Photography by Carlos Javier Ortiz
We All We Got
Carlos Javier is a director, cinematographer and documentary photographer who focuses on urban life, gun violence, racism, poverty and marginalized communities. In 2016, Carlos received a Guggenheim Fellowship for film/video. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in a variety of venues including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts; the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY and the Library of Congress. In addition, his photos were used to illustrate Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations (2014) Atlantic Magazine.
His films "We All We Got" and "A Thousand Midnights" have screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, Los Angeles International Film Festival , AFI Film Festival , PBS Online Film Festival and Art Basel , Black and Blue,Stadtkino Basel cinema. Carlos Javier has taught at Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Chicago and Oakland with his wife and frequent collaborator, Tina K. Sacks, a professor of social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley.
"As a Visual artist, director, cinematographer and photographer, I use visual images, sound, and stories to help people to feel, and think, about polarizing topics like racism, violence, policing, and poverty. In this time of growing intensity about racialized violence, terrorism, and global instability, I believe we need to grapple with our collective past in order to truly reckon with the present, and that film is one of the most powerful mediums to do that.
My films highlight the beauty of imperfection, hope and resilience. I position my work within the fields of documentary filmmaking and sociology to address the contemporary manifestations of these long-term, evolving problems. To illuminate a place, I highlight the physical landscape and the built environment to give depth to the communities in which people come to live their lives. By immersing people in a space, I seek to create moments that engender empathy and address alterity.
I’m currently working on a series of short films chronicling the contemporary stories of Black Americans who came from the South to the North, during the Great Migration. These first-person narratives contextualize the current state of the Great Migration, bring life to what has been ignored, and call attention to the variables that displace individuals and communities over time. Through this series, I seek to reflect the impact time has on our imaginations and our identities in an increasingly divisive landscape.”
We All We Got explores the consequences and devastation of youth violence in contemporary America from 2006 to 2013, through a mix of powerful photographs, incisive essays and moving letters from diverse individuals affected by this perennial scourge.
Carlos Javier Ortiz’s work provides an avenue for knowing these children and their families. This work is not the end of the conversation about youth violence and society’s complicity in it, but rather the beginning. The terror in the eyes of grieving children and inconsolable mothers only allows the viewer to begin to understand the toll that this reality takes on the children who live it.
The stories take place in Chicago and Philadelphia. By repeatedly returning to the same neighborhoods over the course of eight years, Ortiz shows the plight of the communities with which he has built a deep connection. You see abandoned buildings, memorials for victims, segregation, graffiti, juvenile incarceration and other constant reminders of the outcomes of violence on young people and their surroundings.
But through all the heartbreak, you also see the incredible resilience of the individuals left behind. And where there is terror, there is also a glimpse of the innocence that remains and a tiny glimmer of hope.