In February, Justin Maxon, a photographer and Northern California native, spent several days and nights on Chicago's South Side for TIME, trying to make fresh images that convey the sadly familiar fact of gun violence in the great but troubled city.
There is a fire, an intensity, to Maxon’s work that may partly be the end result of a journalist in his 20s seeing a story with fresh eyes. But even more, it is a measure of his honest desire to go past the surface of a picture to the complicated humanity that lies at the core of all conflict. These are real people, and left behind are real survivors wrestling with grief, guilt, and anger.
"What I witnessed and gathered from the stories of people living in the South Side is that their community is about survival," Maxon tells TIME. "With that dynamic comes fight. Violence is built into the structure of survival."
Maxon questioned how to best represent the complex issues facing the community, revealing just how critical it is to show the nuances when covering an environment saddled by intense transformation. Too often, reports of urban violence begin and end with data: name, age, street address — and how many murders does that make for this year? Maxon’s pictures are the opposite, pulling viewers from the grim facts toward the search for meaning.
"These are communities of strength and hope," Maxon says. "Where people come together to grieve but to also encourage and inspire. I obviously had to illustrate the story of violence, but I was most interested in searching for how the community was trying to critically engage with the issue in an adaptive and positive way."
Click here to read editor-at-large David Von Drehle's full magazine story on Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel available exclusively for TIME subscribers.
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Justin Maxon is a Northern California native whose recent work When the Spirit Moves (featured on LightBox June 10, 2011) documents Chester, Pennsylvania—a community facing upwards of 300 unsolved murder cases since the mid-nineties.
David Von Drehle is an editor-at-large for TIME, where he has covered politics, breaking news and the Supreme Court since 2007. He is the author of four books, including Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year, published in 2012, and Triangle: The Fire That Changed America