Interested in how spaces are designed to create certain experiences, Emily Kinni sought out the sites of the last legal executions in the states where the death penalty has been outlawed.
She hoped to find whether it’s possible to reuse a space like that without a lingering hint of death.
She visited everything from maximum-security prisons to department stores to retirement homes in 13 of the 17 states where capital punishment is illegal. The remaining states have not given her clearance, she said.
Some of the places were unrecognizable. They had been paved over, built on top of or buried. Others were more obvious, such as inside prison walls where a gas chamber still exists.
The hardest part was finding the resources to determine the sites of some public executions decades after they’d happened.
“I was constantly surprised,” she said. “A lot is not documented.”
Many of the facts and sites are being lost to history. More than once, she was directed to the “last living person” who would know where the site was. Through her own research and the locals, she was able to pinpoint accurate places in each state.
“Documenting these sites creates an historical typography tracking one aspect of the evolution of capital punishment,” she says on her website.
She’s still evaluating the reusability aspect.
“Some places felt really connected, and others feel disconnected,” she said. “I’m equally fascinated” by both.
Her images are neutral, she said, and viewers can look at them within their own personal views.
“I’ve taken a little piece of history that was lost and put it into a particular context,” she said. She hopes to “repurpose this thing that is so lost, buried, hidden.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN