At the beginning of 2000, Chicago photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz had the dream of becoming a photojournalist. But after working in a local newspaper, he soon learned that it just wasn't him.
"I worked in a newspaper because I wanted to cover my communities," he said of his time in Camden, New Jersey, where he wanted to discuss the daily life of the city's Latin American and black communities. "I was told I couldn't do that."
Ortiz is part of the community he is photographing – he uses his camera as a subjective viewer. "It just started when I went to shootings and hung around when journalists were not, to get to know the families, it took years," he said. "I saw a progression of how communities became involved after violence was done to them."
That whole "lasting" concept led Ortiz to forget his dream as a photojournalist and to embark on an art career. Now, almost 20 years later, he is showing 100 photos as part of an exhibition that has just been opened at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, entitled Chicago Stories.
From prison cells to blockages, vigils and cemeteries, Ortiz has spent a decade documenting how violence affects Chicago families long after the news crews have left. Photographed through an empathic lens, much of his work has been a way to put pressure on stereotypes, but also to show in detail what the news world has overlooked.
"When people are shot, journalists cover it in a way that & # 39; this should stop & # 39; but there is no criticism of the system that puts people in a terrible situation," he said. "Why are we there besides taking photos & film?"
By bringing his camera to neighborhoods like Englewood and Auburn Gresham, he started his We All We Got project after a community shooting in 2004. "I told myself," I have to do this "because I didn't know how to get over these things, but my ideas were there, "he said.
The series is a frightening, almost nightmare-like account of the connection between youth culture and firearm violence in Chicago. The camera follows empty boarded up houses and teenagers playing with guns, as well as young prisoners in prisons and even coffin shops.
There are young people wearing custom-made t-shirts to commemorate lost loved ones, a bloodstained sidewalk with a young spectator, police officers looking for evidence with flashlights on a bare road, melancholic open coffin shots of funerals and memorial walls full of memorabilia.
"I came very close to the people I photographed, I took part of their lives," he said. "It was important to attend protests, vigils, parties and celebrations in my community. I thought it was important to do."
One of the families he came close to was Siretha White, a ten-year-old girl who was killed in a 2006 shooting. Her death led to protests in the city and Ortiz met her family in the days after her death. . In the following years he met other families who had lost children through violence.
Visually, each photo has its own dramatic quality that triggers an emotional response. "When I was there, I felt what I was photographing," Ortiz said.
There is a poignant subset of photos showing detained juveniles in a detention center in the St Charles district of Chicago. "It was about talking about prison management," he said.
Ortiz, born in San Juan, grew up in Chicago in the 1990s. He remembers that he is always struggling to find the right words to express himself, so he turned to a camera as a vehicle of expression. "I dreamed a lot at school and had trouble communicating," he said. "When I discovered cameras & # 39; s, I felt that I could talk."
He went to a secondary school where only half of the 3,000 students graduated. His classmates were stabbed, dropped out to join gangs, and someone even went to jail for murder.
"The boy who sat next to me was Puerto Rican, just like me, his family was part of a gang," Ortiz said. "He ended up killing someone as gang initiation. One day you are in school with someone else like you, then he is dropped out of school and never returns. & # 39;
What asked what has changed, Ortiz says that the same story that he sees on the street continues today. The violence on arms is declining in Chicago, although 426 people have been shot this year. Ortiz has seen the cycle of youth violence in downtown Chicago.
"It is this swamp that you are in," he says. "The neighborhood is the place that looks like a washing machine. It doesn't change or it's improved and you're out. There is no room to grow."
He also shows works from his A Thousand Midnights series, a photo series and film that was made on the birthday of what Emmett Till & # 39; s 73 would have been.rd birthday.
& # 39; The title came from Emmett's cousin, who had conducted an interview a few days before his funeral and described how he felt in Emmett and said: & # 39; It was as dark as a thousand midnight & # 39 ;. So that became the name. "
Fusing past and present, there are photos from Till's tombstone, a mural from the Obamas and a photo by director Spike Lee who makes a film at night. "I am inspired by news events that are taking place, but I want to talk about a larger structure for these issues," said Ortiz. "It focuses on events that we experience every day."
This series is also personal, because it is based on the story of the mother of his wife Tina K Sacks who has been migrated from Mississippi to Chicago. It uses the Great Migration, where six million African-Americans migrated from the south to cities in the north, including New York, Chicago and others, as this photo series was made in 2015, a century after migration began.
"It was about going into my family internally and asking questions about the second wave of the great migration," he said. "That came back to the work I did in Chicago: children who were killed, families in need, descendants of the Great Migration. The Great Migration opened my eyes to everything."
Ortiz shows his photos along with David Schalliol, a Chicago filmmaker and photographer who screens The Area, a feature film that follows community activist Deborah Payne who is fighting for a multi-billion-dollar freight company trying to buy and buy more demolish 400 homes owned by African-American families in its Englewood district.
In addition to the film, Schalliol shows his & # 39; Isolated Building Studies & # 39; photos, photos documenting distant buildings in Chicago that signal areas of decay.
Revealing the truth of Chicago does not necessarily have to shed a particularly positive or negative light on the city. "I can't predict what the viewer will feel, but I do support on the side of empathy," said Ortiz. "Not like in & # 39; look at these poor people & # 39; but we dream the same way. The empathy you have for your child should be mine. For me it's all about community."