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UMBC student remembers Baltimore murders through art

With a total of 318 killings, Baltimore made 2016 the second-deadliest year per capita in recorded history, second only to 2015. With that number in mind, Amy Berbert set out on a mission to make the victims more than a morbid statistic by photographing each murder site from that year.

The UMBC senior photography and graphic media design major, recorded the names, ages, dates, times and locations of all murders in Baltimore over the course of 2016. From Jan. 1, 2016, she began returning to those locations, on the same date and time that the murder occurred. The project titled, “Remembering the Stains on the Sidewalk,” aims to give the victims a public legacy.

“For many of these instances, the emergency personnel arrive, the body is removed and the blood on the sidewalk is hosed down. These people, regardless of their actions or past, deserve more respect than that,” she said of the project’s name.

The task of photographing each murder site is more complex than one might think. Due to public records’ limitations, Berbert is not always able to know the exact address where a murder took place, only the block location. While she may not be able to photograph the actual murder site, Berbert’s photos are always taken within the same block:

“As much as I wish I could find out the exact location for each scene, I do the best I can with what information is available to me. If I am able to determine an exact spot, I do stick with it no matter what. But if all I have is the block number and the photo is slightly off, I don’t believe it undermines the mission of the project.”

Additionally, Berbert notes that she returns at the same time and place as the primary attacks that resulted in death, which may not necessarily be the same as the time of death. Often the victims come to pass days or even years after the initial attack.

This is not the first time Berbert has explored the subject in Baltimore. In 2015, as part of a class project, she created a juxtaposition of two Baltimore neighborhoods: Guilford and Wilson Park. The two were separated by a large stone wall, one wealthy and the other with a high crime rate, respectively. After a triple homicide in Wilson Park, Berbert displayed the stark differences between the two by photographing expensive homes in Guilford, followed by pictures of the wall and the location of the triple homicide.

That same semester, Berbert also created cinemagraphs (still photographs with minor/repeated movements) of 2015 murder sites, in response to the year’s murder rate (the highest per capita in Baltimore).

To Berbert, the project exemplifies Baltimore’s singular block-to-block quality, where in a matter of a few hundred yards, a neighbourhood can change entirely from peacefully quiet to a murder zone. Furthermore, it brings to light an issue most Baltimoreans are familiar with, yet one that has become “jaded by statistics.”

“This is our city and we must come to see the people in it as valuable and worth fighting for.”

Berbert posts the photographs for “Remembering the Stains on the Sidewalk” on a Facebook page of the same name, as well as on Instagram @stainsonthesidewalk.