The Art of the Personal Project: Scott Elmquist

This post is by Suzanne Sease from A Photo Editor

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Scott Elmquist

What started as a newsroom assignment in the early 2000’s, became a personal project spanning 25 years. During those years I attended countless community prayer vigils in Richmond, Virginia, generated by unrelenting gun violence. Simply reporting the facts about each murder weren’t enough. I felt compelled to investigate the murder victims, and communicate with the affected families, sharing their stories visually.

Some prayer vigils were often solemn, intimate events, attended by 25-50 people. The larger vigils resembled New Orleans-style wakes, where people preached, sang, marched and prayed. Regardless of the vigil size, family members spoke lovingly about the victims, and although I was possibly witnessing the most painful moments in their lives, they often thanked me for being there to tell the story.

Unfortunately, this grim story continues to unfold. According to the Virginia Department of Health, from 2018-2022, over 1,000 Virginians died each year due to gun-related violence. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. The resulting devastation for families is immeasurable. In June 2019, during Gun Violence Awareness month, I partnered with Initiatives of Change, a Richmond based non-profit, to host “I Am Here,” a three-day interactive exhibit to raise awareness and promote healing from the trauma brought on by gun violence. I displayed photographs from those prayer vigils held in the aftermath of homicide. Hundreds of people attended the event, including families of the homicide victims. Families shared stories, grieved together and joined in a healing drum circle, allowing them to remember and celebrate their murdered loved ones. Shelia Hall Green stood and spoke about her son Omar, who she had buried just four days earlier. Another mother, Brenda Rawlings, said it was the first time she felt normal since her daughter’s murder on New Years’ Eve 2018. Deneene Poole said she felt her son, J.J., who was murdered in 2010, hadn’t been forgotten. Providing visual documentation of the vigils offered some hope that these murder victims, and their families, won’t be forgotten.

Allan Melton, 9, cries during vigil for his father and uncle who were murdered in a double homicide home invasion on May 28th. He is comforted by Alicia Rasin, the founder of Citizens Against Crime, a group that rallied around the families of Richmond’s 78 murder victims in 2006.
Teddy Parham is among those who gathered on a cold Friday night to remember Farooq M. Bhimdi, the owner of the Express Way convenience store on Mechanicsville Turnpike. He was gunned down inside his store on January 28, 2012.

Ricky Burton, 16, was murdered walking home from his late shift at Wendy’s in August 2008. His aunt (pictured here) and about 100 mourners gathered in Delmont Village to say goodbye.

Rotunda Allen of Richmond mourns the death of her friend Kiarri Edwards, 34, at a vigil on Sunday night on Dinwiddie Avenue. Edwards, a father of three, was killed in a triple shooting on the Dinwiddie Avenue on March 31 at 11:16 p.m.

Hundreds of members of the Hillside Court community gathered on the 1700 block of South Lawn Avenue for a vigil in remembrance of 3-year-old Sharmar Hill Jr., who lost his life on February 1, 2020, when he was caught in the crossfire of gun violence outside his home. “This shouldn’t be a war zone — how is your home a war zone?” Shamar Hill Sr. asked, reiterating that his young son was his “hero.”

Still wearing a graduation gown, Jason Kamras, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent, who was flanked by city council president Michael Jones and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney addressed the media after eighteen-year-old Shawn Jackson was shot and killed on June 6, 2023. The incident occurred just after Huguenot High’s School graduation in the Altria Theater.  Kamras said he “can’t shake the image” of Jackson getting CPR while wearing his graduation gown in Monroe Park, just outside the theater where the shooting took place. Jackson’s stepfather, Renzo Smith, 36, also died in the shooting.

The family of J.J. Poole, 20, stand in disbelief that their family member was murdered near his home in Richmond’s East End in 2009.
Gun violence activist turned mourner; Joyce Kennedy is comforted during the RVA Stop The Violence rally. Her grandson Ra’Keem Adkins, 22, was murdered in Mosby court in May 2015. Prior to her grandson’s murder, Kennedy often spoke out about gun violence.

BIO: Scott Elmquist is the senior photographer for Style Weekly/VPM News based in Richmond, Virginia. His gun violence images have won numerous awards, including being named the Best Alternative Weekly Photographer in North America in 2019 by the Association of Alternative Weeklies, for a portfolio of gun violence images. He was awarded the Best General News Photo First Place award in Virginia by the Virginia News Photographers Association in 2006 and 2008. He also earned dozens of First Place awards and ten Best-In-Show awards in the annual Virginia Press Association contest 2000-2022.

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APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram