Bloodbath Nation (Grove, Jan.) pairs Ostrander’s black-and-white photos of mass shooting sites with Auster’s history of gun violence in America.
How did this project come together?
Ostrander: I began it in 2019. I was just outraged and saddened by another mass shooting. I woke up in the middle of the night and I felt helpless. So, I started doing the research. Over two years, I took four or five separate trips to different regions of the country. I chose to focus on the site of the shooting as a symbol. Whether it’s rebuilt, whether it’s razed, whether it’s left to decay, that’s a symbol of how Americans value this issue.
Auster: At some point, Spencer showed me the pictures, and I was deeply impressed by the restraint—there are no human beings in these pictures. In fact, there’s no reference to guns. It was another approach from what any other photographer I’ve ever seen has done with this kind of material. My first impulse was to write something to go along with the photos, which are all about mass shootings. But the more I got into this subject, the more I realized that the question of gun violence in America is much, much bigger than just the question and horror of mass shootings.
Readers may be surprised to learn that you were something of a marksman in your youth.
Auster: People, if they know who I am, think of me as an East Coast person, someone on the left. But I wanted to establish my credibility as someone capable of writing about this. Shooting is fun, it’s enjoyable. I understand the lure of it. At the same time, I know firsthand what the effects of gun violence are. My father’s family was wrecked by the murder of my grandfather by my grandmother in 1919.
Spencer, was there any site you visited that really stood out to you?
Ostrander: In Las Vegas, a woman came up next to me, got down on the ground, and started bawling. I held her and she told me the story: her husband had been shot and ended up surviving. But then you look out to this massive Las Vegas lot that is just empty. It’s just sitting there like an open wound. I found out from the victim’s wife that they were going to build the Raiders parking lot there.
What are your hopes for the book?
Ostrander: I hope the work we did can inspire some type of dialogue with where we’ve been in the past and where we’re going to go and what kind of America we will accept to live in.
Auster: We’re just hoping that enough people will read it and understand the spirit in which it was created, and maybe they’ll start rethinking this from a fresh point of view. I know it’s a lot to expect from a little book, but that’s our dream, in any case. And if it doesn’t work, well, goddamn it, we tried.