PDN Photo of the Day

“Stalking a Serial Killer”

Jesse Rieser’s series “Stalking a Serial Killer” grew out of an assignment for the French magazine Society, as part of their “America” issue that ran last fall. The project obliquely tells the story of the Serial Street Shooter, a gunman who terrorized a Phoenix neighborhood, killing nine people over the course of two years, stalking victims from his car as they entered or left their own cars or homes. He was arrested in May. Rather than showing specific people and places related to the crimes, Rieser evoked the anonymous nature of the murders and showed scenes that he came across while driving around Maryvale, the mostly black and Latino neighborhood in western Phoenix where many of shootings took place. Rieser interspersed his images with fragments of texts from survivors, witnesses, detectives and residents, which came from the French story that Emmanuelle Andreani-Facchin wrote and reported for Society.

Rieser tells PDN by email, “The project came about as an assignment where the photo editor’s only directive was to create a ‘portrait of a place’ in the vein of my landscape and environmental portfolios.” Rieser and photo editor Renaud Bouchez identified some of the feelings and ideas they wanted to story to convey. “He liked my suggestions of [a] stark, paranoid, fearful, dystopian/failed suburban state, but executed in a way that still felt hopeful.” Rieser shot mostly in bright daylight, focusing on scenes that showed the desert seeping through the suburban infrastructure, in parched dirt yards, a half-dead tree lit by flash under high sun, cinderblock buildings and walls and fences surrounding modest homes. Rieser also shot from his own car, putting the viewer in an ambiguous position that suggests the perspective of both the victims and the killer. “I wanted to convey the paranoia that was palpable in the community by creating that point of view. Phoenix, like other Western sprawling cities, relies heavily on a car culture for transportation—and for anyone those in and around the neighborhoods where the killings took place, the sight of any car would make them pause and worry,” says Rieser. “I wanted to recreate that sense of anxiety, and I feel jumping in and out of [the killer’s] implied perspective gives the viewer an extra sense of tension and suspense.”

Rieser edited the images into a small book, which uses text typeset by Juan Carlos Pagan to hint at some of the larger political issues at play in the case. “There are neighbors who know who the killer is,” reads one page. “But they are too scared to talk. Especially since immigration bill SB1070,” Arizona’s controversial law that requires police to determine the immigration status of someone they detain when there is “reasonable suspicion” they are not in the U.S. legally. The anxiety of a killer at large exacerbated fears of the neighborhood’s many immigrants, and made some reluctant to interact with the police.

Rieser says that the series began as an assignment but “morphed into a personal project.” Adding texts that he selected helped create “a singular voice of the neighborhood(s),” making a “call and response of the imagery and the words of those in the community and their experiences.”

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