Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Not Forgotten

Most of the people reading this blog are going to know that I work at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, but I'd like to bring something to your attention that I think is very important.

A lot of us mystery writers use violence and death as tools in our story, a means to say what we want to say. It's also used by people in films and TV for the same purpose. It's a very dramatic tool, and something that can easily be taken for granted. But the people of Rochester, NY have been less and less able to see it merely as a story element in recent years. Rochester has the highest number of murders per capita in the state. That's right, higher than New York City, where the folks of CSI, Law and Order and NYPD Blue, as well as the characters of hundreds of crime fiction titles a year ply their trade.

Rochester had 49 murders in 2006, an average of 23.2 murders per 100,000 residents, which is more than triple NYC's rate of 7.3 murders per 100,00, which itself was slightly higher than the national average of 7 per 100,000. Rochester's number of murders jumped to 58 in 2007.

Now, there is an exhibit at GEH called Not Forgotten: Portraits of Life and Death in Rochester, which commemorates, in pictures and testimonials, Rochester's victims of murder in 2007. Democrat and Chronicle staff photographer Will Yurman took it upon himself to spend the entire year documenting the aftermath of Rochester's violent crimes. He went to funerals and candlelight vigils capturing new images of the legacy left behind. He collected snapshots of the victims, attempting to recreate a brief biography in image of the victims. He also talked to friends and family members, recording audio which has been put into a multi-media presentation that is on display at GEH. The results are striking. After all, who will speak for the 10-month old child murdered by her mother and boyfriend? And how do you distill 65 years of life into 2 1/2 minutes?

It was a very affecting experience for me, and I hope that anyone in range will get a chance to see it before the exhibition ends on March 2. If you can't make it here, you can check out the online version at the Democrat and Chronicle website. The webpage for the exhibition and related events can be found here.