The Parkland shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018 – the deadliest in United States History – aroused new concerns about the gravity of gun violence in America. Ian Witlen, a photojournalist called to cover its aftermath for local news outlets, felt an additional sense of trauma when he arrived at the scene because Stoneman Douglas was the same high school he attended years ago. Places he held dear and associated with his own memories and adolescence were now tainted with death, and he was expected to photograph it.
Assignment after assignment added new layers of pain and introspection. As the days and weeks progressed, Witlen began questioning how local media was shaping the story, who was being interviewed, and how their stories were being told. Shortly after, he embarked on an oral histories project, photographing and interviewing survivors, asking them two simple questions: "What was your experience that day?" and "What would you like to see come of it." Much like the Shoah Project and other oral histories series, Witlen’s lens, ear, and microphone help these stories and those whose lives were lost live on and gives viewers deeper insight into an unimaginable event.
In advance of his solo exhibition at the Coral Springs Museum of Art, I spoke with Witlen to learn more about his experience and response to this horrific event.
Jon Feinstein in conversation with Ian Witlen