On July 5, 2013, Brooklyn resident Antonius Wiriadjaja was walking to the subway, when he heard what he thought was a firecracker. Realizing it was a gunshot, he looked to the woman in front of him, worried she’d been shot. Looking down, he realized it was he who was bleeding from his chest.
Wiriadjaja, 30, was incredibly lucky that day. He was shot in the chest, but the bullet didn’t damage his vital organs and instead angled down to his gut. Though he was in a coma for four days and later in physical therapy for seven months, he survived relatively unscathed.
The scars–both physical and mental–have lasted to this day and may always will. That gradual, painful healing is what he’s been documenting on his blog, “How I Survived A Gunshot To The Gut,” a powerful series of about 425 images taken in the same pose each day since three weeks after that fateful day.
“I’m so happy to be alive. And I’m so happy to have a body that heals. But this is what happens when guns get into the hands of lunatics who can’t aim. Look at it. Deal with it,” his site reads, by way of intro.
The idea started while in the hospital, when Wiriadjaja, a grad student in NYU’s interactive telecommunications program at the time, took a selfie with his mother and posted it on social media. He got such a strong reaction from friends and family that he decided to continued his photo series. Each photo features him with his shirt up, raising his arm. The scar running down his chest and under his arm, where doctors inserted a breathing tube, are jarring.
In the beginning, he thought of the project as a way to advocate for gun control. The man who shot him by accident had indeed been aiming for the nearby woman. According to Wiriadjaja, the shooter thought she was pregnant with another man’s baby (he was later caught and awaits trial.)
“Now, I realize it’s more than just about gun control. It’s also about the human condition. I like to remind people that one asshole, one guy shot me but hundreds of people helped save my life,” he says. “I do know that I wouldn’t be here if the guy didn’t have a gun.”
Wiriadjaja recently displayed his work at an arts festival in Brooklyn, exhibiting digital picture frames that scrolled through his photos–one, slowly, and one at high-speed, to highlight the changes he experienced during the healing process. About 100 people a day have been visiting his website, though there was a bigger spike about two months after his shooting when he was named “New Yorker of the Week” on the TV channel, NY1.
“It was one of those moments where I was like, wow, I can’t believe that many people have seen me shirtless,” he says.
In the series, viewers can follow his healing process. Even his face changes as he loses and then regains weight. The site has been trolled by gun advocates, but generally the reaction has been extremely positive, he says. One thing he struggles with is how long he’ll continue taking photos–that is, when the healing process can be considered “complete.” He doesn’t have an answer yet, but it’ll go on for a little while longer at least. He is still dealing with residual pain and lingering depression.
Today, Wiriadjaja is teaching
anime animation at NYU and plans to soon start a job teaching at the school’s campus in Shanghai. He’s no longer living in Brooklyn, because he couldn’t afford his apartment after being unable to work during his long recovery. Luckily for him, a nonprofit that heard his story stepped in and offered him subsidized housing in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. “I guess that’s what it takes to get a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan these days,” he says. “You have to get shot.”