researching drones and the capabilities that they provide to both the government and the layperson.

To see all the images from the project and their Google Mapped locations:

See "Killing Season" on F-Stop here: