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Artist's 'Crime Scenes' explores the mundane and horrific in St. Louis

Looking for the estranged husband. (Digital print, 2015) Sarah-Marie Land
Sarah-Marie Land
Looking for the estranged husband. (Digital print, 2015)

Artist Sarah-Marie Land is working to bridge the gap between the banality of daily life and the sometimes disturbing events that take place around us.  

“It’s important for individuals to see a different documentation of crime in our city. It really helps you think about your environment differently,” said Land. 

For her series "Crime Scenes," Land researches crimes using local papers and media outlets. She then revisits the locations where the crimes were committed and photographs them from multiple perspectives. She's photographed scenes that range from murder, to robbery, to reports of suspicious packages, to ... more murder. The final images are presented as diptychs with text below the pictures that describe what crime took place. 

Land asserts that she's not a morbid person.

“I love doing it. But, at the same time, I’m even afraid of the dark so it seems questionable why I would put myself in these situations.”

She draws an analogy to which almost anyone can relate.  

“I’ll always cover my eyes when I see a scary movie but then I’ll peak. I’m just drawn to it but I have this fear,” she said.

Appeared to be arguing. (Digital print, 2015) Sarah-Marie Land
Credit Sarah-Marie Land
Appeared to be arguing. (Digital print, 2015)

The artist sees the project as a chance for people to confront the horrific and the mundane simultaneously. 

Land’s project follows in the tradition of Weegee, a crime scene photographer from early 20th century New York. Weegee’s photographs once graced the pages of New York dailies and crime reports, but are now considered high art and displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Getty Museum and elsewhere.  Land skips the immediacy of the initial crime and focuses on the aftermath, the way terrible events are subsumed into the repetition of daily life.

Fled in a silver vehicle. (Digital print, 2015) Sarah-Marie Land
Credit Sarah-Marie Land
Fled in a silver vehicle. (Digital print, 2015)

Land's work has been exhibited across the United States. But "Crime Scenes" was only recently displayed for the first time at The Dark Room, a jazz venue, wine bar and gallery in Grand Center. Although the project was momentarily de-installed, it returns to the gallery walls May 26- May 30. Curator Jason Grey said Land’s work has captured his interest for years. 

“You may recognize some of the places that are depicted in [the photographs] or you may tap into something emotionally in terms of some of the commonalities: trees, roads, streets, the American landscape. But once you read the caption, all that is erased and it’s very specific what’s intended for you to focus on,” said Gray.

Both Gray and Land say the project also interrogates St. Louis’s history with high crime rates.  According to both artist and curator, the project is not intended to highlight the level of crime in the city, but to confront people with the idea that crime is not located to specific neighborhoods or city demographics. 

“If you look through the series you may be surprised that crime isn’t relegated to North St. Louis or areas that are traditionally painted to represent crime in the city. Crime occurs in well-populated areas like the Central West End, Forest Park, and places you may want to go and spend lots of recreational time,” said Gray.

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