The 22-year-old, who focuses on community-oriented journalism, first took photos as a freelancer for the Summer 2017 Fellowship cycle. Now he’s our Fall 2017 Photo Fellow.
By City Bureau
What neighborhood are you from?
I was born and raised in Pilsen. The relationship I have with it is very unique. It’s taught me how to love, how to hate, how to take a photograph, how to establish a rapport with subjects. Pilsen provided a bigger understanding of how the world works. The community itself has a special place in my heart.
When did you decide to become a photographer?
I picked up the camera when I witnessed the death of my grandfather in Mexico. I remember taking in every single detail of his last minutes, for my brothers and cousins who weren’t there. I remember it was at 12:23 p.m. on March 18, 2008. I just remember taking a step back and providing those details to capture a life-changing moment. The next day my uncle was like, “Here’s a camera,” so I took it and I started taking photographs of my family and how they were coping with the loss of my grandfather. At that moment I understood what a photograph could provide in terms of proof, witness.
How would you describe your process?
It’s trial and error. It’s taking time, a couple of hours just walking and observing and missing a bus or missing a train and training your eye to see something. I usually stand on a corner for like two hours, looking, composing and trying to get a sense of what this little spot can show me. It gave me that space to fall in love with each and every person who comes into the frame.
When I take a photographs, I don’t look for somebody shooting a gun or anything blunt like that. I look for what is underneath that. I look for the emotions and the level of trauma on people’s faces. I read what people are feeling and process that through photography.
How do capture such intimate photos?
I try to establish a deep narrative with the people I photograph. I want to grab coffee with them and provide them with a sense that their story is really important. Once you gain that trust and become friends without breaking the ethical line, you can show the deeper person, the person under the perfume.
Why did you want to work with City Bureau?
City Bureau offers a really unique stage of development in my life. It keeps me on my toes and puts the journalism in my photojournalism. I believe in their work and the community-oriented stories they are telling. It provides me the tools I need to tackle that. They give me editorial support and a new way to look at things.
What do you hope to accomplish as a Reporting Fellow?
I am focusing on indirect displacement. We have to not just attack gentrification, we have to look at it. What does losing a home and going in a neighborhood that’s unfamiliar look like? Feel like? What stresses lay on people’s brains when they move? How can they access a haven? I want to bring that to the surface to show people what impact gentrification has on a personal level.
What’s one thing you love about Chicago?
I really love the diversity, but it’s a love-hate relationship. You cannot look away from the segregation that happens here.
What’s the best thing about your neighborhood?
There’s a mural on 16th and Blue Island and it showcases many indigenous faces. They all have different expressions and their skin is colored in green, blue, red, etc. It’s very vivid and for me that looks like a journey through life.
What’s something your neighborhood needs?
Representation. It needs for newcomers to understand what families and individuals who are already there are coping with. There’s a reason people are walking down the street angry or why they have a look of disgust when a new business opens up. Those who are angry need representation and for their stories to be told, too. Ultimately they are just kind of forgotten and not given credibility, but it’s important to have them contribute and provide spaces for them.