South Side sal­va­tion Pho­tog­ra­pher Me­gan Do­herty cap­tures Chicago’s Back of the Yards neigh­bor­hood

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - pho­tog­ra­pher ME­GAN DO­HERTY the Yards. Back of

Week after week, pho­tog­ra­pher Me­gan E. Do­herty ac­com­pa­nied Brother Jim, the hum­ble and last re­main­ing mem­ber of a Catholic min­istry called The Brothers and Sis­ters of Love, on his rounds of un­der­priv­i­leged neigh­bor­hoods on the south and west sides of Chicago. Brother Jim, a some­times con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure, once found him­self in the cross­fire be­tween two ri­val gangs, an in­ci­dent he sur­vived un­scathed — some say mirac­u­lously. Gang mem­bers on the South Side, who wit­nessed him risk­ing his life as young men were shoot­ing all around him and at one an­other, took it as a sign. He be­came known to some as Su­per­man. In the Chicago Tri­bune story “Brother Jim: They call him Su­per­man” (Dec. 10, 2004), jour­nal­ist Rex W. Hup­pke re­ported that when asked by lo­cal gangs about why he risked his life that day, Brother Jim replied, “Be­cause I care about you.”

It is per­haps easy, but also un­fair and un­true, to char­ac­ter­ize ar­eas with high crime and poverty rates as war zones. In a war zone, there are sur­vivors, and then there are peo­ple like Brother Jim, who are try­ing to make a dif­fer­ence from the in­side out. Do­herty met Brother Jim after hear­ing a for­mer gang mem­ber — an ac­quain­tance of Brother Jim’s — give a po­etry read­ing at a book event she at­tended. “Be­fore read­ing what he wrote, he told us this whole story,” she told

Pasatiempo. “He said that he had been a home­less drug ad­dict, that he was liv­ing on the street, that he was in and out of jail, and ba­si­cally had hit rock bot­tom. One night he had this re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence where he felt like God was talk­ing to him, and he turned his life around at that point. When I was lis­ten­ing to him talk, it felt like the hair was stand­ing up on the back of my neck. After the event was over, I went up and in­tro­duced my­self and told him the kind of work I had done be­fore and the type of work I was hop­ing to do more of in the fu­ture, and he im­me­di­ately said, ‘You need to meet Brother Jim.’ ”

Brother Jim had been in the sem­i­nary and was in­tend­ing to join the Colum­ban Fa­thers, a so­ci­ety of mis­sion­ar­ies. “As part of his train­ing, to get a taste of what the life of a mis­sion­ary would be like, he spent some time work­ing with Brother Bill in Chicago,” Do­herty said. “Brother Bill was also a layper­son, not ac­tu­ally a re­li­gious brother. Even­tu­ally, Jim re­al­ized that he could serve God and serve the poor as a layper­son, that he didn’t have to be a pri­est to do God’s work. He’s an ad­vo­cate for the poor. He is a pres­ence. He re­flects God’s love back to them. He never judges peo­ple. He also never pros­e­ly­tizes or tries to con­vert them ei­ther.”

Brother Jim was Do­herty’s in­tro­duc­tion to the Back of the Yards neigh­bor­hood, so-called be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Chicago’s Union Stock Yards. For the past three years, she’s been doc­u­ment­ing life among the peo­ple that call Back of the Yards home. Back of

the Yards, her doc­u­men­tary pho­to­graphic series, is on dis­play at Photo-eye Gallery in Cen­ter’s Project Grant

Win­ners Ex­hi­bi­tion. The show is in con­junc­tion with the Cen­ter-spon­sored Re­view Santa Fe, an an­nual fes­ti­val of pho­to­graphic arts that takes place this year from Nov. 2 through Sun­day, Nov. 6. The two-per­son show fea­tures works by Cen­ter’s 2016 Project Launch Award win­ner, Rus­sian pho­tog­ra­pher Elena Anosova, and Do­herty, who won the 2016 Project De­vel­op­ment Grant for

The de­vel­op­ment grant is for works in progress in fine art and doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy, along with pho­to­jour­nal­ism.

Do­herty turned to pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy after a ca­reer in academia. “I rec­og­nized that ten­ure is a dy­ing breed and there weren’t as many op­por­tu­ni­ties as there used to be. I thought, this is that chance where I can start all over from scratch and do some­thing. If I could pick any­thing at all, what would it be? That was pho­tog­ra­phy. I bought a cam­era and started teach­ing my­self how to use it.” Do­herty is mostly self-taught, but she got an ap­pren­tice­ship with doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher Jon Lowen­stein, work­ing with him in his South Side stu­dio. He con­vinced her to take on a project of her own. She said, “Well, you know, I do know this guy. He’s a street preacher. Maybe there’s some­thing there.”

Do­herty’s black-and-white pho­tographs are lu­mi­nous im­ages that cap­ture mo­ments of sad­ness and joy, pro­vid­ing a per­spec­tive that doesn’t em­pha­size poverty or the high crime rate, though those cir­cum­stances are ev­i­dent. In­stead, her project is cen­tered on the neigh­bor­hood’s peo­ple and on evok­ing a lyri­cal, po­etic sense of place. Spring, her lead­ing im­age from the series Back of the Yards, shows a porch scene shot from a dis­tance through a small field of dan­de­lions. “I was ba­si­cally ly­ing on my stom­ach in an aban­doned lot filled with trash. It’s not ob­jec­tively beau­ti­ful, but you can find the beauty that’s there if you care enough about the peo­ple there and the com­mu­nity.”

Do­herty avoids sen­sa­tion­al­ism in her im­agery. Gang vi­o­lence is a re­al­ity in the places where she does her work and it doesn’t go ig­nored. There are im­ages of gath­er­ings at gravesites, a do­mes­tic scene of a fa­ther un­der house ar­rest, but there’s also the pres­ence of Brother Jim through­out, a tall white man in a mostly black neigh­bor­hood who be­came, for many, a heal­ing, hope­ful com­pan­ion. “There’s a lot of re­ally great, good, im­por­tant work that’s much more ex­plicit about vi­o­lence and the hard re­al­i­ties that peo­ple live with, whether in terms of the sub­ject mat­ter or how they frame the shot, or sim­ply in terms of the pro­cess­ing,” Do­herty said. “They’ll make it very high con­trast so it’s an in-your-face, at­ten­tion-grab­bing thing. But that’s not re­ally the aes­thetic I was go­ing for. I didn’t want to have that ef­fect on the au­di­ence. I wanted to pull them in by how beau­ti­ful these peo­ple are and by how beau­ti­ful the com­mu­nity can be, even though most folks would think there is no beauty in Back of the Yards.”

Do­herty’s black-and-white pho­tographs are lu­mi­nous im­ages that cap­ture mo­ments of sad­ness and joy, pro­vid­ing a per­spec­tive that doesn’t em­pha­size poverty or the high crime rate.

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