Over the years I have been invited to many different photography festivals to review portfolios. Spending days in a row meeting with photographer after photographer can be draining, but that moment when you see a fresh, new project that gets your blood pumping is invigorating. Sitting with Megan Doherty at Filter Photography Festival last month was one of those moments. This work is still ongoing, but it is off to such a strong start. The images are powerful and moving but delivered with a gentle hand. Take a look.
BACK OF THE YARDS BY MEGAN E. DOHERTY
Beyond the headlines of the notoriously high gun and gang violence in Chicago, there is the debilitating loss of human capital in the ravaged communities of the South and West Sides. For the last 20 months, I have been documenting the efforts of one transformative figure who has worked to help people in the Back of the Yards reinvest in themselves and their neighborhood.
Jim Fogarty, known affectionately as "Brother Jim," wears a hand-sewn habit made out of scraps of denim, now tattered after nearly 30 years of use. That's how long he's been traversing the dangerous streets by foot, carrying only rosary beads to pass out - that, and offering prayers, and maybe a little hope. He's the only remaining member of a small street ministry, Brothers and Sisters of Love, that tends to those involved in - and victimized by - gang violence and urban poverty. I wanted to do more than show how this can be hell - which it surely is. I wanted to show how these people struggle through this hell trying to achieve redemption.
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, risking his life. Now, they ask him for rosaries.
Through him I have gained not just intimate access to these people, but a rare and unique vantage point: the Back of the Yards neighborhood (which takes its name from its proximity to the old Union Stock Yards, former hub of the U.S. meatpacking industry) is usually just another overlooked and stereotyped poor minority area of Chicago. But through Brother Jim, we can see the community and its residents through his eyes, which challenges our default perspective. How are they trying to give up the life of the street? How does he inspire them and give them hope that their lives can be better? That they can be better? How are they trying to achieve 'redemption'? What does 'redemption' look like for them?