I moved to Chicago just over 20 years ago at age 20 from a small farming community in southwest Iowa. From the moment I stepped off the Amtrak train, and looked up at the skyscrapers towering above me, I knew that Chicago was my home. I credit this vivid memory as the single most important moment of my life. Chicago is a complex city with an equally complex reputation. Boasting 77 officially recognized neighborhoods, each possessing its own unique personality, Chicago is at once friendly and brash, progressive and reserved and cosmopolitan and downtrodden. The accumulation of these complexities and its rich history swept over me in these mere seconds in a way I have never understood.
Chicago has shaped who I am as a person and an artist. And although I have lived here more than two decades, I have only scratched the city’s surface. I’m curious to understand the various roles each neighborhood plays, and how they in turn influence the greater Chicagoland Area. Throughout the course of a single year, I will embark on a journey of self-exploration by making photographs in all 77 Chicago neighborhoods. Instead of taking on the socio-economic and socio-political complexities of the city, I intend to examine character. What was I impacted by 20 years ago that I could not yet know? Can I uncover that two decades later in a single year? I chose to use the year 2020 to honor my 20th anniversary of moving to Chicago at the age of 20. In addition to using this project as a journey of self-exploration, it will also serve as an homage to this great city. By using a single year as a time frame, this project will be a time capsule of Chicago in the year 2020.
This exploration of time is in the form of duration, place, and change. Although it is not my intention to tackle the many socio-economic and socio-political complexities that will come forward in a very politically divided election year, I do not intend to avoid these topics. As these landscapes change throughout the year I will adapt.
With the neighborhood images, I seek to examine the city as a place and my relationship to that place, while through the portraits I seek to capture the individuality of Chicago’s diverse people and how this diversity has influenced my life. By photographing my subjects on a white background, I’m removing the ability for the audience to judge them based on preconceived notions like neighborhood of origin and instead, illustrate the uniqueness and personality of the individual just as they are. The B&W portraits on a white background serve as an equalizer, highlighting commonalities in our diversity. I feel it’s important for these two bodies of work to coexist so that the viewer can experience the city through both its neighborhoods and its people.
As I consider the many complexities that are inherent in an ambitious project such as this, I curb my anxiety by reminding myself to be curious and open minded. At age 20, my ignorance was a positive attribute. My gut and my heart told me to move to Chicago and my naïve fearlessness made the move with few resources. As an adult, with a better understanding of the world and a more mature perspective, I have the tools to finally seek to understand what I couldn’t all these years.
Artist Statement addendum #1
As the year has progressed, the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe. The virus quickly made its way from Asia to Europe, to the West and East coasts of the United States, and eventually to the Midwest. People everywhere quickly adjusted their way of life. While companies adapted to work from home environments, many local businesses boarded up or closed permanently. Major cities across the world moved to a “shelter in place” policy including Chicago, which meant you’re asked to only leave your home for food or in case of an emergency. Consequently, the pandemic has changed the shape of the project. At its core, the goal to photograph all 77 neighborhoods and its diverse people in the year 2020 remains; however, the pandemic has reshaped the personality and tone of the project. When I started it I found myself responding to scenes of solitude. I understood this to be me longing for the quietness of southwest Iowa in an urban metropolis. The pandemic has now made this solitude inherent within the project. As I explore the city, people are absent, businesses are boarded up, and streets are empty. In such an unprecedented time, the “Time Capsule” concept of the project has become even more impactful. The way we’re living our lives has changed greatly, as a result, the portrait portion of the project has evolved to photographing the city’s people as they come out of quarantine with face protection. The world is changing before our eyes in the year 2020, and so is this project.
Artist Statement addendum #2
On May 25th, George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis. Videos from bystanders and security cameras spread across media outlets resulting in protests and riots around the globe. The following days resulted in destruction throughout the city. Almost every block in downtown Chicago was in ruin which led to the Loop being closed off to the public. Neighborhoods across the city were also impacted by vandalism and looting. While still showing concern for their safety from the Covid-19 Pandemic, protestors gathered daily to show their support for racial injustice in a way the world has never seen. This project continues to evolve highlighting how the city is navigating both a pandemic and protests.