Photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but raised in Chicago, where he studied photojournalism at Columbia College. As a staff photographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he worked on “Chicago In The Year 2000 (CITY 2000),” a 366-day project in which more than 200 photographers photographed the city and its inhabitants, with the goal of creating a lasting visual archive. In 2004, while living in Philadelphia, Ortiz began to realize that his new community reminded him of Chicago, and he began to explore the consequences and effects of youth violence in the two city’s communities.
“When I moved back to Chicago I really started thinking about working on a long-term project about this topic, and I [began] just so after the death of two little girls just eight days apart from each other,” Ortiz tells PDN via email. “This problem is not only endemic to Chicago. It’s living and breathing in other US cities and small towns waiting to explode.” Ortiz returned to both Philadelphia and Chicago over the course of eight years, documenting more than just the violent details. He chose to focus on the effects violence has on neighborhoods, communities, schools, playgrounds and even birthday parties. “I also wanted to show the normal life, life after death, and life after a bullet enters the body. What happens to young people living with severe injuries from senseless violence and most importantly the humanity of people in dire situations. For me it was important to show life after death.”
Ortiz’s project, We All We Got, (Red Hook Editions) was recently released as a book, accompanied by an 8-minute documentary composed from multiple events that took place while he was working in Chicago. The title, Ortiz says, “is a message of optimism in the face of adversity. The title is influenced from scribbled graffiti on a wall. Written by a teenager who lost his friend to gun violence over lyrics. I believe the phrase ‘We All We Got’ became immersed into the popular culture from the movie New Jack City in the 1990’s but it has been a part of our culture way before that.”