CNN Photos

Urban decay in a city of steel

Photojournalist William Plowman stopped in Gary, Indiana, in 2007 while working on a climate change story. He said he was immediately drawn to documenting the city and its complicated relationship with poverty and violence.

“To see this once great city, home of U.S. Steel, in such decline made a deep impression on me, and I knew I would be back,” Plowman said.

He was finally able to return to Gary in 2012 and spent two weeks documenting some of its residents’ lives. He says he found a community that seems to know its problems but can’t figure out a way to solve them yet.

Gary, named after U.S. Steel Corp. chief organizer Elbert H. Gary, was a steel town during the 20th century. It slowly declined as the industry changed while its population dwindled and the poverty level grew higher.

As the town transformed, drugs and gun violence became more prevalent, earning Gary the nickname “Murder Capital of the U.S.” for its per-capita murder rate in communities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999, according to data reported in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. In 2011, the town saw a drop in murder rates.

Plowman said the community has still not “shaken their reputation of violence and crime.” He points out that one of his subjects believes “crime doesn’t happen because of drugs. Crime happens because of poverty.”

“But it’s their home, and they're proud of it,” Plowman said. “They're trying to make it work.”

Before making a single frame, Plowman spent days just hanging out and getting to know his subjects. When he explained his project, he found optimistic responses.

Even though he was focusing on the violence and poverty of the city, they seemed to believe that some good could come from his project.

“We're (photojournalists), not policy-makers or community leaders,” Plowman said. “But maybe somewhere down the road this project will have some influence.”

Plowman says he recognizes that his story is not complete, and he is not done photographing Gary.

“Without a doubt my biggest concern is to be true to the subjects,” Plowman said. “Arriving at as close to an honest and accurate reportage as I can.”

- Clint Alwahab, CNN