Placeholder Image

In Memoriam

A College Student is Using Instagram to Document the Shockingly Ordinary Settings of America’s Shootings

Photography major Michael Zbieranowski launched social media project Someplace Else to understand the gun violence epidemic in the U.S.

There’s a tendency among the public to fixate on mass shootings while ignoring other types of gun violence. Massacres like the ones last year in Charleston, South Carolina, and San Bernardino, California, gain the most attention, but such mass shootings account for only 2 percent of the approximately 30,000 gun deaths each year in the U.S.  

Michael Zbieranowki, a U.K.-based photography student, set out to capture the scope of gun violence in America with the help of social media. Using images taken from Google Street View, he’s laid out on Instagram a gallery of 277 photos of houses, street corners, convenience stores, bowling alleys, and other everyday locations where people have been struck by bullets. The project, called Someplace Else, launched last fall. Zbieranowki updates the collection almost daily.

The power of his selections comes from the pairing of often mundane surroundings with captions describing in spare but unflinching terms the bloodshed that unfolded in the place shown in the photo. 

“It’s called Someplace_Else because I was listening to Obama’s speech after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and he said, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” says the 22-year-old, who lives in Cornwall, England. “It does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.” Zbiernaowski started the project the following week. “I found that the number of people killed in mass shootings is only a fraction of the total number of gun deaths each year [in the U.S.],” he says, “and I was thinking, Why aren’t we talking about the rest?” To find shooting incidents, Zbieranowski uses the Gun Violence Archive which provides geolocation for U.S. shootings whenever available. Zbieranowski then pulls up Google Street View, zeros in on the location as precisely as possible, and takes a screenshot of the approximate setting.

People are absent from most of the photos, making the locations appear deserted and leaving the reader to contemplate familiar details: a car parked near an alleyway, trees at the end of a block, an empty intersection. “I wanted to have images that were not sensationalist in the way that certain news organizations cover shootings,” he says.

Zbieranowski works alone on this project, so he’s unable to document every new homicide, accidental shooting, and suicide on his own. Nor is it easy for him to recall details of all the incidents he’s chronicled over the past three months. But the gun deaths involving children, he says, stay with him. “I remember one incident on November 21, when a 5-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed by his brother,” he says. “The father had been toying with the family cat using the weapon’s laser sight and forgot to move the gun out of the child’s reach when he went into the next room.”

Zbieranowski understands that one image, in isolation, is easy to overlook. But he hopes that the collection of photos as they appear on Instagram will prompt people to pay more attention to the larger issue. “One post by itself doesn’t carry as much weight,” he says. “It’s the accumulative effect that it builds that kind of has the power.”