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Justin Maxon: When the Spirit Moves

Chester, Pennsylvania is a community facing a wide spectrum of issues. The most grim statistic is the upwards of 300 unsolved murder cases since the mid-nineties. Photographer Justin Maxon writes for LightBox on his plans to use his work to effect change.

Photographer Justin Maxon writes for Lightbox on the tragedy of Chester and his plans to use his work there to benefit the community.

In my three years documenting Chester, I learned it is a place where a domino effect of socio-economic issues, compounded by a long history of government corruption, have revealed the community to be a microcosm of the wounds of racism that still exist this country. Chester is a community facing a wide spectrum of issues. The most grime statistic is the upwards of 300 unsolved murder cases since the mid-nineties.

In the progression of my work there, I began to grow frustrated that my work didn’t have the dimension I felt was necessary to unfold the overlapping issues in this community. In an attempt to capture this complexity, I decided to experiment with multiple exposures. As photographers, we capture moments, but they are often one-dimensional versions of reality. The past, present, and future are all intertwined together creating this existing moment, and a single image doesn’t do this justice. The dichotomy of the human experience cannot be encapsulated inside the four walls of a frame. With so many intersecting causes and consequences, actions link together like a chain, each one adding weight to the whole. Time is sandwiched together, stacked on top brick by brick, moment by moment. The heavier the moments become, the greater the strain on this linkage of time. People living in Chester know this strain, for they endure a tremendous amount of weight to survive. I wanted my photographs to reflect that burden to carry their own weight and better represent the complications of living here.

I’ve witnessed a tremendous amount of tragedy in Chester and have often felt like a helpless bystander with a camera, never seeing any examples of how my work was tangibly benefiting the community.

I feel strongly that many photographers today, myself included, have not fully utilized the work we are making to benefit those we document. Work often just ends up on a personal website or at best, published in a magazine or newspaper, where the photographer has no control over the dialog or who their images reach. We throw our work out into the abyss of imagery, idealist in our hope that something will happen from it. Most often nothing comes to pass; people turn the page and move on.

With Chester facing so many unsolved murders, there is a grave need for a campaign against violence: a unified movement of people who want to create real change in Chester. There is already a tremendous amount being done by various advocacy and faith-based organizations. I want to work with these groups to help combat violence.

Justin Maxon’s Chester project is currently seeking funding.

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