DPP Home Profiles Barbara Davidson: Forgotten Shots

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Barbara Davidson: Forgotten Shots

Los Angeles Times photojournalist Barbara Davidson chronicles the overlooked journey of those affected by street violence, many of them innocent victims. The work culminated in her winning a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.

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Tori Rowles, center, flanked by her brother Forrest Rowles and friend Kat Mokry, watches her best friend be buried. Tori and Melody Ross, 16, were inseparable. They planned to go to college together and become fashion designers. Tori was standing next to Melody when she was hit by a stray bullet.
Adding to the intimacy of the photos is Davidson's use of black-and-white, a decision she made because the project was so driven by emotion. Her focus wasn't on the role color played in the overall composition, and if a photographer doesn't do that, she says, color can become visual pollution.

"This was not a beautiful National Geographic spread where color is the priority within the composition. This was about moments. I couldn't really direct where color was falling into the composition and I didn't want any visual distractions," she explains. "I wanted people to go right to the heart and soul of the image and feel an emotional connection."

Since the earliest days of her career, Davidson has focused on capturing the stories of people in the most vulnerable of situations. She has documented humanitarian crises brought on by war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Israel, Gaza and Bosnia, as well as the tsunami disaster in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008. While she has found herself on plenty of deadly front lines, she says she has never been a "bang-bang" kind of photographer. Her primary interest has always been in the women, children, elderly and others whose lives are permanently scarred because of conflict. With her series on gang violence, she simply took that sensibility and applied it to what was happening in her own backyard.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Derek Fender pulls over a suspected gang member while on patrol.
Once the photographs were published in print and online, dozens of the Times' readers called in wanting to help or donate clothing, furnishings, even an electric wheelchair. The website became a forum to discuss solutions for ending the violence and to debate related issues such as whether hip-hop glorifies gangs and whether social programs help or hurt. And with such interest from the public, Davidson had achieved what she set out to do, which was to create awareness and get a public dialogue going because that's really the first step toward creating some kind of change, she says.

"This story became my beat, so that made it possible for me to get to really know these people," she says. "As a photojournalist, you have to thoroughly understand the story you're covering because that informs the kinds of images you take. So I have an idea of what I want to say and then I wait for those images to happen. You have to know what you want to show people and then the images fall into place. With this story, I was the reporter, the investigator, the photographer, the videographer and the director. I wore so many hats that I was really pushed out of my comfort zone. As a result, I feel so much more competent as a journalist. I don't think there's a story I won't be able to tell now."

Edwin Cobbin, 17, was standing near his house in Hawthorne when two men drove up in an SUV, ordered him to empty his pockets and shot him several times. "Edwin was a good Christian boy. He loved God," his grandmother Helen Glee said. "He wasn't out there gangbanging."
And for this story, she now has another Pulitzer to go with the one she got in 2006 as part of The Dallas Morning News team that captured the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi. But Davidson's tale doesn't end with a champagne toast in the newsroom and warm, congratulatory hugs from coworkers. She plans to keep going back into these neighborhoods and showing the public the innocent faces affected by street violence.

"I will always have an interest in this story. I'm still connected to these families, so this issue will resonate with me for a very long time. I can't just close the chapter after committing my full heart and soul to telling this story," she says. "My whole goal was to create awareness, and because of the Pulitzer, this is now going worldwide. Some of these families are getting worldwide recognition. This is a story that's not being told, and it's one that can be told in any major city in the United States."

To see more from Barbara Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, go to framework.latimes.com/2011/04/18/caught-in-the-crossfire-pulitzer/#/0.


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