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In Memory Of: Families of Murder Victims in Camden

A year and a half ago Kate Pollard Hoffman noticed crosses at the side of the road near Rowan University in Camden, New Jersey, the school where she teaches photography. Ranked the most dangerous city by CNNMoney in February 2014, Camden listed 57 homicides in 2013, down from 67 in 2012. In her ongoing series, “Surviving Camden,” Hoffman documents families who have lost a loved one. In June 2014, Hoffman wrote in an article for the Huffington Post online that many of her students have experienced murder either in their families or have known someone who has been killed. “Countless times a student will say in conversation, ‘When my brother was killed…’ or ‘When my cousin was shot…’ The people of Camden live in an American war zone.” Pollard is continuing the series this summer, because, she says, the murders continue. “My ideal scenario would be to raise awareness in several ways, as awareness is the first step toward change, and I hope for both.”

In exchange for the portrait session, Hoffman always gives away prints. Her subjects have become very important to her as people, not just photographic subjects. She’s kept in touch with some of them, introducing them to other families she’s worked with. “I talk to many of them through group emails on Facebook, and one mother (Rayshine Burks’ mom, Cheri) has started a group that includes others called “United Mothers Stand,” Hoffman writes In an email to PDN. “Her son was killed on Mother’s Day last year, and she organizes meetings for moms to support each other after the murder of their son/daughter.”

Pollard has been teaching in Camden since 2008 and feels connected to the community there. Her interest in the project also stems from her father’s sudden death in 2007. “I like to photograph many things, but when I approach a series thought, this interest [how people deal with death] keeps resurfacing over and over again, taking on many different forms. I have always connected with my students in Camden in a special way. They are incredibly appreciative for their education, because many of them see it as a ticket to something better for them and their families.”

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