Photo project shows pain and perseverance in Durham

DURHAM, NC (WNCN) — Years after a project capturing pain and perseverance in Durham began…. It’s finally complete.

“I think it’s important to capture the people who make up a place,” said Justin Cook.

Cook has spent the past 10 years doing just that — capturing the faces of Durham – like Joslin Simms.

Cook first met Sims a decade ago.. when he snapped a photo at a vigil against violence — after her son Ray was murdered.

“They didn’t have the right to take him from me like this. They don’t know who and I don’t’ know who. I don’t’ know why. It’s not right, God. It’s not. I want my baby back. Oh God. I want my baby back. I just want my baby back,” Sims said.

Cook became a shoulder to lean on — close as family.

“The best moments are the ones that happen when the camera’s not in your face. You should just live in them,” Cook said.

Still he continued to photograph the journey of  Simms’ … her family … and others in a project documenting people affected by violence and mass incarceration in the Bull City.

“Of course didn’t really know then what it was turning into,” Cook said.

The project has turned into exhibits including here at “Through This Lens Gallery” … and through a magazine-style book… called Made In Durham… that he’s both selling and giving away.

“There’s comfort in knowing that there’s a physical product,” Cook said.

It’s a bittersweet resolution to a project the freelancer started as a college student.

“It’s just frustrating that moments like this exist. The moments that are in here. The deaths. The depression. The grief,” Cook said.

But also a sense of hope — shown through Simms’ stand against violence — and stories of progression… including a man name Rashard.

“He exemplifies a lot of the plight of a lot of young men in Durham and America who struggle after being incarcerated. They’re more likely to turn to crime or even violence to survive because of their inability to provide for themselves,” Cook said.

Those are among the stories he tells to people he reaches through “Made In Durham.”

“I hope that they’ll see that there’s been a lot of loss here in Durham through the years for a variety of reasons, but also there’s a lot of resilience too. It’s hard to stop the human spirit,” Cook said.

“I think that Durham is just kind of unstoppable,” he added.

“These pictures on the wall represent a pain, a loss that can never be replaced and it’s time it stopped,” said Joslin Simms, the mom of a murder victim.

Simms pain began with the loss of her son Ray in 2005. His murder is still unsolved.

“I don’t want another mother to go through what I’m going through. I’ve seen too many of us crying, too many of us burying our children, too many of our grandchildren being raised without their fathers or their mothers,” she said.

Simms says the project by Justin Cook opened her family up … including Ray’s daughter…. who for years could not talk about the loss of her father.

“She can talk about his murder now. She told me, she said, ‘Grandma, if my daddy had to die, I’m hoping this is the reason – what you’re doing now,” Simms said.

“I think it’s really important for people to really get to know Durham from all angles, especially right now. It’s in the midst of change. It’s not even the same from one month to another,” Cook said.

Simms says the project is more important now than it was when Cook snapped his first photo 10 years ago.

“It’s getting worse now. It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse and it’s got to stop. We’ve got to work with the police. They’ve got to work with us. We’ve got to work with each other. We just can’t turn around and turn our head and say, ‘Well, It’s not happened to me’,” Simms said.

Cook plans an event for the public next month with large 9 foot by 6 foot black and white photos pasted on walls to spark a discussion about crime.

“It’s letting the county, the world, whatever, see that too many of us are going through this,” Simms said.


Through This Lens in Durham & at FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill

An event is planned at Golden Belt in Durham on Nov 5

This is even is part exhibit, part vigil and part forum

Cook is pasting 9 foot by 6 foot black and white images – focused on the unsolved homicide element of the project

Public invited

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