The numbers pile. But there is no accounting—no settlement, no logic—neither in the abstract nor in particulars.
The numbers pile. We count the incidences. We count the number of dead. Damage radiates from where one pulls the trigger, from where bullets tear. The damage tears friends apart, dismembers families, disfigures communities. We try to make sense of atrocity, of lives upended, of lives laid waste. We count our fortune and misfortune, but none of it adds up.
We count, as if in counting we could measure the depravity or our sorrow—as if in counting we could measure things we know are immeasurable.
But outside the event, what is there? Is there evidence to show? Has the world changed?
Gonzalez’s photographs present typologies of blind alleys, rabbit holes, and dead ends—mysteries in the guise of landscapes, newspaper clippings, forensic evidence, diary entries, condolences, portraits, and scars. You can’t get from here to there with these photographs. There is only here. Here leaves us in a bind. Here leads us further away, further from answers. For here, there are no answers.
Infinite sorrow piled onto infinite sorrow yields no more and no less sorrow: The infinite possibilities of a life suddenly terminated, frozen to absolute zero.
Here are artifacts of places petrified in time: Still images of a once living place.
In here there is no solace, no redemption. Though we look for solace. We look for redemption. Which is to say, we look for meaning. Gonzales leads us. Every image becomes an epitaph, every image an afterword that leads us on to the next marker posing immeasurable, unanswerable questions.
The dead were children once. Innocents and innocence reduced to ash, numbers, memory, animus, anger, depression. Who were they, who remain? Heinous acts transformed lives placed near a shooter. We fight the stereotype of “victim.” Gonzalez gives them flesh and voice. He insists we see them, but we’re swimming upstream: their pain is why we’re here. We see their scars, their skin. We look into their eyes. All survivors carry scars. Some are visible. We have scars too. Scars form permeable, protective barriers. They both predispose us and harden us to tragedy. And scars taint the landscape. Listen to the names you already know: Columbine. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Listen to the names of the children who’ve stood there. Say them. They are as familiar as the names of children we had or didn’t have: Jacob, Julia, Hannah, Dylan.
Our obstacles become our path. Our scars draw lines and map where we’ve been. But scars and memory fade, as real maps outlive their usefulness. All this pain, all these scars accumulate much like reams of forensic evidence that we have charted, analyzed, and archived—all turned to waste.
All images evoke recognizable forms. Abstracted and silent, they manifest what hollow words cannot. Inevitably we break that silence—a salve to stave off savagery. Though salve does little to stanch still-bleeding wounds. And words leave leaden silences in their wake. Images fill that silence. They arise like totems (to operate again as salve). They retrace the outlines of trauma to which we’ve become inured. A thousand origami cranes fill the void. Look deeply into that empty mirror. It simply reflects our own dark recess. Do you see nothing? You know, the human mind abhors a vacuum. An amputee feels a phantom limb; a person going deaf hears squeals.
We fill voids. We identify stars as asterisms, constellations, monsters. We see animals spring forth from our fears. We insert meaning into empty signs, into nonsensical things; we insert an imaginary god’s will into unfathomable questions. We know what these images represent: children killing children, failed (mostly white) men killing children. We have failed to protect our children because of what we refuse to acknowledge. Such shadows still lurk beyond the frame. And evil’s possibility sits right next to us, beside us, around us, still and immeasurable—barely out of sight and just out of reach—it will strike again. We will repeatedly give voice and shape to fear through image and word. We will repeatedly embrace this sorrowful destiny.
This is where we are led. Shh. Listen. Look. These images reveal secrets: there are no secrets to reveal. It’s here we find ourselves, again in some aftermath, looking for answers in photographs where there are none, trying to measure what’s immeasurable.
Ken Schles is an American photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. A New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow, Schles has published five monographs over 25 years.