Scenes from a Small-Town Crime Blotter

Reading police reports can tell you a lot about a place. But you might find out more about residents’ paranoia than you do about actual crime.

If you were to read one of the local newspapers in Amherst, Massachusetts, as Aaron Schuman started doing in 2014, you might find a section titled “Police Reports”—succinct and extraordinarily anticlimactic accounts of crimes, suspicious activities, events, and nonevents reported in the area during the previous week. Schuman, an artist, writer, and curator who grew up in Western Massachusetts but lives in the UK, interwove a selection of these news stories, all of which were clipped and photographed from the Amherst Bulletin, with quietly wry photographs he made in response to their unintentionally deadpan descriptions, shooting only within a 30-mile radius of the town. In April, Schuman’s series SLANT, from which this work was drawn, will be released as a book by MACK, including a launch at New York’s Printed Matter.

“Initially, when I started seriously thinking about and photographing the project, between 2014 and 2016, it was intended to be somewhat light-hearted in spirit—an affectionate reflection on the more strange and absurd side of life in small-town New England and America,” Schuman writes over email. But Trump’s election in 2016, and the ensuing chaos of debates over immigration, #MeToo revelations, and fake news, started to change the way he read these stories—and the way he saw Amherst, located in a famously progressive part of the country. “To discover signs of what I consider to be incredibly dangerous cultural shifts—and through reports of seemingly trivial, banal and minor incidents of police activity—occurring in a place that I’ve always proudly called home was shocking,” Schuman says, “and to be honest, a little bit heartbreaking.”

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