For the past four years, Finland-based artist Harri Pälviranta has been crafting portraits based on a grim kind of subject matter -- school shootings. The series, "News Portraits," depicts the perpetrators of the 10 most fatal school shootings since 1999, crafting the eerie faces of violent offenders from old news clippings dating back to the tragic crimes. From the United States to Finland, Brazil and Germany, the portraits quite literally put a face to violence in schools across the globe.
News portrait # 10 (school shooters Harris & Klebold, USA), 132 x 150 cm, archival pigment print on Dibond, framed, 2014, Ed. 5 + 2 ap, Harri Pälviranta
The project's timeline begins in April 1999, when two armed teenagers entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and opened fire on students and teachers before taking their own lives. Pälviranta's image of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, seen above, shows the faces of two smiling teenagers, each pieced together from black and white reports on their massacre. The news clippings work as the canvas, with headlines bearing the words "armed men," "shooting," "slaying" and "death," peeking out from behind the shaded faces.
Pälviranta's series showcases five instances of school shootings in the United States alone, a country that has seen over 74 outbreaks of violence in schools since December of 2012. The first reported school shooting in the US, is said to have taken place in the 1700s, when four individuals from the Lenape tribe in Greencastle, Pennsylvania killed their schoolmaster and 10 students. While mass shootings have persisted well into the 21st century, gun control laws continue to be a debated subject.
Viewers may remember the remaining American names of those pictured in "News Portraits": Adam Lanza from Newtown, Connecticut; Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho; Jeff Weise from Red Lake, Minnesota; and former Northern Illinois University student Steven Kazmierczak.
The five international shootings took place across three countries, two in Europe and one in South America. In Finland, the Jokela school massacre in 2007 took nine lives including the killer Pekka-Eric Auvinen, and the Kauhajoki school shooting in 2008 resulted in 11 deaths including that of gunman Matti Juhani Saari. In Germany, the Erfurt massacre in 2002 took 17 lives including gunman Robert Steinhäuser's, while the Winnenden school shooting in 2009 ended in 16 deaths including the suicide of Tim Kretschmer. Finally, in Brazil, a shooting at Tasso da Silveira Municipal School resulted in 13 deaths, including the perpetrator Wellington Oliveira.
"Like Susan Sontag has said, photographs of agony not only remind the viewers of the explicit issues presented in the photographs, but also of the existence of a culture of violence in general," Pälviranta explained in a statement to HuffPost. His series not only memorializes the horrific events, but sheds a light on the ways in which media outlets present the drama.
"School shootings are vastly mediated phenomena," he added. "Mediatization has both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, the presentations of the shooters can construct a myth around them, and thus constitute an idol. This sort of heroizing may encourage copycat behavior and celebration. On the other hand, the presentations [make it so that] people can confront the horrible act from a safe distance."
You can see some of the headlines and imagery used in the media narratives behind these 10 shootings below. For more on Pälviranta's work, see his website here.
"News Portraits" was shortlisted for the £20,000 MAC International Award. All shortlisted artists will be on display at The MAC galleries in Belfast, Ireland from October 31, 2014 to January 18, 2015. The series will also be exhibited in a solo show in Tampere Art Museum in Finland from November 21, 2014 to January 4, 2015. And in autumn 2015, German publisher Kehrer Verlag will publish the series as book.