South African photographer captures emotional toll of Philly gun violence [photos]

    Nidaa Husain’s photographs of Philadelphia show pain, fear and grieving. They also capture moments of community and empathy. In one photo the 24-year-old took of two mothers, both women had lost children, one recently. Husain’s photo captured a moment when they were inches apart, a look of pain in one woman’s eyes as she pressed her hand to the other mother’s face.

    “Oftentimes in mothers who’ve lost children, there’s this moment of recognition and this moment of, ‘I get you,'” Husain said.

    For the past month, the South African photographer has been documenting the toll of gun violence in Philadelphia.  She brings her perspective from Johannesburg, a city with its own crime problems.  Husain is in Philadelphia, at Temple University, through a fellowship and is working with the local Gun Crisis Reporting Project.

    Husain says part of her goal with her photos is to go beyond the images shown in mainstream media of a body and caution tape.  “That enables us to disassociate from the reality of this human experience much more than we already would.”  She says, as much as illegal guns and the movement of guns is a big part of the gun violence cycle, I think the emotional effects and the deeper rooted psychological elements are just as much a part of the cycle.”

    In Husain’s quest to document the grief and the fear that are shaking so many Philadelphia communities, she spoke with survivors of gun violence: meeting people at street corner vigils and at grief counseling. At one street corner vigil, she photographed mourners with obvious pain on their faces, while others looked distant — entirely in their own worlds, though just steps from each other. She says she was moved by the scene: the Christian and Muslim prayers at the interfaith street corner vigil.

    “For me that’s essentially what I’m passionate about, is that place where people meet as humans. That place that goes beyond language and culture and social context and it was quite an experience.”

    Another photo Husain took during her time in Philadelphia shows a young girl in a yellow dress playing outside. The photographer says she can’t help but wonder what lies ahead for this little her and so many other children in the city. “You can’t help but wonder, someone’s in the entry levels of their life and you wonder what they’re going to experience. Are they going to lose a sibling?  Are they going to witness something?  Are they going to hear something? Whatever it is, they’re going to be affected.”

    For now, in at least this one photo, Husain has captured the joyful innocence of youth.  She says her experience in Philadelphia has opened her eyes to a part of photojournalism and documentary photography that she may not have considered before.  She says she’s looking forward to returning to Philadelphia and would like to create something that links this city, with her home. While they’re worlds apart, Husain says she’s been struck by the similarities between Philly and Johannesburg, including the sale of illegal guns and the sense of desperation, anger and sadness that’s left behind.

    Nidaa Husain’s photographs will be on display July 2, 4-6 p.m, at the Temple University School of Media and Communication, 2020 N. 13th St.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal