Carlos Javier Ortiz
CARLOS JAVIER ORTIZ
WE ALL WE GOT!
Chicago based Carlos Javier Ortiz is an award-winning photographer that speaks volume by using his lens as a voice for socio-political change and radical commentary on behalf of the urban community. If anyone is familiar with the concept of America’s New Winter, it’s definitely Ortiz. A quiet voyeur, he captures stark images of the underprivileged while serving his worldwide community as a photo journalist and artist of purpose. If pictures say a thousand words, then Ortiz is batting over a million words per second with his unique approach to photography. What makes Ortiz’ work so profound, is how he tells a story with each frame, but even more, how he explains the consequences and repercussions of injustice through each subject he shoots. With a subtle monochromatic style that he exclusively owns and assembles via monolithic gates of personal tragedy and triumph, Ortiz will soon be known as one of the most poignant photographers of this generation. Giving a voice to the voiceless, Ortiz’ point of view is one that not only embraces the subject with a big hug, but the audience feels the shutters of his camera wrapping around them with empathy, love and hope.
Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ortiz moved to the windy city when he was five years old in 1980. Not speaking a lick of English, there was a huge language barrier and a degree of culture shock that jarred him and settled in the form of creative prospection. Growing up on the north side of Chicago, near Wrigley Field, he recalls that the 1980’s were very different. An ethnic mix of African American, Caribbean, Cuban and Puerto Ricans making up most of the neighborhood, he recalls the tough streets were filled with prostitutes, pimps, hustlers and various gangs. According to Ortiz, the admission price for a Cubs game at Wrigley Field was only $5, where today it ranges $100 or more per ticket. “I think Puerto Ricans and blacks have similar family outcomes. They have parable family outcomes when they’re in their environment. It was isolated. I was in a different country with a different vibe. Segregation was there. Now, it’s real yuppie and one of the first neighborhoods to change into gentrification. It was interesting. My uncle had an apartment on the corner of Sheffield and Belmont and you could see prostitutes out of the window going into hotels and hanging out. The eighties were bad, but older cats in the gangs would look out for you. They wouldn’t let you get involved in the bullshit. They protected you and protected people in the neighborhood. I remember Cabrini Green Projects. I used to walk past there. You would hear about the violence and you would see it on the news, but I saw it with my own eyes. People would actually get shot in the neighborhood.” Claims Ortiz.
After leaving for Puerto Rico and returning to northwest side of Chicago, he attended Schurz high school in an area that was also ethnically mixed including Polish and Mexican, but was an extremely poor blue collar neighborhood. Ortiz comes from a fairly large family, and as the middle child of three siblings, Ortiz felt compelled to keep the balance in the family. He learned from his brother and sister’s mistakes. “My Dad had a Master’s degree, but because he couldn’t speak English too well, the opportunities weren’t there. My Mom worked in a factory. My Dad eventually became a teacher later, but my Mom worked there all of her life. I noticed now how colonialism and racism, affected families. With Latinos and Hispanics, it was a case of ‘pelo malo’ (bad hair) that came into play. If you have curly hair like me, you have pelo malo. But if I hang out with my wife’s family, it’s like oh you have good hair. I don’t have good or bad hair. I just have hair!” He laughs.
At an early age, Ortiz enjoyed photography in high school, but it wasn’t until after high school he activated his dream and discovered the power of the camera and freedom of expression. He purchased his first camera in 1994. He snagged his sister’s Pentax K1000 and from there, he graduated to a Nikon.
With an activist’s shell, his work is inspired by movements, both cultural and cognitive. Regarding his purposeful art, Ortiz states, “Being out there just photographing, having access to people was the inspiration. It was always like, what to do when you start photographing? It was also the people that led you into their lives to tell stories. People started seeing the photos and were like, ‘oh wow, I didn’t know that this was happening,’ and I was like, yeah, that was happening. That for me was the epiphany.”
For Ortiz, his weapons of choice are the Leica and Polaroid range finding cameras. He shoots raw in monochrome and prefers black and white as his medium. It was this choice of medium and integrity of content that led him on a path around the world to celebrate his authentic style of photography. Sharing an eye cap of urban complexity with renown photographer Jamel Shabazz, his work is identified by installations of immortalizing the urban experience. His latest work, We All We Got, is a book published by Red Hook Editions, a Brooklyn based publishing community formed by photographers who believe in creating high-quality books, empowering artistic and editorial decisions for themselves. We All We Got explores the consequences and devastation of youth violence in contemporary America from 2006 to 2013. “It started as a process of documentation about youth violence in Chicago and Philadelphia, and being able to show these marginalized communities in a different way. The challenge was to not express what people already know about gangs and violence. People already know about that. That’s been highlighted. I wanted to highlight the families and what they go through. I wanted to give them an identity. We know this is happening, but what are the families going through? Who are they? A lot of them are middle class, working class and poor families that are struggling to survive in these hard situations. A lot of the stories are not perfect. When it comes to gun violence, the press always focuses on the perfect kid or perfect situation for people to say we got to stop this. I didn’t want to pick and choose what’s perfect. I wanted to show that this is wrong and it’s happening.”
Similar to a four-part documentary, We All We Got follows a series of three connecting conversations that shed light on disparaging American injustices. Ortiz is a documentarian using powerful photographs, film, essays and text that focus on urban life, violence, race, poverty and marginalized communities. Like a conveyor belt of social issues, Ortiz finds a creative and introspective way to relate his work in a cohesive display of journalism that was created simultaneously between the years of 2001 and 2013.
El Sueno (The Dream) is a photo installation that focuses on the United States, Guatemala and Mexico and living under extreme situations of gun violence years after the civil war. It is said to be a play on words and inspired by the notion of the American dream.
Migrant Workers is an installation that deals with the story about people who select who is American and who is not. It’s a provocative photo essay exploring the brown people, Mexican and Central Americans and how they’re living in the shadows. It delves into the lives of mistreated workers that are exposed to extreme situations and sacrifice for their families while still not being seen as first class citizens.
Inherit America was the first of the projects, inspired by the tragic acts of 9/11 and the patriarchy revolved around the United States economy, war and the influence of megalomaniacs, greed and insurgence.
Throughout the works of Ortiz, he finds an uncensored water hole that allows him to shape a truthful perspective via wide lens panorama. Thirsty for more, Ortiz uses no salt, no sugar, not shaken, nor stirred, yet pours a visceral glass of a frothy and filthy martini that we all sip in our daily lives.
Carlos Javier Ortiz We All We Got will be on exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center, NYC from January 24th until March 22nd 2015.
For more info visit CarlosJavierOrtiz.com
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