Detail from “Evidence No. 10” by Angela Strassheim
Evidence remains long after a crime has been committed, often invisible to the naked eye.
In the case of domestic violence, a new family may move into a home with no knowledge of its violent history.
It’s that dissonence between present appearances and past realities that photographer Angela Strassheim investigates in her recent body of work “Evidence” now on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Strassheim uses a chemical called “Blue Star” to reveal the DNA protein left behind in homes that were the scenes of domestic crimes. While the blood has been washed away, the protein often embeds itself into the walls and floors. Once sprayed with “Blue Star” the protein glows; the result is an eery, ghost-like apparition.
Evidence No. 2 (BlueStar), 2009
Coupled with the black and white images is a series of exterior shots in color. In full daylight Strassheim photographs what appear to be ordinary, middle-to-upper-class homes. Only the titles reveals the building’s gruesome past… titles like “small rod, kitchen knife” and “.357 caliber revolver.” Viewers are left to wonder what exactly happened inside.
Evidence, (small rod, kitchen knife), 2009
MIA Curator David Little says he chose Strassheim for the latest insallment of the museum’s intimate “New photographs” series because of her exploration of two photographic traditions:
She’s looking at this long tradition of both death, and photojournalism, and how photojournalists investigated real life crime scenes in their pictures. I’m interested in how she takes cues from both high art and regular old detective work, and combines them.
Little says Strassheim is part of a new generation of photographers who, rather than simply depicting a scene to accompany a reporter story, are actually conducting their own investigations, and telling the story through the camera lens.
Evidence, (.357 caliber revolver), 2009
Little says there’s an obsessive quality to Strassheim’s work, and he’s impressed with how she manages to treat what is a provocative topic – the crime scene – with a detached, respectful eye.
It’s such a difficult subject to take pictures of without being exploitative or sensational – but I think she does a really good job of keeping a distance, somewhere between a documentary image and an art image. You could install this in a way that would heighten the sensationalism, could have had it all black or dramatic lighting. But I like the inclusion of the color. Color on the outside, black and white on the inside.
Evidence No. 10, 2009
Little says Strassheim’s images (there are only ten of them in the “Evidence” show) manage to starkly convey the everday quality of murder and violence in the United States.
Baby pictures on top of the wall where the murder happened – these spaces continue to function – but these traces of history are always there. How common and mundane and unnoticeable these places are. When you look at these places, they look like everyday homes you would see anywhere. And that’s the truth of these images, – these crimes happen places you wouldn’t expect, and we never know the details.
“Evidence” runs through October 9 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Strassheim, who used to work as a forensic photographer in order to support her more artistic pursuits, talks about her process in this video from the MIA: