Beauty, Tragedy, Hope and Resilience
A war is under way in the United States today, with the nation’s youth suffering its most devastating consequences. It is an undeclared war, but it is as real and savage as any of the wars that claim the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The casualties of this war come from a thousand bloody battles being waged nightly on the neighborhood streets of cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis, and Los Angeles. Some victims are gang members; some are elementary school children—innocent bystanders walking to school or playing in front of their homes. Tragically, on average, 16 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 are killed in the United States every day as a result of gun violence (CDC, 2009). This is more than the number of American servicemen lost each year in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Chicago in 2010, nearly 700 children were hit by gunfire, an average of almost two a day. Sixty-six of these children died (NPR, 2011).
“Too Young to Die” is a long-term documentary photography project, now in its fifth year, that seeks to enlighten the public about the effects of youth violence on young victims, their families, and society as a whole. It is an effort to shake the country’s conscience in a way that most mainstream media—hyper-commercialized and celebrity obsessed—no longer do. My interest is to get beyond the headlines, beyond the fear and sensationalism, and create understanding of the true costs that are borne by the victims of this violence, and, in the final analysis, by all of us. The purpose of my project is to personalize the stories of youth, families, and individuals who are affected by violence in a profound way. These stories are not about hip-hop, rap music, or teens wearing saggy pants. These stories are about poverty, despair, neglect, hope, love, and resilience.
- Carlos Javier Ortiz