At the Scene of the Crimes: Photo Exhibit Meditates on the Tragedy of Place


You lean over a long, low vitrine at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana to peer at a row of nondescript snapshots (larger versions are on the walls behind and to the right). If you're a Santanero, these places might look familiar: a bar, a dingbat apartment building, a tree-lined suburban street, an office tower.

These are the places were life is lived. One of the snapshots tends toward the sinister: oil-stained parking spaces 54 and 55 under dull, overhead lights in a subterranean parking garage.

Below each of the photographs is a ruled notebook page, written in a hybrid of cursive script and block letters, the kind of causal handwriting college students use for classroom notes. Some of the words are crossed out; some are added. The writer had second thoughts, a fact needed clarification, or a detail was missing. The precise details are important.

Each sheet of notes, tick-marked like a shopping list, ends in the same word, double underlined for emphasis. The underscored word is "Homicide."

Parking Spaces 54 and 55,  by SFI Leonard Correa
Parking Spaces 54 and 55, by SFI Leonard Correa. Photo by the author | Creative Commons License

Homicide is one of those words that rise out of the pretensions of English common law, out of the notion that the application of a latinate word to the muck of life ennobles the speaker, if not the act. Plainer English calls the same act murder. A slightly older English, closer to the ground and much nearer the truth, names any killing manslaughter.

Each of the ruled sheets in the vitrine is the laconic summary of a death in the city of Santa Ana. Each of the prosaic, commonplace snapshots shows, after the fact, the scene of that crime. Someone was killed in or near each of these ordinary places, none of the places particularly ominous, except perhaps for that garage.

The larger photographs of a crime scene, unattached to its correlative of violence, could be appreciated as examples of deadpan photography with its artless, snapshot aesthetic. We've seen these banal places before in photo exhibitions. They're always looked at from a position of aesthetic privilege.

From the perspective of their photographer, the forgettable places in the photographs at the GCAC are ones the photographer, at least, can't forget.

Benny's Quest by Leonard Correa
Benny's Quest by Leonard Correa. Photo by the author | Creative Commons License

Benny's Quest
-- personal case for a detective
-- the victim found out apartment managers were skimming money
-- the apartment managers took the victim to the underground storage room (lured him there) - promising to give the money back
-- once there they shot and killed him right there
-- the body was found in the trunk of the victim's car in another part of Santa Ana
-- detective Benny Rodriguez was so passionate about solving the case - his passion transferred to us
-- case solved years later through forensics, detective Rodriguez came out of retirement to make the arrest

Fascination with crime and criminals has produced a shelf of photobooks drawn from police files (files evocatively called morgues in newspaper jargon). The NYPD, the LAPD, and other law enforcement agencies have offered up their long ago black-and-white murder scenes to a voyeurish examination of antique noir. You could call it death nostalgia.

The plain photographs on view at the GCAC aren't at all lurid or that simple. In their quiet way, these photographs move the awful into the everyday.

The photographs and crime summaries, spelled out in half sentences, are the work of Santa Ana Police Department Forensic Investigator Leonard Correa. SFI Correa has 25 years experience in tracing what happens when envy or anger or some other wanton emotion rips through the commonplace. His photographs have been in shown in many group exhibitions.

Security Guard, original photograph by Leonard Correa
Security Guard, original photograph by Leonard Correa. Photo by the author | Creative Commons License
The interpretive statement at the head of the GCAC exhibition, in which SFI Correa's installation is paired with a video by Aida ?ehoviÄ?, takes the position that "each act of violence imprints an indelible mark," except the mark is clearly elsewhere and not in the photographs or, by implication, in the places photographs depict. The landscape of evil intent isn't out there. It's in memory and in us.

The projection of memory pours a phantasm of innocent blood over a threshold that bar patrons otherwise cross without a second glance. Places that should be haunted aren't.

Half of tragedy is the failure of the world to witness and recoil from memories like that. The other half, SFI Correa implies, is a story that doesn't entirely add up. Solving the crime doesn't solve the problem of the crime. The ticked off evidence sheet fails to reveal what is needed to be known.

Story continues below

Another Crime Scene, original photograph by Leonard Correa
Another Crime Scene, original photograph by Leonard Correa. Photo by the author | Creative Commons Licence

Aida ?ehoviÄ?, who is best known for her "nomadic monument" - a diaspora of coffee cups - projects other complications in bringing a place to testify to losses that cannot be manifested. "?to te nema? ?to te nema?" - "Why are you not here?" - ?ehoviÄ?'s crowd of cups asks of the more than 8,000 men and boys executed in Srebrenica in July 1995 during the Bosnian war. The installation has traveled to Istanbul, New York, The Hague, Stockholm and Toronto with that despairing, unanswerable question.

In the video that is part of her joint exhibition with SFI Correa, a conversation about her family's former apartment - taken from them during the war - reverses the question. "Why are we not there?" ?ehoviÄ? asks. Dislocation happens in both parts of the exhibition.

The two parts of "Unfinished Conversation: Reconstructing the Invisible" form a troubling meditation on the failures of places to be sufficient to what circumstances have made of us. And we're reminded, as custodians of what we've become, that neither pathos nor fortitude has a home without us.

Unfinished Conversation: Reconstructing the Invisible - Aida ?ehoviÄ? in collaboration with Leonard Correa - ends January 10, 2016 at the Grand Central Art Center (125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana; 714-567-7233).

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