Scenes from one of the country's most violent cities
Violence, crime and economic hardship are a part of daily life in Chester, Pennsylvania. The town, which is about 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia, has one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the country, and residents have a 1 in 37 chance of becoming a victim of violent crime. In the entire state of Pennsylvania, that likelihood is 1 in 273.
Justin Maxon has spent the past seven years documenting the lives of people in Chester. As they worked to get by day to day, the residents have often faced societal challenges recently highlighted through protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere in the nation.
“Chester has been dealing with issues like lack of justice and police brutality, various issues that have come to light … for decades,” Maxon told msnbc. “There have been many, many stories that I’ve heard where police officers have murdered young black men and nothing has been done about it.”
When Maxon first headed to Chester, he set out to answer what he called an “infinite” question: “What does it take to unravel the intricacies of racism and oppression?”
Starting first as a silent observer, then becoming an issue-based activist, and now as an artist creating works in various mediums, including collage prints, painting, video, and photography, Maxon has dedicated the majority of his adult life to this small, remarkably violent town.
His latest series of photos, taken during a period of 10 days in April 2015, contrasts starkly from his previous work. Until now, Maxon has photographed Chester in black and white to look “sort of pictorial, sort of blurry, and almost other worldly,” he told msnbc.
“I’m seeing Chester in color now,” Maxon said. “I have just reflected more completely on this collision of forces at work in Chester, from me being a white man and the fact that photography, historically, has been linked to an oppressive perpetuation of negative imagery of the black community.”
Maxon felt his previous technique may have been perpetuating that negative perspective, so he set out “to create something that is more relevant to the conversation of race and racism in America.”
“The color to me is more relatable,” Maxon explained. “It challenges this whole idea of ‘the other.’”