Repair the World One Photo at a Time

—by Laurie ShoulterKarall for ASPP’s Midwest Chapter.

A pioneer in photographing the South Side of Chicago died last week. Wayne Forest Miller returned from his stint as a naval photographer in World War II and spent three years photographing blacks on the South Side in the wake of the Great Migration. According to a New York Times article (http://tinyurl.com/mwbu4sy), Mr. Miller photographed his subjects as people rather than objects, identifying by name whenever possible. The images began as a project titled, The Way of Life of the Northern Negro and later became a book titled, “Chicago’s South Side: 1946-1948,” a published in 2000 and still available (http://tinyurl.com/m92x2ja). He was also a member and past president of Magnum Photos where his images are still available.

Two photographers are also trying to bring visuals to the situations, offering images of the people affected by the on-going violence. Jon Lownestein has been chronicling Chicago’s South Side for the past ten years but he decided to focus on gun violence with a project called Chicago’s Bloody Year (http://noorimages.com/feature/chicagos-bloody-year/).

The images range from memorials on street corners to cops on patrol to the people left behind to mourn family and friends killed in the ongoing violence. In an interview with Art Beat reporter Ray Suarez, Lowenstein talked about his desire to have his photographs reflect on both the greatness of the community as well as the heartbreak saying that he hoped we can make the world a little better.

Carlos Ortiz, a Chicago native, has spent the last six years taking more than 20,000 photographs of the aftermath of gang violence with many of the images included in his project, “Too Young to Die”(http://tooyoungtodieproject.org/). Ortiz states that the purpose of his project is to move beyond the sensationalism and if it bleeds it leads headlines, in order to create understanding of the victims of violence, as well as the costs to all of us in Chicago.

I also want to mention Daniel Shea whose work I accidentally discovered while trying to find one of the blogs above. In an online publication called, The Fader, Shea’s interview and photographic essay (http://tinyurl.com/lyfmez5) made me consider how many individuals are trying to do something to bring change to Chicago. Shea’s own words ring prophetically, “Right now in Chicago is not a good time. A lot of the young people call it Chiraq. Innocent people are dying. For the general public, it’s easy to just say, ‘Chicago is violent. We need to stop getting guns in the hands of violent people, we need to lock people up.′ I wish people would be more open to thinking about the complexity of the violence.”

In another story on The Fader (http://tinyurl.com/mcrettr), author and journalist Alex Kotlowitz commented, “There are reasons why people are shooting each other that have nothing to do with availability of guns, and everything to do with growing up in incredible distress and despair. There are kids who have no sense of a future, and that speaks volumes to how we completely abandon those on the very bottom.”

So as summer begins, consider the importance of Tikkun Olam or Repairing the World. The power of photography can move us to tears but it should also move us to action.