For the last four years, I’ve been documenting someone who advocates for the poor and works with gangs on the South and West Sides of Chicago.
Jim Fogarty, known affectionately as “Brother Jim,” wears a hand-sewn habit made out of scraps of denim, now tattered after over 30 years of use. That’s how long he’s been traversing the streets by foot, carrying only rosary beads to pass out – that, and offering prayers, and maybe a little hope.
His path across the city is broad, and the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the city’s South Side is my primary vantage point.
By now, the residents largely all know who he is, and often come running when they see him coming down the street, or call out from their windows, asking him to pray for them. Once upon a time, he stood between warring gangs shooting at each other, bullets whizzing by, risking his life.
In this work, I undercut simplistic notions of documentary “objectivity” by implicating both myself and the audience in the images. The photos are visually and conceptually layered, capable of communicating multiple stories, depending on the experience of the viewer. The idea is transformation, not voyeurism, and since the success of visual activism depends, at least in part, on the receptivity of the viewer, the aesthetic of the images is designed to cultivate that receptivity. The lyricism and poetry of the photos is designed to serve as an invitation for the audience to enter into the space opened by the photos.
In an effort to neither whitewash nor sensationalize, I’ve taken care to attend to all those moments that, while difficult or simply mundane and easy to ignore, are also sublimely beautiful.