Photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz
Carlos Javier Ortiz, an award winning photojournalist, knows this city well. It has been his home since he moved from Puerto Rico at age five. It has been called the murder capital of the United States.
In high school, Ortiz sat next to a boy who killed someone as part of his gang initiation. Ortiz didn’t grow up in a bad neighborhood, but the danger was never far away.
“Guns are prevalent and TV shows are violent,” said Ortiz. “We live in a really violent society that young people tend to play out in a different way.”
Upon graduation from college, Ortiz moved to Philadelphia, where he worked in a newsroom, but he found news photography too confining. “I always liked documentary photography,” said Ortiz. “It caught my attention.”
After living in two urban areas, he realized a lot of the same issues were present: gun violence, poor education and child neglect. So he shifted his focus from news events to the events we never see in the news. He began to document Chicago with hopes of exposing the city’s disparities to others. Youth violence was the gritty subject Ortiz choose for his multi-year project.
Ortiz’s work is raw, and shot on analog cameras. His images are moving, intimate, and often times appalling; a narrative of youth violence capturing everything from blood on the sidewalk to funerals, from candlelight vigils to a survivor of gun violence confined to a wheel chair.
By shooting with film, his every shot is deliberate and calculated, including motion blurs and unconventional angles.
Ortiz sometimes spends up to a year investigating the community and getting to know his subjects before he shoots them. Like any skilled journalist his work is intimate and accurate.
“I do research, I follow the news, and then I go out into the streets and learn what’s going on with people,” said Ortiz. “Knocking on doors, really touching the souls.”
Today, his work documenting violence extends beyond Too Young To Die; he has photographed the remnants of civil war in Guatemala and he has done work in Israel too. Ortiz explains that the problems he first focused on in Chicago are universal.
“People are in the same situation in different places, in different economies. We all relate to the same kind of things, and have the same kind of habits everywhere we go,” said Ortiz.
As the Too Young To Die series nears its end, Ortiz has shifted his focus to his forthcoming book “We All We Got,” coming out in September 2014. An inscription on a spontaneous memorial of a murder victim inspired the title. The book will feature his signature black and white photography. Click on this link to watch a short video about the book project.
Ortiz uses black and white photography because he doesn’t want his viewers to get lost in a colorful background or minute objects.; he wants to force our focus on his subjects. He wants us to feel empathy. And to be called to action.
For this, he is willing to place himself in danger.
“You sacrifice yourself to put your voice out to the world,” said Ortiz. His takeaway is tangible. It is a moment frozen in time in black and white.