With gun deaths in the US aggressively on the rise, and pleas for gun legislation a constant issue, Florida artist Richard Johnson is hoping to shift the focus of the ever-raging gun debate towards the impact firearms are having on the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community.
2018 was the worst year yet for school shootings in the US, with 114 adults and children killed or injured in targeted attacks. Now in 2019, as gun-related deaths in schools continue to rise, Richard Johnson has created a series of images dubbed “Fashion for Life”, depicting what he believes will be the “norm” in the near-future for schoolchildren in America.
In an interview with Fstoppers, Johnson says his inspiration for this project came from his frustration with trying to alter people’s opinions about gun legislation on social media, saying that well-thought-out arguments “have little to no positive impact”.
With bulletproof backpacks already being sold at office supplies stores in the US, Johnson wondered if a world where children and teachers wearing bulletproof vests to school each day may not be too far-fetched. Stemming from the classic back-to-school ads every student dreads, Johnson asked:
“What would a back-to-school ad look like if bulletproof vests were as common as pencils in school?”
Johnson says the aim of the project was to make the bulletproof vests seem like a normal and everyday part of life for the children in the images, maintaining focus on his original contention that school-shooting drills and attack preparedness are becoming a common occurrence for children in the US.
Throughout the creation of the images, Johnson says that the children found the concept easy to grasp and were very interested in being part of the project, showing just how accepting children are to this being a possibility in the future. However Johnson found that he had more difficulty in explaining the project to the parents of the children.
“As a parent, it’s hard to comprehend that active shooter drills are a common practice at a lot of schools, including my kid’s school here in Florida… The truth is any of us could be parents of kids that go to the next Sandy Hook, and that terrifies me beyond anything I can put into words.”
By visually showing what a future without action against guns might look like, Johnson is effectively portraying what the future “norm” might be in the US. He firmly believes art is the perfect avenue for creating conversation that can lead to change, and hopes his project will inspire more people to create similarly thought-provoking works in the future.
“Go out and create work that challenges the way people think. The fantastic thing about art is that no one side has a monopoly on it.”