I've been following the last remaining member of a tiny street ministry that works with gangs in 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 Chicago's South Side is my primary vantage point. The area, which takes its name from its proximity to the old Union Stock Yards (former hub of the U.S. meatpacking industry), was where 13 people were shot while playing basketball in a park in September 2013.
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. Now, they ask him for rosaries.
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.
But less important that what the project is ostensibly "about" is what I want to happen to the viewer. And that's this: I want you to stop trying to understand. There's a fullness to humanity that escapes comprehension, and the lyricism of some of these images punctuates because they are meant to -- they are pauses meant to attune you, and to stop your thinking so you may feel, so you may be more open. I want you to accept the mystery and the complexity of life in this community. There are no easy narratives, here, because easy narratives are false and do a disservice to the honest discontinutiy that lies in each of us.
In this work, I undercut simplistic notions of documentary "objectivity" by implicating both myself and the audience in the images. 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 photographs serve as an invitation for the audience to enter the space opened by the images.