A traumatic event is at the center of these photographs—an accidental shotgun blast that took away Michelle Fox's eyes, nose and upper palate, leaving her blind and unable to smell. As she breastfed her infant daughter on the bed, her live-in, ex-husband interrupted to demonstrate how a part of a newly purchased shotgun was interchangeable with an old shotgun. One moment, one action, changed several lives forever.
Two years after the 2009 shooting, Michelle was fitted with a facial prosthesis made of acrylic and silicone, which she helped design, and wears it when she goes out of the house. At home, she wears a bandanna. She raises her two young daughters in an addition to her parents’ home and finds it particularly painful not being able to see the girls as they grow.
This ongoing project delves into issues that are inextricably linked to Michelle's drastically changed appearance. Beauty and identity; gun ownership and responsibility; the impact of trauma on children; forgiveness; and the costs of caring for people injured or disabled through gun violence.
Since 2014, I've worked with Michelle and her family to create documentary photos, portraits and audio interviews. Woven throughout are themes of strength and vulnerability—Michelle's and her family's. These images provide clues to how Michelle has survived the 10 years since the shooting; they also raise questions about what the future holds for her and her daughters, now 15 and 10.
Michelle still struggles with the constant darkness and credits her faith, family and friends with helping her find joy. She has forgiven her ex-husband, who is still in his children’s lives. And through a spiritual gathering, she found a new romantic relationship. “What it comes down to is with God's help and everybody's help … I'm getting through the darkness. Because they are all my lights.”
In 2002, the people of Endicott, NY, learned they had been living over a plume of toxic chemicals for decades. The main chemical, known as TCE, was traced back to the former IBM plant, which used it as a solvent to clean computer parts. IBM followed the “common industry procedure” of dumping chemical waste down drains and into the groundwater. After years of groundwater treatment, scientists found that the TCE was clinging to the soil underground and wafting up as vapor into the buildings above.
Cleanup involves placing ventilation systems on homes and businesses, drilling monitoring wells, and adding groundwater pumping stations. People wonder if every cancer case or birth defect might be related to the pollution. The plume has changed their worlds.
Hundreds of Endicott residents filed a lawsuit in 2008 claiming that IBM negligently exposed them to toxic chemicals, threatening their health and property. IBM, which has spent millions of dollars cleaning up the plume, has denied responsibility, but settled the lawsuit in 2015. As of 2019, the company is still cleaning up the plume.