Tim Roessler had a prescription filled on a Sunday. The pharmacist smiled and walked Roessler through his dosage and schedule—he admired the care she took—and then he headed home, a 10-minute walk to the west.
The next day Roessler watched a live stream of police escorting the pharmacist through the parking lot of King Soopers on Table Mesa, her left hand balled in a fist over her chest.
As he talks about that Monday in March when 10 people lost their lives, Roessler’s eyes go glossy, then wet.
“You pick out the faces of other cashiers you’ve seen dozens of times, and it’s not like a profound relationship, but they’re part of the texture of your life,” he says.
On the patio of Caffe Sole, Roessler is seven months and 300 feet removed from the scene as he talks about his photo book, Aftermath. The series of black and white photos were all taken within a 100-yard perimeter of the shooting—the range of the AR-556 the gunman used—south to the coffee shop, east to a small playground, then a tattoo parlor. From shots of police tape in the hours after the incident to photos of people sipping coffee and working on laptops months later, Roessler documents the space around tragedy, and the quiet moments that follow the chaos.
“I decided to take photographs from within 100 yards of the entrance to King Soopers to introduce the idea of the weapon’s lethality and to say, ‘What’s at stake in this situation?’” Roessler says. “It’s not just a grocery store clerk; it’s someone learning how to cook at the school across the way. It’s not just a police officer; it’s a mother who’s watching her child play on the playground. And all of that could vanish in a second.”
In the hours after the shooting, Roessler—a video producer with a degree in journalism—struggled with whether he wanted to document the incident at all. He felt “voyeuristic and exploitative” when he took his camera to the shopping center on the evening of March 22 and found a cadre of photojournalists from national outlets with their 200-millimeter lenses trained on the building “like hawks on prey.” He avoided the shopping center for weeks.
But he finally convinced himself to go look at the chainlink fence surrounding the perimeter of the grocery store that became a makeshift memorial to the dead, so weighed down by tokens of remembrance that supports had to be put in place within just a matter of days.
“You’re supposed to take pictures of whatever moves you, so I started photographing the fence,” Roessler says. “And each time I went there, it seemed like there was somebody who was curious, and then there’s somebody crying, and there’s somebody leaving something on the fence. It became really like a living correlation with my inner peace.
“But even just going to the fence was rough,” he adds. “It made me wonder how combat photographers do it.”
Roessler describes the confusion of where to place himself in this story as someone who wasn’t there when it happened, who didn’t lose a close friend or family member, but still feels grief and anger.
“It’s not my story,” he says, “but it’s something transformative.”
For those of us who see Table Mesa Shopping Center nearly every day, who were nearby when the shooting began, who have cried at that fence for people we didn’t know or barely knew, who wondered why it was them and not us, Roessler’s collection of photographs captures our peripheral place in a story that is both horrifically surreal and painfully commonplace. It could have been us. It might be, another time.
“I want people to look at the book like a piece of the memorial at the fence,” Roessler says. “And if they want to remember that time, or to show somebody what it was like, they can.”
He opens the book with a quote from Emily Dickinson: “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.”