Book Review: We All We Got by Carlos J. Ortiz

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Through intimate, heartfelt black and white images, Carlos Ortiz’ book chronicles a culture of violence in America focusing specifically on how it affects today’s youth. Having embedded himself for 8 years in communities on the front line of this problem in Chicago and Philadelphia, his pictures speak volumes about this enduring problem in our society. The photographs are profoundly sad – but rather than just address the violence, they take a sobering look at the aftermath and the loss of youth in these communities that is all too prevalent. The book We All We Got captures funerals, vigils, services, graveyards — but between these Ortiz has also managed to show us moments of joy and resilience— Christmas trees being trimmed, celebrations in memory of those who have been lost, or children just playing on the street or at the beach. These images give us a window into the lives of children trying to make it to adulthood despite the swirl of violence around them. It is evident from the intimacy of these portraits and the detailed captions that the families embraced Ortiz and over the years allowed him access to some of their most private moments.

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Many of the images are haunting – roadside memorials seen through a blurred car window, police searching on their hands and knees with flashlights, stones with children’s names and ages on them. While documentary in nature, many cross the line into fine art, as their meaning goes deeper and becomes as layered as the problem of youth violence. There are images of children and mothers crying and caskets lined up, but Ortiz’s images or message never becomes maudlin or heavy-handed. It is evident that this project has been a labor of love and that the photographer spent countless years in neighborhoods and with families – witnessing their tragedy but also attending funerals and birthday parties and capturing moments in between the violence. Ortiz has followed one boy in particular, who was paralyzed by a stray bullet at age 14, and the image of him dressed to go to prom, after suffering so much, is one of pure joy.

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The book also has several essays: The first is an interview with Ortiz by writer Alex Kotlowitz, which describes the photographer’s own experience with violence growing up in Chicago and his deep concern and compassion for his subjects. Ortiz provides a view into a world that is too often stigmatized as being full of gangs and thugs and humanizes what is often written off as street violence.

In other essays, two mothers describe the pain of losing a child to senseless violence, and a public school teacher and an ethnologist weigh in on what these communities witness on a regular basis and how damaging it is to the psyche— particularly that of younger generation who may grow up alienated and distrustful of the police. The recent events of Ferguson, MO have brought a singular incident of gun violence to the our attention once more, but the insert at the end of Ortiz’ book, which lists hundreds of names of children who have died from gunshots and other brutality in the past 7 years, reminds us that in some neighborhoods, these tragedies simply never stop. Through rich and profoundly moving photographs, We All We Got is a sobering look at urban violence and how it shapes the lives of many American communities.


We All We Got Book Cov

We All We Got
by Carlos J. Ortiz
Red Hook Editions

For more info and to purchase the book:

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Interview with photographer Zora J Murff

Nick at 16

Nick at 16

F-Stop Magazine: How did you first become involved in photography and what led you to working in this medium as an artist?

Zora J Murff: I started using photography as a creative outlet. I took a couple of introductory courses at a community college and my love for it grew from there. It became a big pat of my life, and I decided that working with photography was something that I needed to do.

F-Stop: The Portfolio Issue 2014 of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project “Corrections”. Can you tell us about this project? What led to this project?

ZJM: I have a degree in Psychology, and my professional experience in the human service field led me to a position as a tracker with Linn County Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services, working with youths on probation. One service that we provide is electronic monitoring, and one of the kids that I worked with was assigned an electronic monitoring unit (ankle monitor). He became upset about it one day, telling me, “This fucking thing is an invasion of my privacy and goes against my well being.” Our conversation and his anger really made me think about the juvenile justice system as a whole, especially the conflict that rises between the youths and service providers, as well as between the system and the outcomes it is meant to reach. It was around this time that I was taking a photography class in which we were required to make a cohesive body of work, and “Corrections” took off from there.

Lucas at 15

Lucas at 15

F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally? How do you choose what to photograph? What are you looking to capture?

ZJM: I was most excited about the portraiture, and that was also the most challenging part of making the series as I was not allowed to photograph the youths’ faces. I would ask them if they wanted to participate and then it became a collaborative effort. Making “Corrections” was all about attempting to document the youths’ experiences. A lot of the work was a result of spending time and having conversations with the youths. We would discuss why they felt they had done the things they had, how they felt about it now that it had led them to being placed on probation, or how they felt about their probationary expectations. Using that information was how I would create ideas for photographs. The youths became symbolic of their experiences and our interactions, and I attempted to inject a bit of their personalities into the photographs. I would visit the places they had committed crimes and would take photographs that I felt spoke to what happened there.

F-Stop: What do you hope people see or feel or perhaps learn when looking at your photographs?

ZJM: I hope to elicit some sort of empathic understanding. I have had a lot of responses from people who have had some experience in the system firsthand or secondhand, and they recall the things that they have been through and how the system either helped or hurt. For people who have no experience of the juvenile justice system whatsoever, I want to open up this world to them and hopefully start a dialogue. It is easy to stereotype these kids as bad, place them in the system, and write them off assuming that they will be “fixed.” I want my photographs to be a reminder that these people still exist, and that what they are going through is real.

 Jaeshawn at 16

Jaeshawn at 16

F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?

ZJM: One of my favorite photographs is Jaeshawn at 16. I started working with Jaeshawn about six months ago. He was arrested with two other youths for burglarizing a house, one of them possessing a handgun. Throughout the time I have worked with Jaeshawn, I have watched him develop from being guarded and blaming others for his actions to becoming more responsible and accountable. However, he is still very closed off about the crime he committed. While taking his portrait, I asked him why he had decided to break into the house and his response was very similar to the first time I had asked him, “I don’t have an answer for that question. I don’t like to talk about it. Whenever someone asks me about it, I don’t say anything.” Jaeshawn’s portrait is one that I feel perfectly addresses the key underlying concept to “Corrections”: the conflict between adolescent innocence and delinquency. His response provides us with evidence of how service providers in the system strive to assist youths to confront what they have done and to make positive changes, but often the outcome is ambivalence. I attempted to make this a part of his portrait and I feel that I got close.

F-Stop: Are you working on any other project currently?

ZJM: I am doing research about the Wellington Heights neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, where I live. It is a highly stigmatized neighborhood where the crime rate has increased and it is considered the low-income neighborhood of Cedar Rapids. The neighborhood association has started to re-brand it as “New Wellington,” putting up two large signs with no other information available about what “New Wellington” is. My intent is to look at Wellington’s blue-collar past, its current state, and what its possible future may be.

Holding Room, Linn County Juvenile Detention Center

Holding Room, Linn County Juvenile Detention Center

F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?

ZJM: A big source of inspiration for me is my professor, Jeff Rich. Jeff has continued to push me to make my work better and put myself out there. He was integral to the making of “Corrections” and provided a lot of support along the way. Another source of inspiration for me is Joshua Dudley Greer. When I first considered pursuing photography, Joshua’s was some of the first work that I looked at, and after seeing his work, I knew that photography was what I wanted to do.

For more of Zora J Murff’s work: F-Stop

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ALEJANDRO CARTAGENA @ photo-eye Bookstore + Project Space

Exhibition runs through January 10th, 2014

Carpoolers is the latest series in Cartagena’s on-going project investigating the shifting political, economic and physical landscape of Mexico. Twice a week over for a year, Cartagena stood on the pedestrian overpass of Mexico’s Federal Highway 85 shooting downward at the six lanes of traffic, capturing the ubiquitous work trucks heading to the expanding suburbs. The truck beds contain not only the expected supplies, but also hidden riders; laborers catching a dangerous free ride to job sites, lying carefully arranged among the cargo, at times appearing like a still life or diorama.

photo-eye Bookstore + Project Space, 376-A Garcia Street, Santa Fe

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Alvin Langdon Coburn @ FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE

Alvin Langdon Coburn. The Amphitheatre, Grand Canon, 1912 ©Alvin Langdon Coburn.  Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

Alvin Langdon Coburn. The Amphitheatre, Grand Canon, 1912
©Alvin Langdon Coburn. Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

Alvin Langdon Coburn
13 December 2014 – 15 February 2015

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), a photographer from the age of eight years old, was a perfectionist and an innate craftsman. He mastered the complexities of platinum and gum platinum printing and the autochrome colour process from 1900-1907 before learning the photogravure process from 1906-1909. Working with his own printing press, he produced several landmark publications, London, New York, Men of Mark marrying text and images. A pictorialist, a symbolist and an innovator, he was the first modernist and abstract photographer to take photography in exhilarating new directions.

Paseo de Recoletos, 23, Madrid, Spain

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Pascal Fellonneau @ ​André Labarrère Library

Pascal Fellonneau: Reykjavík Diary (2004-2005)
November 24 up until December 10 2014

​André Labarrère Library
Place Marguerite Laborde,
64000 Pau, France.

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Chris Anthony @ Spot Photo Works


Chris Anthony: Seas Without A Shore
Nov 15, 2014 – Jan 12, 2015

Informed by the prose and imagery of Edgar Allen Poe, Seas Without A Shore by Chris Anthony, features a selection of broodingly beautiful wet plate collodion prints along with color photographs and idiosyncratic objects.

Spot Photo Works
Los Angeles

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Simon Brown @ Benrubi Gallery

Simon Brown
The Weight of Knowledge
November 20 – December 20, 2014

The photographs of books in Simon Brown’s new show, The Weight of Knowledge, lend an unexpected materiality to language, that most insubstantial of cultural endeavors. The books in these images are tattered, misshapen, spotted with mold. Bindings are frayed, ink washed away until it’s nearly invisible. Everything testifies to the tangible existence of language: to the human labor required to create and maintain both books and the words in them. The tactility of Brown’s battered volumes reminds us that the physical world is constantly assaulting and altering language, but they also, more subtly, show us that words change the world as well, a fact Brown acknowledges by binding his books in bricklike units or stacking them up in towers that recall both ancient ziggurats and modern skyscrapers. Meticulously composed, richly nuanced in their use of color and what the artist has called the “perfect imperfection” of daylight, these images give us the book as objet d’art without stripping it of its textual status.

Benrubi Gallery
41 East 57th Street, Suite 1300
New York, NY 10022

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MCNAIR EVANS @ Book & Job Gallery

unnamedMCNAIR EVANS: Confessions for a Son
December 4 – 12, 2014

In 2010, San Francisco based photographer McNair Evans returned to his childhood home in Laurinburg, North Carolina to retrace his father’s life and legacy after his death nine years earlier. His father’s passing had exposed the looming insolvency of their family farming businesses, ending five generations of family and financial stability. The economic impact on the family was immediate but the emotional impact lingered with Evans.

Book & Job Gallery
838 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

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Doug Ness @ Schneider Gallery

unnamedDoug Ness: “Urban Pop”

Opening Reception on Friday, December 5th, 5:30-7:00 pm

Schneider Gallery
230 West Superior Street

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OPEN Exhibition @ Center for Fine Art Photography


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