What does a gunshot look like?
It can look like white lines blooming like jasmine, or a star against a cobalt background. Those are caused by a 9 mm handgun. Small dark holes, bigger than pinpricks but smaller than fingerprints, are the puncture marks of an AR-15.
At least, that’s how gunshots appear in Cambridge photographer Mark Teiwes’s project “Shots Fired.” Teiwes shot at photosensitive material with bullets — rather than “shooting” with a camera, thus literally documenting the trauma of a gunshot at the instant of impact. This was his thesis for the Lesley University Visual Arts MFA program. It’s hanging until June 26 in the Lunder Arts Center, on the university’s Cambridge campus, with 12 other thesis projects.
“When you look at a picture of a space or a subject, you see a representation,” Teiwes said. “In this case, the actual physical damage is the representation.”
The damage sometimes appears harsh, as in one series that documents the movement of a bullet through a stack of silver gelatin photographic paper. The rupture of a single shot appears in stark black and white in 30 pieces of paper.
Sometimes, though, the damage looks strangely appealing. Due to the reaction between the lumen prints and sunlight, some works turned shades of lavender and peach. This was a surprise to Teiwes. “All of a sudden, they were these beautiful pastels,” he said. In these works, the gunshots cease to look like trauma and start to look like flowers.
His thesis adviser, Oliver Wasow, said that the project deals with the relationship between beauty and violence. “The spectacle of violence can sometimes render a beautiful trace along with horrific consequences,” Wascow said.
Teiwes said the project engages with issues that are inherently political, but from an atypical angle.
“As an artist approaches subjects that are politically divisive, art can create a kind of third space to enter an issue,” Teiwes said. “Conversations can happen that aren’t pre-scripted sound bites.”
One such conversation is simply about what gunshots resemble. Another is about the language of photography: Why do we say that we “shoot” photos? Another is about the latent presence of beauty in photos of gunshots.
“I didn’t want to over-aestheticize violence, or create another spectacle,” Teiwes said. “My hope, and my hope about photography in general, is that beyond shocking and numbing, it invites new conversations and ways to think about trauma.”
He said that while the project is not specifically about current events, or about a friend’s suicide with a gun, both of those events influence his project.
The show opened eight days after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“I wish it wasn’t relevant,” Teiwes said. “But it is.”Sophie Haigney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SophieHaigney